With so many rock and metal acts playing entire albums in full these days, it was only a matter of time before the band responsible for one of the biggest (and longest) records of all time decided to give it a go themselves. Selling over twenty-five million copies worldwide, the idea for Def Leppard to play 1987’s Hysteria (Phonogram/Mercury) in its entirety began in 2012 when the band were offered an eleven date residency at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, which they played during March and April of 2013.
Now, after five long years, the band have finally brought the show back to their native UK, and the reaction has been more than pleasing. Support act for the tour comes in the form of US hard rock legends Cheap Trick. With a combined age of one hundred and thirty-four (thirty-five if you’re reading this after December 22nd), it’s not really surprising that frontman Robin Zander and guitarist Rick Nielsen aren’t the same bundles of energy they were on the seminal At Budokan (Epic) live album, but it doesn’t stop them having a go. Warming the enthusiastic Midlands audience up nicely with ‘Hello There’, ‘Big Eyes’, a cover of ‘Aint That a Shame’ by Fats Domino, and ‘The Flame’, things really get moving in the second half when they play the classics ‘I Want You to Want Me’, and ‘Dream Police’
Under normal circumstances, that little double would have been the highlight of any show, but tonight it simply serves an appetiser for what comes next. Having recorded a cover of ‘California Man’ by Birmingham act The Move for their 1978 album Heaven Tonight (Epic), the band are joined on stage for the song by none other than Roy Wood, the extremely bearded frontman for The Move, and Wizzard. Composer of one of the UK’s best loved Christmas songs, Wood then playfully teases the crowd by saying “we don’t care what time of year it is do we, boys and girls!” before launching into a surprise ‘I Wish it Could Be Christmas Every Day’ for the delighted Brummie audience, the entire arena soon becoming one massive festive singalong. Ending with ‘Surrender’ (which, thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, has opened the song up to a new, younger audience) and the appropriately titled ‘Goodnight Now’, Cheap Trick exit the stage to rapturous applause, leaving the headliners with some serious work on their hands.
Or not. When a digital timer counting down from thirty minutes causes a tumultuous round of applause by itself, then you know the near-capacity audience are more than up for this. And as the countdown hits the last ten seconds, the heavy scent of expensive perfume emanating from a large section of dolled-up forty-something females (is “rock chicks” still an acceptable term these days?) down at the front means you can virtually taste the excitement all the way down the back of your throat.
As expected, the band hit the stage to ‘Women’ and smash through every track in album order with big grins and a bounce in their step, the performance enhanced by some tremendous visuals shown across the huge video screen backdrop. However, with Hysteria guilty of being front-loaded in terms of hits, the reaction to the second half – although still suitably loud and energetic – isn’t quite as electric as the first. No matter what you might think of the songs yourself, played in front of a huge crowd, cuts like ‘Excitable’, ‘Don’t Shoot Shotgun’, and ‘Love and Affection’ just aren’t going to elicit the same response as ‘Animal’, ‘Rocket’, and ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’.
After the hour-long Hysteria section of the show comes to a close, the band leave the stage for a short while, returning for a five-song encore which begins predictably enough with a cover of The Sweet classic ‘Action’, and runs through a lighters/mobile phones in the air rendition of ‘When Love and Hate Collide’, a ridiculously bouncy ‘Let’s Get Rocked’, and brilliant versions of ‘Rock of Ages’, and of course ‘Photograph’ from the band’s 1983 Pyromania (Vertigo/Mercury) album.
The band themselves look like they’re having a great time on stage. The shirtless and infuriatingly ripped sixty-one(!) year old Phil Collen sweating buckets and enjoying every second, bass payer Rick Savage pointing emotionally to the heavens in front of a picture of the band’s sadly departed guitarist Steve Clark, drummer Rick Allen receiving a thoroughly deserved standing ovation, former Dio guitarist Vivian Campbell trading riffs with Collen, and singer Joe Elliott working the audience superbly, proudly informing everyone of the band’s upcoming induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. If there is one downside to the show, it’s that the album – save for a few guitar licks and fills here and there) is replicated exactly. Every single track laden with all the same pre-recorded backing tracks and sound clips prevalent on the record. If it wasn’t for the incredible visual displays, you could close your eyes, stick your earbuds in, and listen to the album on your iPod or phone.
That one fairly minor quibble aside, the one hundred minute show is a predictably resounding success, and everyone leaves the arena with huge grins and reasonably priced merch, already salivating at the prospect of another tour.