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Saturday, 5th April 2003

Madison, WI - Media Reviews

Pumped-up Def Leppard Keeps Riffs Rolling By Tom Alesia

It says a lot about a band when VH1, the breathless chronicler of rock acts' stardom and stumbles, chose Def Leppard as the subject of a made-for-TV film. VH1 uses its "Behind the Music" series, a documentary program in the loosest sense of the word, to profile bands, such as Def Leppard. But Def Leppard -- with its one-armed drummer, a guitarist who died in a bath of drugs and alcohol, ample sexual debauchery, and, of course, many millions of records sold -- also required a movie with actors to tell its chaotic story.

So it's with trepidation that one anticipated Def Leppard's show at the Dane County Coliseum Saturday. After all, it's been nearly 15 years since the British dinosaurs ruled rock. That made Def Leppard's concert such a surprise. The two-hour-plus show, heavy on past hits, displayed a sharp band eager to earn the critical respect they never got in the 1980s.

With more than 6,000 fans on their feet throughout the concert, Def Leppard appeared energized to deliver rousing versions of those slick heavy-metal pop hits. Singer Joe Elliott, now 43, maintains a frontman's swagger and appropriately screeching vocals. It was hard to not be drawn into the radio-friendly set list, especially "Photograph" and "Love Bites." Of course like most 1980s bands, Def Leppard still hopes to regain its once dominant chart success. In this case, the band promoted its 2002 album "X" -- the sparse stage featured a billboard-sized "X" as its backdrop. The album has already flopped, and it's easy to understand why. "Now" and "You're So Beautiful," both featured Saturday, highlight the band's long-standing lack of lyrical wit. Gone too are the monstrous beats that fueled "Bringin' on the Heartbreak" and "Foolin'."

By the finale, Def Leppard lined up its biggest hits. The themes? Rock, rock and rock. There was "Let's Get Rocked," "Rocket" and "Rock of Ages." Add to that the sex-driven silliness of "Pour Some Sugar on Me" and lyrically inane "Armageddon It." With one-armed drummer Rick Allen using specially made foot pedals and the band's guitar barrage, however, Def Leppard handled its history well.

"See you next time," Elliott told the crowd after the encore, "and there will be a next time."

The show featured a fascinating Belfast, Northern Ireland-based opening act. Ricky Warwick stepped onstage alone with an acoustic guitar and managed to win over a crowd not exactly suited for solo singer-songwriter types. Having lived through Belfast's troubles, Warwick offered a sympathetic nod to the horror of wartime chaos. It's a bright perspective and one not expected before Def Leppard's bombastic rock.

By Wisconsin State Journal 2003.


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