It is either entirely fitting or entirely foolhardy for a band 35 years into their career to open with a song called Rock Rock (Til You Drop), but that’s exactly what Sheffield’s finest do tonight. The war of cool is over, and Def Leppard, it turns out, won.
It doesn’t matter how old you are, or they are, or what year this is, everybody just wants to scream along to Rock of Ages. The band looks great, incidentally, and if there are creaks and groans behind the scenes, they do not take them out on stage. Their set, as you might expect, is littered with Pyro/Hysteria-era cuts, but some earlier (and later) hits crop up as well. Like Euphoria’s down-tempo bummer Paper Sun, brought down further by a video backdrop of crying children and war scenes.
Following it up with the soppy ballad Love Bites could cripple a lesser band, but then they rev things back up with Armageddon It, and everything is fine again. The onslaught of rock is broken up mid-set with some razzle-dazzle - Elliott takes center stage solo for an acoustic, crowd-assisted Two Steps Behind, and then dons a top hat for a campy romp through Dave Essex’ Rock On. Rick Allen’s drum solo is a joyous triumph over adversity, but thankfully it’s also fairly brief. We’re not here for virtuosity, after all, we’re here to tease a little and squeeze a little. And speaking of adversity, some of the colossal backdrops are so impressive - a wall of blinking TVs, a neon-lit street scene - they threaten to engulf the band whole. They’re most effective during Hysteria, which serves as a video tribute both to the early days of the band and in particular fallen comrade Steve Clark. Pour Some Sugar On Me is the last song of the set, and it gets the biggest reaction. The aisles flood with middle-aged, Midwestern dancers, arms flailing, legs kicking, completely enthralled with what has got to be one of the most over the top Sweet rip-offs ever concocted. Really, nothing about this loony song should work – it’s Def Lep trying to write an 80’s rap song, basically – but it’s so insanely infectious everyone, including the band, is lost in the rush.
It ends exactly as you hope it will with a triumphant encore of Rock of Ages and Photograph, perhaps the most perfect one-two punch of pop-metal candy ever created. Before they make their grand exit, the band promise to come back next year, maybe even with some new songs. The crowd roar their approval. They may be hurtling towards their fourth decade as a band and their greatest hits are probably already written, but if tonight is any indication, none of that matters. There’s plenty of life left in Lep.
Foreigner – OK, Mick Jones and some dudes – warm up the crowd for Def Lep with a veritable (and literal, at one point) jukebox of their toothy 70s/80s FM radio hits. Purists may balk at this Lou Gramm-less iteration of the band (former Hurricane singer Kelly Hansen has been fronting the band since 2005), but there are evidently no purists in the audience tonight – and the crowd eats up megahits like Cold As Ice, Hot Blooded, and Urgent in greedy fistfuls.
Def Leppard’s new album is to be released as a Classic Rock Fanpack on October 30, four weeks before the regular CD is released. The Fanpack will include the CD (including an exclusive bonus track), a 116-page magazine featuring all-new interviews with all five band members, all-new photos and a track-by-track guide to the album, a series of collectable art cards, and a metal Def Leppard keyring. Pre-order now.