I felt sorry for Bryan Adams. He had to go on first, during the daytime, he had to warm up the crowd.
The layperson thinks it's effortless. That you make it and then it's clear sailing. But you've got to sing for your supper every night. You've got to deliver every night. You've got to win over the audience every night.
It's easier when you're the headliner, when they've only come to see you. But at a gig like this, EVERYBODY knows your hits, but when it comes to album cuts…a bunch of people were there to see Def Leppard.
Bryan and the band were giving it all they had. Playing as hard as I've ever seen them. But fists were only raised down front. Everybody else had been standing in the hot sun, they needed to be CONVINCED! And that's what "Summer of '69" did.
"I got my first real six string
Bought it at the five and dime"
They knew the intro. It was in their DNA. Bryan didn't even bother singing. The audience carried it. Getting louder with every word. It's moments like this that make you want to be a rock star. When you've got 10,000 people in the palm of your hand, when they're finally yours.
And after this they were. They even sang along with "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You". I was wondering whether Bryan would play it. This was definitely a ROCK crowd. But on a tour like this, a summer round-up, you've got to play your hits, ALL your hits. You don't want to leave ONE paying customer unsatisfied. Then again, you don't want to piss anybody off. So Bryan set it up. Stating that the song had been labeled shit by a critic in St. Paul and all he could say to the guy was…SHOVE IT UP YOUR ASS! Now the longhairs could let their guard down, Bryan had disarmed them, they were in it together.
Then Bryan amped it up. Now that he controlled the crowd, he worked it. He changed the set list. The roadies were tearing up the print-outs, no longer sure where their boss was going, but just playing along. Later in the bus Bryan told me he just had to mix things up, it had to be fun for him. But I think it was about maintaining control, not losing the assembled multitude. He slowed songs down, got their attention, had them sing along. He INVOLVED them. They didn't know it, but they were seeing a master at work.
When Brian Greenbaum first told me Dylan was gonna play minor league stadiums with Willie Nelson I thought it was cheesy. Minor league baseball is about the EXPERIENCE, not the game. To play rock there seemed to invite a PICNIC atmosphere as opposed to a church service. And I want to be at church.
But sitting in the middle of the crowd, atop a riser in minivan seats during Def Leppard's set, it occurred to me that all the religion has vanished from the sheds. They're seen as rip-off joints. Which you go to with an open wallet. Where, even if they're in a field far from the metropolis, you've got to pay for parking. Where concessionaires overcharge you for beer. Where tomorrow night is an act you hate. The venue's got no CHARISMA!
And I can't say there's a lot of charisma in St. Paul's Midway Stadium. But the acts BROUGHT charisma. This show wasn't part of a series, it was a one time affair. With a portable stage erected just for the evening. With rubber mats covering the outfield. With sound reinforcement akin to a rock festival. It was an EVENT!
Think back to your formative years. Those are the gigs you remember. Not the ones in the usual places, but one-offs where rock usually didn't live. Those gigs you never forget. And tonight's crowd will never forget this evening with Adams and Leppard. When they relived their youth.
The eighties were different. The economy and MTV soared at the same time. Happy days were here again. The dark seventies were finally history and we could just ENJOY the music again.
As uncool as MTV is today, that's how hip it was back then. Radio was calcified, radio didn't want to play anything that didn't fit the format. It was MTV that broke the new acts. And, when they latched on to something, when it worked, they embraced it, made it part of their core, spun multiple videos from the album and went on the follow-up record thereafter. They were in bed with the artists. That's all they had. There were no reality shows, there was no fall back position.
This was a revival meeting of thirtysomethings. People who remember the heyday and wonder where it's gone.
Tickets were $45. And adults could bring children under twelve free. Tony started pointing them out. All the youngsters were decked out in merch. They BELIEVED! Go to a rock show and you're a fan for life, a regular paying customer. Go to see Britney or Beyonce and it's like going to see Disney On Ice. Something you grow out of, something you almost want to deny you ever went to.
Even though we arrived a good hour and a half before Bryan hit the stage, traffic was backed up. You see people wanted to get there early. For a good spot. At this general admission affair.
I swear the same people were up against the barrier from Bryan through Leppard. I don't know how they held it in, how they avoided going to the porta-potty. But they needed to be close.
Dinner was in a tent behind the outfield fence.
You see this is a traveling city. They don't risk local food, they take a caterer WITH them. The food staff has its own bus. One of eight.
They carry their own power.
They've got two stages. Which leapfrog each other from city to city.
But the sound reinforcement gear, the P.A., that comes down IMMEDIATELY! And is thrown in a semi and onto the road right away. I was stunned at the number of trucks, but Tony said there were only nine. NINE?? I remember when Wings Over America had four and it was a big deal. Tony just rolled back on his heels and said that Metallica took NINETEEN! For their INDOOR show.
Actually, there was an opening act. Before Bryan. Somebody Coleman. A favor to Doc McGhee. He got a smattering of applause, but we were only listening from afar, in the tent, where I was busy chomping down on flank steak and vegan sausage. VEGAN SAUSAGE?? Isn't that a contradiction in terms?
I think the sausage was soy. OF COURSE I ate it. Just call me Fielding Mellish. When you're included you try EVERYTHING, it's part of the EXPERIENCE! But as I was digging into my carrot cake I heard that thundering guitar, that rock and roll sound, and plate in hand I dashed for the stage, to hear Bryan,.
Highlights? "Cuts Like A Knife". Singing "na na na" makes you feel fully alive. And "Open Road" from the new album. And a solo acoustic "Straight From The Heart" as the encore.
And when it was all done Bryan said to come hang with him in the bus. He introduced me to Jody (you remember, JODY GOT MARRIED, from "Summer Of '69"!) We discussed the status of the business, how radio wanted little to do with artists of his generation, but that he had still sold a million and a half copies of "Room Service". And then he wanted to talk politics. Canadians can do that. Say how SCREWED UP this country is. How we need to get out of Iraq. Bryan said "East is east and west is west." And after I agreed, after about fifteen minutes on the bus, when I was worried about wearing out my welcome, Bryan extended his hand and said they had to go.
I can read the clues. They wanted to be alone. I was an interloper. It was cool.
But SECONDS after I stepped off the bus the engine roared and they peeled right out of there. For the next town on their endless trek around the world, bringing music to the people.
You've got to know the guys in Def Leppard. They're so NICE!
I usually give rock stars room. But when they caught a glimpse of me they all had to come over and say hi. Even though they were due to hit the stage in minutes. As we were on the endless hike to the stage Viv even made a point of coming over and introducing himself, being the only member of the band I hadn't had a conversation with back in Burbank. I mean who's the rock star here?
And by now the sun had set. Just after nine in St. Paul.
Midway Stadium is on the wrong side of the tracks. Then again, there are railroad tracks on BOTH sides of the field. You could hear the trains roar by. But not when Leppard hit the stage. They squeezed all other sound out of your ears. I'd say we were assaulted, but that would give the wrong connotation. Rather we were bathed in a sound so pure, so right, it was like we were rolling in aural chocolate syrup.
The opening number was "Action". Sort of a call to arms, an introduction, for a night of endless hits.
Next came "Let's Get Rocked". Then the album track from the monster album of the eighties that STILL sells, "Women".
And then they hit "Foolin'".
"Is anybody out there, anybody there
Does anybody wonder, anybody care"
I'm surveying the landscape. It's a forgotten generation, forgotten music. Media is only interested in Russell Simmons, baggy jeans and rappers shooting at each other.
But few want to see these so-called stars. Eminem, 50 Cent AND Lil' Jon can't sell out a building. They barely do any better than Leppard and Adams. Because those acts are about RECORDS, whereas Leppard and Adams are about music. It's not about lifestyle, it's not about lyrics, it's not intellectual, it's a FEELING!
And when Rick Allen's drums kicked you in the gut, and Viv and Phil started to wail, you REMEMBERED! How it used to be. When being a rock star meant you were a MUSICIAN, not a CELEBRITY!
They nailed "Armageddon It". Another killer from "Hysteria".
But it was "Rocket" that sent things to a higher level.
Remember when everybody took guitar lessons? Admit it. You wanted to be a Beatle.
We gave up. But there was a cadre of players who continued to practice, who made it, who became who we wanted to be.
To see these guitarists work their axes is to remind us not only that it takes hard work to make it but that there's PURE JOY in the sound of an electric guitar.
But the reason "Rocket" was so great was the duel between Viv and Phil. They traded licks. At an almost ear-splitting volume. Penetrating our hearts like lightning bolts.
"Gunter glieben glauten globen"
This got me on my feet. Made me ignore the cute interpreter signing the show for the two deaf people sitting next to me. (I asked her, could they hear ANYTHING? She shrugged her shoulders and said WHO KNOWS?)
I got something to say
It's better to burn out than fade away"
Neil Young doesn't mean much to this generation. They weren't smoking dope to "Harvest" and when "Rust Never Sleeps" was released they were still watching cartoons. Still, they understand the sentiment, the one in "Rock Of Ages". They're working all week, pushing paper just to be able to cut loose on the weekend. Drink some beer and TURN IT UP!
And that's what happened at this point in the show. Just before the encore. This party had lifted off. Everybody was writhing in ecstasy, everybody had their hands in the air.
"Rise up, gather round
Rock this place to the ground
Burn it up let's go for broke
Watch the night go up in smoke
Rock on, rock on
Drive me crazier, no serenade
No fire brigade, just pyromania
What do you want? What do you want?
I want rock'n'roll, yes I do
Long live rock'n'roll"
You'd think there was an earthquake, with THOUSANDS of people bouncing up and down. But what was moving them wasn't a force of nature, but music, ROCK MUSIC!
If you got a printout of the most played videos of the eighties I'd be stunned if "Pour Some Sugar On Me" wasn't in the top five.
To tell you the truth, it's not even one of my favorites from "Hysteria". But after Leppard came back on stage for the encore, after they slowed things down with "Bringing On The Heartbreak"…that monster riff started to play and I was defenseless. The twenty first century no longer existed. It was fifteen years ago.
And suddenly the landscape changed. Towers started to be erected throughout the audience. Girls were getting on guys' shoulders throughout the venue. It was like they were IN the video. Performing a ritual that used to be about holding your lighter in the air. Everywhere there were halter-topped babes. In thrall to the music. I'd say Joe could have gotten them to show their tits but it was no longer about performer and audience, it was about the music and everybody else. Even the band, PLAYING the song, was a slave to the sound, the ATMOSPHERE!
"I'm sitting at the wheel
I got a green light
Not afraid of nothin' cuz heart and soul
I'm built for life"
I told Wendy and Fred you never leave right after the gig. The traffic's too bad. You hang out. B.S. with the crew. Do a post mortem. Tell some stories, tell some jokes.
It's a whole life.
Tony started off selling t-shirts in Phoenix.
Now he's a cast member in the circus.
Mark started as a foot soldier too. And worked his way up the ranks. To where traveling around all summer in a bus is second nature.
We took Wendy and Fred on the bus, where Sav treated them like they were family. Most acts want their privacy, but Leppard…it was like we were all at summer camp together.
"Troy" was on the TV. There was room for us in the lounge in the back. It wouldn't have taken much to convince me to go along for the ride. To Chicago tomorrow, then on to Davenport, Iowa and Lincoln, Nebraska.
Today's generation has got the impression that musicians exist on television. That they're untouchable celebrities who live in an alternative universe that doesn't intersect with their world.
But this is untrue. Musicians exist on the road. That's their life. Going from town to town, imparting joy to fans. Delivering each and every night to insure they have a career.
"I'm rolling on and on and on
Who knows where I'm goin'?
Life is an open road – it's the best story never told
It's an endless sky – it's the deepest sea
Life is an open road to me
Life is an open road to me"
As I write this Bryan Adams is probably close to the Wisconsin/Illinois border. Def Leppard? They're in the heart of dairyland.
It's a grind, but it's hard to give up the dividends. Seeing the world. Touching a bunch of adoring women. All the while doing what you love. Playing music.