Who says classic rock is dying out? Over sixty classic rock acts (rock and roll artists who were popular prior to the 1991 grunge movement) came to the Valley to perform in concert in 2011. It was a year of anniversaries, thirtieth for Qüeensryche, twenty fifth for Motley Crüe, twentieth for Poison, or album releases, fortieth for Jethro Tull’s Aqualung, thirtieth for Rush’s Moving Pictures.
There were the multiple act concerts like Journey/Foreigner/Night Ranger, Motley Crue/Poison/New York Dolls and Heart/Def Leppard. Although, I was able to see live only a little over one third of the artists that came to the Valley, it seemed everyone upped their act this year, there not appearing to be a bad performance. Although fans of each group will think their band performed the best, here is the top five artists (six really as two bands tied for fifth) I saw perform from my seats.
#5 Tie Def Leppard, September 3, 2011 and Jethro Tull, June 10, 2011. Joe Elliot and company played the Ashley Furniture HomeStore Pavilion on a sweltering Labor Day weekend Saturday night and did exactly what you would hope they would. Play the hits that made them famous and maybe throw in a few new numbers such as “Undefeated” from their 2011 Mirrorball Live & More release. For ninety minutes Def Leppard delivered their brand of hard bombastic rock and power ballads. The guitar work of Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell was amazing and the drumming of Rick Allen breathtaking. The crowd never tired of fist pumping.
In wide contrast to Def Leppard, Jethro Tull, in its performance at the Comerica Theatre, lacked a fancy video screen, pyrotechnics or over the top light show. Instead it relied on the showmanship of its band members. Lead singer/flautist/emcee Ian Anderson proved that age is no boundary as he romped around the stage and stopped every once in a while to perform his standing on one leg flute runs. Although it was great to hear every song from Aqualung played in concert, it was the group’s final number “Budapest” that was the night’s highlight.
#4 Dream Theater, December 4, 2011. There was some concern that longtime Dream Theater fans might not accept new drummer Mike Mangini filling in for former drummer Mike Portnoy on Dream Theater’s latest tour that came to the Mesa Arts Center. It took about four songs for that fear to be laid to rest. Undoubtedly the members of Dream Theater are the finest musicians around of the instruments they play. When they combine all their talent and perform a number like “Breaking All Illusions” from their latest cd, A Dramatic Turn of Events, it is jaw dropping.
#3 Foreigner, July 24, 2011. Actually Foreigner came to town twice in 2011 and as the middle act of the Journey/Foreigner/Night Ranger concert at Ashley Furniture HomeStore Pavilion, it might have been easy to overlook them. But lead singer Kelly Hansen commanded the audience as he raced through the crowd and Foreigner hits proving Foreigner could go on well past the days of former singer Lou Gramm. Credit co-founder Mick Jones for keeping his vision of what Foreigner is all about alive. He has surrounded himself with a group that gives justice to his songwriting. This spot might have been occupied by Night Ranger, had they been allowed to play more than a thirty minute set. Their 2011 release, Somewhere in California is one of the best classic rock albums of the year.
#2 Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band, December 23, 2011. Two of my favorite live albums are Bob Seger’s Live Bullet and Nine Tonight. Mash those two albums together and you get some idea of the performance Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band gave at the US Airways Center. At age 66, Seger may not be the performer he was twenty years ago, but he can still kick out rock and roll and soul. Saxist Alto Reed and the other members of The Silver Bullet Band raise the bar for backup bands, although they hardly are backups. They are as much of the show as Bob Seger. Fun and entertaining, it was a show you didn’t want to see stop.
#1 Judas Priest, October 21, 2011. Who would think that an Arizona State Fair show would be the highlight of the year? Although Judas Priest had to cut a half hour out of their normal set, there was plenty of flames, smoke, fireworks, lasers, lighting effects, chains, leather and yes, a motorcycle driven up on stage by lead singer Rob Halford to remind the audience that Judas Priest are the kings of heavy metal. With a set list that covered almost their entire career, Judas Priest delivered a strong performance. Perhaps all the special effects were cliché, but it worked. Although their Epitaph tour is said to be their final world tour, here’s hoping Judas Priest makes a special appearance every now and again.