Def Leppard, Ambassador Theatre, Dublin, 11th February 2003
When Def Leppard released "Hysteria" in 1987, I was ten. While my classmates raved about Bros and Rick Astley, I was busy trying to trace the Def Leppard moniker onto the front of my Irish copy. With bleach-tipped hair and slashed jeans, Def Leppard's sweetly-layered harmonies and distinctive twin guitar sound epitomised 1980s rock and packed arenas and stadia across the world.
So, when they announced tour dates that included Dublin's modest Ambassador Theatre, you couldn't help but conclude that the mighty had fallen. And, as Joe Elliott bounded onstage to the opening chords of 'Disintegrate', I wondered if all my long-held childhood illusions were about to be shattered. He wore a dubious-looking shiny-red mesh top and leather trousers so tight that a spread-eagled pose could take your eye out, and for a moment it seemed that these former 'monsters of rock' had regressed into dinosaurs.
Launching straight into 'Let it go', 'Rock! Rock! ('Til you drop)' and 'Action', however, I was proved wrong. It was faultless, it was heavy and it was very, very loud. After a few problems with feedback during these first few songs, the poor sound guys must have realised that this band was determined to shatter a few eardrums and adjusted the engineering accordingly.
This was Def Leppard's second night in the Ambassador and they played a set lasting nearly three hours, with most of it coming from their earlier back catalogue. Obviously the band knew their audience and, accordingly, gave them what they wanted to hear. A glance around the Ambassador revealed a motley crew of both ageing rockers and suited accountant-types reliving their lost youth, but the night was more than a mere exercise in nostalgia. The band's booming, multi-vocal rock style has served them well for many years, and it was actually refreshing to see them showing no signs of ditching it in favour of something more "contemporary".
To illustrate this, an attempt to update 'Hysteria' with a bass intro didn't really work and, although songs like 'You're so beautiful', 'Long, long way to go' and 'Four-letter word' (from their most recent album "X") were very well received, the older songs got the biggest cheers from the crowd. The set included such golden oldies as 'Switch 625' and 'Bringin' on the heartbreak' from '81s "High n' dry", as well as 'Too late for love' and 'Fooling' from their breakthrough album "Pyromania".
As Joe Elliott told the crowd, Dublin gigs are like a homecoming for Def Leppard. He played the Irish card throughout the show, mocking Pat Kenny for calling their current single ('Long, long way to go') by the wrong name during their Late Late Show appearance the preceding Friday. He dedicated 'Promises' to his godchild, whose Irish parents were apparently in the crowd, and advocated vegan guitarist Phil Collen as "the greatest walking advert for 'Cornucopia'", the vegetarian restaurant in Dublin.
There were certain songs, though, for which the whole crowd was waiting. Def Leppard's glory days were undoubtedly from the time of "Pyromania" and "Hysteria" and, when the band launched into 'Rocket' (followed by an extended solo battle between guitarists Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell), it was the start of a great run of tunes that included all the big hits like 'Women', 'Armageddon it', 'Photograph', 'Animal' and 'Pour some sugar on me'.
Many of the crowd probably hadn't heard any of these songs for at least a decade, but they were played with a refreshing lack of irony that stopped them from sounding at all anachronistic. Admittedly, some Def Leppard tunes are more than a little corny at times ('Make love like a man' and 'Let's get rocked' spring to mind), but the sheer energy that invigorated the performance ensured that all but the most hardened cynics were belting it out with the band.
The few words of Teutonic babble that begins 'Rock of ages' were revealed as "the only words of Irish that [drummer] Rick Allen has ever learned", and the song finished up a great set. For an encore, they returned for 'Two steps behind' and the supremely cheesy 'Let's get rocked', but you had to forgive them for such minor misdemeanours after expending so much energy and effort into their performance - especially when you consider that all the band members are into their forties…
Perhaps it's a sign of the times that this show didn't sell out the Ambassador, and it's a shame. Although of course there's no denying that some great new music is currently being produced, Def Leppard's enthusiasm for old-style, melodic rock music couldn't help but rub off. The night's show highlighted the self-absorption and navel-gazing of which some more contemporary artists are guilty. And also, on the whole, that Joe Elliott doesn't look too bad in his leathers after all.
Mary Anne Kenny.