Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Jack's Sixth Show review: Def Leppard, Heart, Dramarama, more

A version of my review originally appeared at:
Photos by Kelly A. Swift 

Art Alexakis stood onstage Saturday during Jack’s Sixth Show at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre and gave props to other acts on the bill.

Then Everclear’s front man stated what could easily serve as the retro radio station’s new slogan: “Doesn’t matter whether it’s from the ‘70s, ‘80s or ‘90s; if the music rocks, it rocks.” 

Although JACK FM/93.1 still uses original catch phrase “playing what we want” and shuffles between hit alternative, rock, pop and rap crossover genres, if you listen long enough, you’ll eventually hear some of the same songs repeated.

Besides Everclear, the eight-hour concert featured headliner Def Leppard, Heart, Dramarama, Marcy Playground, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Evan Watson, M80s and Metal Shop. 

Unlike previous years, most of the Jack event roster was relegated to the side stage, near the main concourse entrance. Def Leppard and Heart – who are currently touring together and just played Gibson Amphitheatre – had dibs on the main stage.
Joe Elliott & Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard

Def Leppard was hampered by a muddy, bass-heavy sound mix that tended to overwhelm their trademark group vocal chants, but didn’t stop enthusiastic reactions from the large party-hearty Irvine audience. 

Brawny anthem “Undefeated” kicked off an otherwise engaging 90-minute set, as images of Mohammed Ali, Nelson Mandela, Michael Phelps and other inspirational figures appeared on large LED screens and stairs.

It is one of three solid new studio tracks on the British hard rock band’s three-disc “Mirror Ball – Live & More” collection, available exclusively at Walmart (fans should also check out the brilliant Queen-styled “Kings of the World”).

Disc 2 basically follows what transpired in O.C., so the song order hasn’t changed much since the last tour (smoky-voiced singer Joe Elliott even prompts a California crowd at one point on “Mirror Ball”). He did a decent vocal job throughout the Jack gig, despite avoiding some high notes.
Phil Collen of Def Leppard
Shirtless lead guitarist and Laguna Hills resident Phil Collen displayed his fine guitar prowess on an eye-catching array of colorful Jackson electric axes.

An extended “Rocket” found him doing windmill motions and trading off solos with Vivian Campbell.

Following a mercifully short bass solo by Rick Savage, the band’s frequent live remake of David Essex’s ‘70s hit “Rock On” was slinky and fit them well (something else from 2006’s covers album would’ve been a nice change of pace). 

An acoustic segment, where Elliott and the musicians headed out to a T-shaped stage extension and dedicated the ballad “Two Steps Behind” to “the lost heroes of 9/11,” was a standout. The partially stripped down “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak” started great until the transition back to electric meant more overwhelming bass. The infectious “Armageddon It,” haunting buildup of “Foolin’” and hard hitting instrumental “Switch 625” were other highlights. 

Last year, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart put out “Red Velvet Car,” their first studio album in six years. With acoustic-based textures and a mature rock sound, it touches upon their 1970s heyday. Only the freaky “WTF” (yes, it stands for what you think) was aired at the Jack show though.

The rest of the performance found the ladies in mostly robust vocal form and got an overwhelming response. Heart did their trademark Led Zeppelin (the fierce “Rock and Roll” to open; baroque “Battle of Evermore” drama for the first encore) and Who numbers (ultra-dramatic “Love Reign O’er Me” as final closer).

Ann Wilson of Heart
Then there was an ample dose of classic rock radio staples (Ann’s trills were feisty on “Magic Man,” “Heartless” boasted a pile driving crunch, “Straight On” was unadulterated sexuality).

Although the glossy ‘80s pop hits (“What About Love,” “Alone”) were dialed back a bit, Ann still whipped herself into a frenzy.

Meanwhile, the mandolin/flute-infused “These Dreams” was gorgeous; “Crazy on You” and “Barracuda” packed quite a punch too.

Earlier in the day, tribute band M80s shakily played Romantics, Cure, Buggles and Rick Springfield, Kim Wilde and more covers to early arrivals. 

New York City’s Marcy Playground achieved success with its 1997 debut disc, but the post-grunge trio’s recent works – 2009’s solid “Leaving Wonderland…In a Fit of Rage” and the next year’s ambitious remix album - are far more interesting. 

Here, an unassuming Marcy Playground excelled on those songs (the insistent “Star Baby,” piercing “Devil Woman”), while the familiar alt-rock hits (“Sex and Candy,” “Saint Joe on the School Bus”) and “Sherry Fraser” were just satisfactory. 

Dramarama plays the area a few times a year, but hadn’t done a major radio festival locally since KROQ/106.7FM’s Inland Invasion III in 2003. In a short interview before they went onstage, singer John Easdale told me this was their fourth time playing the venue formerly known as Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre.

The first was back in 1986 opening for Psychedelic Furs. Former bassist "Chris [Carter] called up Avalon Attractions" and got them on the bill. Of course, Dramrama's went onto bigger and better things from there. 

John Easdale of Dramarama
Easdale said the group’s follow up to 2005’s “Everybody Dies” is recorded, but has no firm release date yet. Still undetermined is how it would be released. "Nothing is set in stone. I'm not sure if we'll go the Eggbert Records route" or what. More than 25 years after the group formed, “It’s really exciting to still be doing this. It’s not what you’d expect,” he admitted.

Despite a brief power outage that halted their Jack set shortly after it began, the L.A. rock band’s supercharged set still blew everyone else on the side stage away.

Walking onstage with a Tab cola in hand, sporting shades and a black cowboy hat, Easdale epitomized cool. Everyone onstage worked up quite a sweat. An urgent “Some Crazy Dame” opened the set as lead guitarist Mark Englert engaged in the first of several wild man solos.

Drug cautionary tale “Prayer” and a second attempt at the melancholy rocker “Scenario” were equally intense.

The crowd packed in front of the stage perked up at the start of driving alt-rock hit “Work for Food,” where Englert was all over the stage and playfully interacted with bassist Mike Davis. Never letting up, “Try Five Times” was a quick bluesy romp and the powerfully chaotic “Last Cigarette” found Easdale replacing the old Johnny Carson line with Jimmy Kimmel.

Finally, “Anything Anything” had fans pogoing right along as Easdale spit out the anguished lyrics, Tony Snow bashed away on drums and Englert impressed with more careening riffs. All told, Dramarama left 'em wanting more. 

Later, even Alexakis admitted that Dramarama "kicked ass."

Everclear dealt with poor wavering sound, so the band’s ramshackle set was erratic. The gregarious Alexakis nearly overcame the problems by telling stories and recalling things he loves about living in SoCal.

An acoustic cover of Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl” was iffy, but “Heroin Girl” retained the old punkish spirit, the pop-ish “Heartspark Dollarsign” came off strongly; “Everything to Everyone,” “Wonderful” and “Santa Monica” were all vibrant singalongs (even if you couldn’t hear everything onstage).

Def Leppard setlist at Jack’s Sixth Show, Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, Irvine, Sept. 10, 2011 
Main set: Undefeated/Let’s Get Rocked/Animal/Foolin’/Love Bites/Rock On [David Essex cover]/Rocket/Two Steps Behind/Bringin’ on the Heartbreak/Switch 625/Hysteria/Armageddon It/Photograph/Pour Some Sugar on Me 
Encore: Rock of Ages 

Heart setlist
Main set: Rock and Roll [Led Zeppelin cover]/Magic Man/Heartless/Straight On/What About Love?/These Dreams/Alone/WTF/Crazy on You/Barracuda 
Encore: The Battle of Evermore [Zeppelin]/Love Reign O'er Me [The Who] 

Dramarama setlist 
Some Crazy Dame/Scenario >aborted due to power outage/Prayer/Scenario >full version/Work for Food/Try Five Times/Last Cigarette/Anything Anything (I'll Give You) 

No comments: