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Friday, 17th June 2005

Jacksonville, FL - Media Reviews

Def Leppard Is Still Sticky Sweet By Jeff Vrabel

Late Friday night, '80s pop-rockers Def Leppard uncorked its sugary smash about being "hot, sticky sweet, from my head to my feet" just a few short hours after ancient openers Montrose sang about being "hard, sweet and sticky." Some concerts require earplugs; this one could have used a moist towelette.

Actually, it could have used some White Rain, pastel scarves and sparkly pants. For all the talk about its 25th anniversary, Def Leppard remains comfortably stuck in about June of 1988. They know it, their fans know it, and everyone's totally cool with the arrangement. And for their Friday night show at the Arena, the venerable British quintet clung almost entirely to those nostalgic pop-metal nuggets that made them globe-trotting superheroes. The sole "new" songs were '70s covers; I counted exactly one DL-penned track younger than 12 years old. True, age and the music biz hasn't been particularly kind to Def Leppard -- it'd have been unthinkable, even in the early '90s, for them to play to this many vacant seats. But to paraphrase their unattributed intro to Rock of Ages, though they've done their share of fading away, they've failed to burn out.

Though their 100-minute set Friday was missing actual pyromania (hey guys, where's the fire? No, I mean it, where's the fire?), it was appropriately thick with the suggestion of it. Songs like Armageddon It, Foolin' and Photograph remain insanely infectious, meticulously assembled rock-candy standards built by the band and producer Robert "Mutt" Lange, now known as Mr. Shania Twain (indeed, many of Def Leppard's songs are just one titular exclamation mark away from being Shania singles). These guys can even make an anti-violence screed called Gods of War seem like wrestling intro music. The thing is, it's effective wrestling intro music.

The 46-year-old singer Joe Elliott now sports a growlier voice instead of his old stadium-filling howl, but the man works hard. He bobbed and weaved through the monster ballads Love Bites and Bringin' On The Heartbreak and dug his heels into Badfinger's No Matter What and a nutty electro version of Rock On.

Those were telling cover choices. Though often washed right into the hair-band crowd, Def Leppard sort of pre-dated and then skirted the surface of it. Older tracks like Action wear their glam influences on their sleeves, and even Rock of Ages bounds along on a pretty slithery beat. But Friday was evidence that as the 80s marched on, DL's glam ingredients began to dim, leaving first the juggernaut Hysteria stuff -- the frothy Animal, the quietly insistent title track and the kind of ridiculous Rocket. And then it left laughable schlock like Let's Get Rocked, one of the low points of the entire hair-ish genre, and American Idol-worthy ballads like Two Steps Behind before grunge showed up and slaughtered pop-metal.

That could explain why there's a weird air of seriousness about Def Leppard that you don't find with Bon Jovi or even, say, Velvet Revolver. It's sort of a drag. But to their credit, these guys are aware of their legacies, they're comfortable with their roles and they know that their songs are sticky sweet. But though wildly loved, they're also calculated and increasingly distant-feeling, just like the decade they came from.

By Jacksonville/The Florida Times-Union 2005.


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