As we twist our frantic jetboats through another foaming archipelago of summer festivals with dozens of acts each, a concert like Monday night’s Def Leppard experience feels so exceptionally crisp and focused.
There in the dark, where if not pyrotechnics, at least stunning video productions brought the brain to places both psychedelic and almost heartbreakingly nostalgic for school gymnasium dances, things felt oddly simpler — an acid-wash trip to the “before time” of network TV and mall expansions.
Which is not to say passive, as anyone with ringing ears will tell you the next morning: the homonym “deaf” in Def Leppard chiming through.
For very loud the five and upper ten thousands were, mutually engaged in small-town summertime radio hits as familiar-tasting as bacon and misfired mosquito repellent.
Hands flat in front of you, tap your thumbs together, your pointer fingers straight out. Now touch the tips of those forefingers and hold that triangle up. That’s how basic this band is at its best: a volume arrow pointing to the ceiling.
For an hour and a half the English rockers pounded and slow-danced the fully packed Rogers Place class layer cake, a sea of ’80s ladies and native bangers with their arms in the air like they just don’t care.
This started with AM dashboard blammers Rocket and Animal, the screens alive with a wall of TVs showing images of Earth’s conquest of space, including everything from the Apollo missions to starman/blackstar David Bowie to Richard Nixon — the Dick who nixed the manned moon efforts.
Metal-haired bass player Rick Savage took to the thrust stage for the first of many times for lesser hit Excitable. Then Edmonton got a crucial song skipped in the last few performances on the Def Leppard Hits Canada Tour: the monolithic and actually crucial Foolin’.
Singer Joe Elliott unquestionably sang the “is anybody out there, anybody there?” bridge lower than 36 years ago, but you couldn’t even hear him under the “f-f-foolin’,” chorus anyway. Unless otherwise stated, any major bit of tape deck bank worked the same way: the Millennial-to-Boomer audience shrieking along and decked out in DL T-shirts and headbands as an absolute ocean of support, while Elliott raised his Union Jack-adorned mic stand to the stratospheric nosebleeds across the sardine can.
All the lighters virtual and analog came out for the mellower When Love and Hate Collide — then the ridiculously awesome Let’s Get Rocked hit like a shockwave.
Some metal bands start quiet, even quietly classical, like Metallica sometimes, before unleashing the dragon. Not Def Leppard, though — it’s more like a Polar Express midway DJ screaming, “DO YOU WANNA GO FASTER?!?” as we mirror the mayhem.
Let’s Get Rocked, incidentally, is almost exactly sonic ground zero for where most country music headed in the ’90s and never left — so some weird associations there, y’all.
The song that followed was even more ridiculous: its titular lyrics including, “Are ya getting it? Armageddon it!” like some long-saved Pud cartoon dropping out of a first edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. Guitarist Vivian Campbell stepped into the spotlight for this one, his beautiful Les Paul Goldtop glittering and tasty as a wet caramel.
“See? You know the words,” 59-year-old Elliott smiled inside his raspy Sheffield accent after. “This is why we love coming here.
“Look at this place. This is what we dreamed of as kids; we never thought it would last this long.”
The band next did a cover of David Essex’s Rock On in front of a blinding white screen, followed by the lovely ballad Two Steps Behind, where the players came out to the tip of the thrust stage — including drummer Rick Allen shaking a maraca — ending with Elliott singing alone in the dark.
Neon skulls with laser eyes flew through that iconic triangle for Man Enough, taking us to another gymnasium butt-grabber: Love Bites. Hilariously, the younger bros behind us slow danced, simultaneously screaming “YEAH!” at the expense of all eardrums within 10 feet.
After Bringin’ on the Heartbreak, Elliott left the band to noodle during the heavy Switch 625, the highlight of course being the drumwork of Allen, who lost his left arm in a Corvette accident in 1984.
Gloved and barefoot, he used his special gear to hit the bass, snare and tom from the floor, and inside the atomic blast of audience love after his solo, held up two fingers — peace, and “at peace” — with one of the most heartwarming grins I’ve ever seen at an arena show.
Openers Tesla also deployed such personality, singer Jeff Keith groovily noting, “We’re all still out here, floatin’, man!” As when they also opened for Def Leppard at the Coliseum in 1988, they played southern metal classics like Cumin Atcha Live, Little Suzi and that killer version of Five Man Electrical Band’s Signs, perhaps to remind us how we’re still constantly psychically infected with the lowest-common denominator pitches of paid liars every time we dare open our eyes. (For contrast, look up how São Paulo, Brazil, effectively banned advertising and signs in public — it’s jarring.)
Anyway, back to it, Def Leppard ended their set with Hysteria and a big nod to Bowie’s Heroes, then the “you got the peaches, I got the cream”-bearing anthem, Pour Some Sugar on Me. (You just heard “in the name of love” in your head, right?)
Encoritis after more unstoppable roar: the towering Rock of Ages. Elliott came at us with his arms lowered, fingers wiggling to give it up even louder. Sheesh!
Finally, the soaring Photograph, that Union Jack going up again in front of images of the band’s long history through our lives.
They came out into the crowd again, Elliott yelling, “Whoa! Holy shit!” as we would … not … let … go.
“Don’t forget us,” Elliott said finally, “we won’t forget you!”
Did you not see that Wayne Gretzky in bronze outside? Yearning for the past is the exact thing we use to deny this dismal present!
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After 40 years touring clubs, arenas and stadiums, Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott is looking forward to making a temporary home in Las Vegas.
Def Leppard’s Planet Hollywood residency kicks off August 14 and runs through September 7.
“For us, the greatest thing about a residency is you sleep in the same bed and people come see you rather than the other way around,” jokes the recently inducted Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, who, along with his bandmates, will kick off Def Leppard Hits Vegas: The Sin City Residency at Planet Hollywood’s Zappos eater August 14. The residency is the band’s first since its wildly successful Viva Hysteria run at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in 2013, which gave Elliott a taste of what an extended stay in the desert will do to a singer’s vocal cords. “The last time, I had two humidiers [in the hotel] and filled the bath with boiling water every night,” he says. The inaugural residency will treat fans to songs from the band’s iconic catalog, with a few unexpected tracks thrown in to keep things fresh.
But don’t interpret that last bit as the dreaded “Here’s something off our new album,” Elliott cautions. “It’s a party atmosphere, a party town, a party gig. We’re not trying to educate [the audience],” he says. “Nobody’s coming to see Def Leppard play 25 songs they’ve never heard.” 8 p.m., tickets from $69, ticketmaster.com/defleppard
“I can’t see that happening anytime soon,” Elliott, 59, says with a chuckle down the line from Italy. “Health allowing, we can do this as long for as we want. That will be the plan.”
Def Leppard — whose hits include Pour Some Sugar on Me, Photograph and Animal — were chart-topping mainstays in the ‘80s. But they’ve managed to stick around, as musical fads have come and gone.
This month, the band, which was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year by Queen’s Brian May, will set out on a cross-Canada tour before settling down for a residency at Las Vegas’ Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in late August.
“Since 2005, when we went out on tour with Bryan Adams, our situation has just ramped up. It got to the point where we were playing stadiums with Journey last year.”
Formed in 1977, in the U.K., Def Leppard was part of a new wave of metal bands that made an impression on rock radio in the ‘80s in the U.S. and Canada. But Elliott says he and bandmates Phil Collen (lead guitar), Vivian Campbell (rhythm guitar), Rick Savage (bass) and Rick Allen (drums) always viewed themselves as a cross between AC/DC and Queen.
“Over the years, we’ve banged heads with some of the hard rock fraternity who think we sold out,” he says. “But we wanted to have a commercial edge. We wanted to have the power of a band like AC/DC with the melody, drive and dynamism of a group like Queen. You put those two together in a pot, stir them around and that’s kind of like the majority of what we wanted to be.”
As they get set to kick off a Canadian tour, Elliott reflected on the Rock Hall honour, Def Leppard’s longevity and whether he’d like to see the band’s life story make it to the big screen.
It’s a big year for the band. Let’s start with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. How did it feel to see the band immortalized like that?
Now that the dust has settled on it, I thought that was very, very cool. There’s only 230 acts in the Hall of Fame out of the billions of artists that have existed. So yeah, you do walk a little taller. But at the same time, we’ve been eligible to be in there for quite some time. Thirteen years ago, we were 25 years old as a band and it just passed us by. But a couple of years later, I started to get asked about it. But after I kept getting asked that question, eventually I got fed up with it. I had to say, ‘Look man, we don’t care about the Hall of Fame’… Then, once they started the fan vote about seven years ago, we had a feeling we would get in.
It made us feel great that we weren’t being chosen by some anonymous committee. We were being voted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by the people that matter the most — our audience.
It’s been almost 40 years for Def Leppard as a band. Forty years doing anything isn’t easy. What was the key to your success?
This band formed in August 1977. When me, Steve Clark, Rick Savage and Pete Willis got together, we just thought we’d give it a go and see what happens. We liked what we saw when we watched Top of the Pops on TV, and we liked what we saw when we went to see bands play live and we wanted to be part of it. We learnt along the way that you don’t get gifted with this. You might be born with a musical talent, but you have to apply that gift. We learnt a long, long, long time ago that it’s hard work that gets you anywhere. Of course you need talent, too — that goes without saying. Then you need a mighty slice of luck to be in the right place at the right time. If you got the songs and you get the breakthrough, it’s even harder work to try and retain that success or achieve it all over again. For us, we worked very, very hard to be the band that we became.
Can you recall the moment where you looked at the rest of the members of Def Leppard and said, ‘You know what, I think we’ve made it’?
I think there have been moments where I can look back and think we made an impression and that would have been late spring, early summer of 1983. During that period in Canada and America, we landed big with Pyromania. All of a sudden, we were in Canada for the first time ever playing places like London, Ont. I remember we were playing one place and it was so hot in the arena that a cloud had formed in the roof of the building. But it was exciting. That year, 1983, was kind of a marquee period for the band, especially in America and Canada. But I still didn’t think of ourselves as ‘making it’ though because the world is such a big place. Everyone’s perception of ‘making it’ differs. When did Bob Dylan ‘make it’? It’s a subjective situation. For us, we never worried about that.
How does it feel to have songs like Pour Some Sugar on Me, Animal, Photograph become these iconic anthems transcending generations?
It’s exactly what we wanted. We saw what we do as no different to what the Rolling Stones or the Beatles or the Who did. How did they get songs like Jumpin’ Jack Flash or Love Me Do or My Generation to be around this long? They had the magic. So we wanted to trailblaze behind them … We were never interested in being a one-hit wonder band. We wanted a legacy. We wanted to put out a Greatest Hits record one day where every single song was a true hit.
Since I was a kid, you’ve always been there. You’ve come back year after year, released new music and played all over Canada. But it hasn’t been easy. You lost Steve Clark in 1991 and Pete was fired in 1982. Was there a point where you thought it might not last?
Yeah, there was. Collectively, we never sat down and discussed it. But individually it has come to light over the years either through an interview one of us did or one of us just talking about it. I think Phil was close after Steve died in 1991 because he’d lost his best mate. When Led Zeppelin lost John Bonham, they decided to stop. When we lost Steve, we decided to carry on. We had gotten most of the songs for Adrenalize ready and we saw it as an opportunity to use it as therapy.
How did you compete with new music genres that sprung up in the ’90s and early 2000s?
When grunge was kicking us up the ass in the mid- to late-’90s, people were asking us, ‘Are you thinking of packing it in?’ it was like, ‘No!’ We were so thick skinned and so experienced at taking the knocks and getting back up we were like a punch-drunk boxer — only we weren’t punch drunk.
We just knew if we kept coming up with some decent music that, along with our catalogue, would keep us going. You have to remember, we still had one of the biggest albums of all time in our arsenal. When grunge came along, it wasn’t like people who liked ‘80s bands stopped liking ‘80s bands. It was a lot of people who just didn’t like us that went over and got noisy about the likes of Nirvana and Pearl Jam. They may have quieted down our lot, but our fans came roaring back.
You’ve had a biopic that aired on VH1 back in 2001. But now that Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman proved successful, would you like to see someone try the Def Leppard story again on the big screen?
Well, our biopic did tackle our story, but it was pretty piss poor. It was made in 1999 before biopics were a craze. But I just don’t see it. Elton and Queen are so iconic, I would say before anyone tackles us again, if I was a film director or producer wanting to make a music biopic I would go straight to Lynyrd Skynyrd. That’s a story that needs to be told because of what they went though. Also, until there’s an incredible movie about the Stones or the Beatles or Chuck Berry, I think we’ll be on the back burner.
How have your dreams of rock stardom measured up to where you ended up?
It really was the thing of dreams. We’ve got such a legacy to uphold, so you can’t fall off. You have to be on your game every night. Lots of people used to think that rock ‘n’ roll’s all about getting out of bed with a hangover and a bottle of Jack Daniels and a random chick at your side. Then you pull on your leather pants, go straight to the gig and put on this amazing show. It doesn’t work like that and it never did. Some artists might have lived their life like that, but they went away. For us, it was never like that. It was more athletic. We were more like sportsman. You’ve got to be on your game every night or you ain’t going to get picked.
For a full list of Def Leppard’s Canadian tour dates, visit defleppard.com/tour
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