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Monday, 20th June 2005

Madison, WI - Media Reviews

Leppard brings on make-out metal By Rob Thomas

In the current issue of Blender magazine, "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest admits that the first album he kissed a girl to was Def Leppard's "Hysteria." That's nothing that Def Leppard has to apologize for, although one wonders how the British hard rockers feel about being associated with a guy who, later in the article, admits that he doesn't like "Led Zeppelin IV."

But Seacrest's memories illustrate what made Def Leppard stand out from the pack of '80s pop-metal bands: They could attract female listeners with their power ballads without losing their male fans. A teenage boy could leave his "Hysteria" cassette in the cassette deck of his Dodge Dart all weekend, whether he was cruising with his friends Friday night or out on a date with his girlfriend on Saturday night.

That enduring formula, now given a nostalgic sheen, still had plenty of life in it Monday night when Def Leppard played the Dane County Coliseum. The band is touring behind a new greatest hits CD, "Rock of Ages," so there weren't many mediocre new songs to get in the way of the fondly remembered hits.

The audience of a few thousand was an older, diehard rock 'n' roll crowd; during a slow song, when the lights went down, more cigarette lighters than cell phones were held aloft. There were also a few younger fans spotted wearing the band's trademark sleeveless Union Jack shirts, a more tasteful tribute than the fan who wore a jersey with a missing right sleeve in honor of one-armed drummer Rick Allen. (And Allen is missing his left arm, genius.)

The fans got a 90-minute show plus encore from a band that, almost 30 years after it formed, has worked hard to keep its skills sharp. The extra-crispy guitar licks of Phil Collen, aided by new guitarist Viv Campbell, still slice through the pumped-up beats by Allen, and the band's harmonies are as potent as ever. Lead singer Joe Elliott is still an effective frontman, although he's not as comfortable around the high notes as he once was. But if that keeps him away from some of the band's more dubious power ballads, that might be a good thing.

High points early on included the fist-pumper "Foolin' " and the hypnotic churn of "Hysteria," while the set closed strongly with "Photograph," "Rock of Ages" and an encore that featured "Bringin' on the Heartbreak."

When Collen and Campbell took off their shirts to play bare-chested, it was a nice throwback to the glam-metal days of yore, especially since they both apparently eat right and exercise. The midsection of the show was more of a mixed bag. A spry cover of Badfinger's "No Matter What," which will be featured on an upcoming Def Lep album of old cover tunes, came off surprisingly well. But the set got bogged down occasionally in too many so-so tunes, like an acoustic version of the limp "Two Steps Behind."

Even the girls aren't too crazy about that one.

By The Capital Times 2005.

Def Leppard Can Still Bring It By Aaron R. Conklin

The more than 4,000 metal-heads who showed up Monday night at the Alliant Center Coliseum might have been forgiven for thinking they had accidentally stumbled into the way-back machine, crash-landing in the middle of 1987. Def Leppard headlining a show with Tesla? The band that evolved from the scrappy, early '80s London metal scene into a U.S. hit machine that pumped out soaring rock anthems quicker than Reagan popped Jelly Bellys? Rock on, baby. Guess the Leps weren't kidding when they titled their latest greatest-hits collection "Rock of Ages."

For a band that's endured enough tragedy and drama to pack three "Behind the Music" episodes -- the loss of drummer Rick Allen's left arm, the 1991 overdose death of guitarist Steve Clark and the total implosion of the glam metal scene in the '90s -- Def Leppard doesn't seem particularly scarred. In fact, as Monday night's show proved, it's a band that can not only still rock it like it's 1987 but also a group that's aware and proud of its place in rock history.

Frontman Joe Elliot arrived wearing the black leather pants, but left the trademark Union Jack muscle shirt in storage. Not that it mattered: Outside of the symbolism, there was never anything especially Brit about Def Leppard anyway; in many ways, the tuneful harmonies, bombastic guitars and Elliot's high-pitched rasp were tailor-made for American shores.

All of that was on full display through the 90-minute set, in high-powered versions of "Let it Rock," "Let's Get Rocked," and "Armageddon It." By the show's midway point, both guitarists Phil Collen and Viv Campbell were shirtless, trading ear-splitting guitar solos like sonic baseball cards.

The band spent most of the night bathed in blinking colored spotlights, backed by a huge video screen that flashed images over video of the musicians performing on stage, a nod to the MTV era that spawned them if ever there were one. Sometimes, what was on the screen was intriguing--during "Foolin'," images of band members from the '80s flashed, shoulder-length coifs and all. At other times, the video was downright distracting. Def Leppard blew through six songs before Elliot decided to address the crowd, with a joking complaint about security detouring a topless female fan.

Joe and the gang have ground out five albums since their album sales peaked with 1987's "Hysteria," but it's still the older stuff that rocks the hardest, and it's these songs that had the crowd up, thumping and pumping. The show's emotional high point came near the end, with a 1-2-3-4 punch of material from "Hysteria" and 1983's "Pyromania," beginning with supercharged run-throughs of "Rocket" and "Photograph" and ending up with "Rock of Ages," the Leps' signature hit.

During the between-song banter, Elliot mentioned that it was 25 years ago that Def Leppard first performed in America. I'm guessing they won't be around to kick it in another 25 -- but it's a safe bet their music still will be.

By Madison State Journal 2005.


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