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Sunday, 27th July 2003

Portsmouth, VA - Media Reviews

Still much more than hair By Melissa Ruggieri

Def Leppard unloads an arsenal of old Top 40 hits plus some new tunes - Some things are still best done the traditional way.

Like a set list taped to the stage floor by a scruffy roadie - who trotted back out to change it with a black marker, not the click of a mouse.

Like pump-the-crowd pre-show anthems from Queen ('We Will Rock You') and Gary Glitter ('Rock and Roll Part 2').

Like a band from Sheffield, England, that knows how to administer an old-fashioned butt-kicking without the aid of pyro, video screens or anything much more glamorous than a few racks of colored lights.

Yeah, Def Leppard sported its share of fluffy coifs in the'80s. But a hair band? Hardly. The band's tragedies are legendary - drummer Rick Allen's loss of an arm in a car crash on New Year's Eve in 1984, the death of guitarist Steve Clark after the landmark "Hysteria" album. But as familiar as Def Lep is for its misfortunes, it's also a cautiously respected rock band with 15 Top 40 hits and the type of fans who don't abandon ship with the next musical trend.

Though the band's most recent album, the solid, if not astounding "X," bowed almost a year ago, the Leps are still working behind it - and at Sunday's Harbor Center show, the work came in the form of sweat-drenched members proud to unload a 23-year-old arsenal of material.

Despite a small paunch, singer Joe Elliott - who turns 44 tomorrow - still fills his leather pants well. He is also a thick-lunged howler who knows how to work a crowd, and the shirtless guitar duo of Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell almost matched his energy. Interestingly, the band opened its 2½-hour rock party with 'Let It Go,' 'Another Hit and Run,' 'High 'N' Dry (Saturday Night)' and 'Bringin' on the Heartbreak' - a succession longtime fans will notice as the first side of 1981's "High 'N' Dry" album. By the way, for you kids who think Mariah Carey's current take on "Bringin'" is the real deal . . . um, no. Elliott's defining "No-oh!" is the cry of 1,000 heartbreaks. Carey's is the whine of a diva with a reduced bank account.

Speaking of kids, while the audience of about 5,000 contained mostly'80s holdovers in washed-out Def Lep T-shirts, a healthy showing of older teens who like their rock catchy and melodic were on hand. These pockets of younger fans not only air guitared the majestic acoustic opening of 'Foolin',' but they also knew every word to the time-machine 'Rocket' and the super-sexy 'Women,' which found Elliott's voice floating on a cool echo effect through the welcome breeze.

The adrenalized Elliott hit the brakes for a few minutes to discuss the band's trip that day to Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach with Strike Fighter Squadron 87, where the gang practiced with a flight simulator.

For months on tour, Elliott has dedicated the new 'Long Long Way to Go' to American and British troops in Iraq, but Sunday, he turned it into a personal prayer to the Norfolk crowd, sending the ballad to "everybody who's still doing the job and anyone out there waiting for a swift and safe return."

Along with a smattering of new tunes dotted throughout the show came as a surprise with 'Slang' -the only keeper from that otherwise lousy album and the closest the Leps have stepped toward electronic rock - and the soaring 'Promises' from 1999's 'Euphoria.' That song is every bit as good as 'Armageddon It,' but because Def Leppard isn't deemed hip anymore, radio shamefully ignored it.

Watching human drum machine Allen play on 'Promises' was particularly inspiring; even when a customized foot pedal fritzed, he never missed a beat.

Those who have attended past Lep fests likely mourned the band's signature in-the-round stage setup, but this hits-stocked set list couldn't have been better.

Elliott shrieked so hard during the first two hours of the show that 'Photograph,' 'Animal' and 'Pour Some Sugar on Me,' a song forever ruined by radio oversaturation, found his husky vocals rasping and straining to hit the notes. Good thing bassist-chief harmonizer Rick Savage stepped up to patch the rough spots.

As the band proved relentlessly Sunday, rock classics done right never fade. So some might consider Def Leppard has-beens. They would be wrong.

By Richmond Times Dispatch 2003.


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