There was a lot of silver hair in the crowd at the SSE Arena, Wembley but with Def Leppard set to headline Download next summer this wasn’t purely about nostalgia. However, the choice of aging Americans Cheap Trick as support act was questionable, especially given that this tour would have been a great opportunity for any upcoming British rock band to play to a wider audience.
Nevertheless, it was the much-travelled Cheap Trick (2.5/5) that opened the show; delivering a competent, energetic 10-song set that included classics like ‘I Want You To Want Me’ and Fats Domino’s ‘Ain’t That A Shame’, besides the seasonal ‘Run Rudolph Run’. They neglected biggest hit ‘The Flame’ in favour of generating a little party atmosphere, yet the half-full arena was never going to erupt prior to the main attraction. Even so, Robin Zander demonstrated that his voice still carries plenty of power, despite his ponderous movement, while guitarist Rick Neilson looked more sprightly, constantly prowling the stage and delivering a fine volley of riffs. However, Cheap Trick‘s heyday was 40 years ago, and although they’re obviously very proficient, their brand of AOR/MOR isn’t about to convert legions of new fans and it’s pretty clear that they are happy to still be getting such high profile gigs at the expense of younger talent.
Def Leppard (4.5/5) have never quite received their dues from the British rock world; their mega success across the pond and their slick production often undermining their credibility as a rock act. Nevertheless, with the same line up for 26 years, and not a synthesizer in sight, the quintet have a harder edge in the live arena.
Tonight Leppard were playing their 25-million-selling album ‘Hysteria’ in its entirety, as they will at Download this year, and they did not disappoint. It was clear from the off that this would be an altogether different proposition to the openers; bare-chested guitarist Phil Collen showing off a remarkable physique for a man of 61 as he shreds the intro to opener ‘Women’.
The first six tracks on ‘Hysteria’ were all massive singles, making the first half of the show all killer; the experimental mid-section of ‘Rocket’ is almost hallucinogenic, ‘Animal’ has the crowd belting out the irresistable hook, ‘Love Bites’ is as classy a love song as you’re likely to hear and ‘Armageddon It’ has power added to its hard rock brilliance.
Everything is delivered with enviable precision and professionalism; the veteran guitarists and bassist Rick Savage skipping around the stage like it’s still 1987, while singer Joe Elliot constantly works the crowd. Sure, there are a few cracks in the vocal delivery but they cover it with slick harmonies. Strangely though, mega-hit ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ is slightly lacking in zip, but still greeted with enthusiasm.
Although tracks such as ‘Don’t Shoot Shot Gun’ and ‘Excitable’ lack the quality of ‘Hysteria’s better-known numbers they are delivered with equal panache. ‘Run Riot’ takes on a surprisingly punky vibe, complemented by a backdrop of riotous images from the turbulant 70s and 80s. While the title track and closer ‘Love and Affection’ both carry an air of triumph. A five-track career-spanning encore follows, culminating in ‘Photograph’, the song that broke them in America. Their continued vigour and quality musicianship shines through to the end; the irrepressible Collen demonstrating what a fine guitarist he really is.
Their delivery is faultless, they work the stage and the crowd tirelessly and the songs stand up as timeless classics. They may be old, this may be a nostalgia trip, but it’s certainly value for money and will be well worth checking out next summer.
Words by Edward Layland (@EdwardLayland)