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FEST, Cadott, Wisconsin, 21 July 2012
crowded market, many festivals would love to have claimed the name Rock
Fest for themselves, but the original belongs to the Chippewa Valley
Music Festival organisers who for nearly 20 years have staged this huge
festival on a sloping site in the Wisconsin countryside.
2000 this was where my love affair with travelling to festivals in
America began. For the next five years, the line ups of classic rock and
AOR bands were beyond my wildest dreams back home, I made several life
long friends and I even fell in love (but that's another story!).
lasts forever and those memories were consigned to the history books as
the festival changed musical policy to chase a variety of more
contemporary acts, and when I resumed my travels in 2009, I decamped to
rival festival Moondance, 300 miles west across the Minnesota state line
and the great Packers v Vikings divide.
Rock Fest has emerged from the doldrums and this year's line up was
arguably stronger than Moondance, even if perhaps more accurately dubbed
Metal Fest, with Shinedown, Godsmack, Iron Maiden and Def Leppard the
headliners with Buckcherry , BlackStone Cherry and Alice Cooper also on
festivals overlapped, but luckily for me the final day of RF was the one
of most appeal to my more commercial tastes. The Def Leppard, Poison and
Lita Ford tour was hitting town with extra acts, with Sheffield's finest
generously brought back to fill the headline slot they were scheduled to
play last year, only for Joe Elliott's father to pass away.
For all my
good memories, Rock Fest feels more corporate and less intimate than
Moondance, and the most significant difference is how VIP and general
punters are treated.
Moondance, the VIP tent is at the side and a sanded standing area at the
front is open to all comers. But here a sizeable area at the front is
reserved seating for the American equivalent of the prawn sandwich
munchers, VIP ticket holders who have paid four times the amount, but
have a slap up meal and unlimited booze thrown in.
does this mean that many bands, especially earlier, play to empty seats
at the front, but general admission tickets have to watch from some
distance back on the hill, although there is also an oversubscribed and
tightly regulated picture taking line down the centre of the stage-
albeit that many of the headliners refuse to allow its use.
A 5 hour
drive from Minnesota meant that I was never going to catch openers
Firehouse, who I would have liked to have seen, and as I hit roadwork
traffic on the interstate around Minneapolis/St Paul, the prospect of
making Lita Ford began to recede to.
caught the last 20 minutes or so of her set and the former Runaway
seemed in excellent form. It is often forgotten she is a guitar player
as much as a singer and there was some fine interplay with respected
guitar partner Mitch Perry on 'Back to the Cave', and after playing a 12
string on 'Close My Eyes Forever', sadly devoid of Ozzy Osbourne, the
catchy 'Kiss Me Deadly' ended what appeared to have been an excellent set.
ironic that 72 hours after seeing Skid Row at Moondance Jam, original
singer Sebastian Bach was next on the bill. To call him larger
than life hardly does him justice as he rabbited constantly and
excitedly, held up various signs and obscene props, and seemed to be
going for a Guinness world record for the frequency with which the 'F'
word was used - in short, he was 43 going on 17.
mixed a series of Skid Row classics - 'Slave to the Grind', 'Piece of Me',
'Here I Am' and 'Monkey Business' to name but a few - with solo material like
'American Metalhead' and the impressive 'Tunnel Vision'.
were excellent but, like his contemporaries Vince Neil and Axl Rose, it
was apparent some of the depth has gone out of his voice which has
become a rather raspy, screeching whine that at times missed out some of
the lyrics. Nevertheless the likes of '18 and Life' and 'Youth Gone Wild'
sparked a frenzy in the crowd and it was an enjoyable set provide you
did not analyse too closely.
divided opinion in their heyday as much as Poison, who were seen
either as the epitome of the empty headed glam scene that grunge had to
sweep away, or the best purveyors since Kiss of good time music and a
mixture of sleazy image and catchy songs.
year in the States, often on package tours like this, they prove they
can still put on a spectacular show, even if it is rooted firmly in
their glorious past. Indeed the one song not taken from their first
three albums was a cover of an even earlier vintage, 'We're an American
Band' which I'd seen Grand Funk Railroad do just 24 hours before.
occasion, the atmosphere for them was the best of the whole day, from
the moment 'Look What the Cat Dragged In' had people singing along, and it
helps that all-American hero Brett Michaels and guitarist CC DeVille,
who does seem to have become more competent than in his heyday are both
'Ride the Wind' and
'Your Mama Don't Danc', preceded by
Brett's harmonica playing, are made for crowd participation, while 'Every
Rose Has its Thorn' got couples smooching and lighters waving.
low points too - 'Unskinny Bop' is as egregiously vacuous as ever, and
time was wasted with a CC guitar solo and Rikki Rockett even donning a
Bonham-esque bowler hat as he played a drum solo modelled on Moby Dick.
'Fallen Angel' is a too often overlooked song and there cannot be a band
that can reel off two better glam rock party anthems than 'Nothin But a
Good Time' and 'Talk Dirty to Me' to end a set. In the debit column though
they only played 55 minutes, shorter than both the bands that preceded
Leppard gig guarantees quality and attention to detail, from the
stage set up, a backdrop of five video screens and lights show, to the
sound, to the slickness of the music and the vocal harmonies. This was
no exception but the show started slowly with new song 'Undefeated' with
Joe Elliott's voice taking on a slightly different, gravelly tone, 'Rocket' and
'Let it Go' and 'Foolin', the latter sounding considerably less
powerful than when the original line-up recorded them. The crowd seemed
subdued and Joe appeared to really be having to pull out all the stops
to energise them.
setlist was also shaken up and I was surprised how early the big hits
'Animal', 'Love Bites' and 'Lets Get Rocked' were placed in the set, to the
extent I was briefly worried they were doing a shortened set.
But it was
to create space for a few changes - marking Hysteria's 25th anniversary,
in addition to 'Women', 'Gods of War' got a rare airing, with great sound
and lighting effects, even if Joe's voice struggled a tad. It was one of
my favourite tracks on the album on release but such was the way the
singles dominated the airwaves it was sad to witness how few people here
even recognised it.
during the acoustic segment, where Joe was joined by the whole band,
even Rick Allen, they dipped further into the archive with 'Where Does
Love Go When it Dies' - the 'Slang' number apparently never before
performed live - 'Now' and 'Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad' part of a
medley alongside the more familiar 'Two Steps Behind' and 'Love and Hate
Bringing on the Heartbreak getting the full electric treatment and Phil
Collen and Vivian Campbell's jousting guitars on the instrumental 'Switch
625' before Joe returned for the traditional run in of one hook-filled
hit after another - 'Hysteria', 'Armageddon It', 'Photograph' and 'Pour Some
Sugar On Me', and an encore of 'Rock of Ages'.
Predictable yes, as indeed
was Joe's 'don't forget us Wisconsin and we won't forget you' sign off,
but a timeless reminder of how they brought heavy rock into the
mainstream better than anyone.
It was a
night to be transported back in a time machine to hair metal's heyday in
the eighties, yet Def Leppard and Poison in particular can still put on
a spectacular show.
Rock Fest takes heed and continues to find a balance between new
favourites and the tried and tested classic acts, who have got these
festival shows down to a fine art and give the people what they want.
photos by Andy Nathan
Summerfest, 3-8 July
Loopfest, 13 July
Moondance Jam, 19-21 July
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