Artist: Def Leppard & Cheap Trick
Venue: O2 Arena, London
Date: 6 December 2018
When a colleague offers you the opportunity to see one of your all-time favourite bands live, you have to accept. When it transpires that the band in question would be playing their best album from start to finish, you don’t just accept the offer, you grab it with both hands. And so, thanks to the fickleness and erratic nature of babysitting on the part of my colleague, the opportunity was confirmed. I would be heading to the O2 arena in London on 6 December to grab the spare ticket and see the mighty Def Leppard perform ‘Hysteria’ in its entirety.
Being relatively new to the company, and generally working remotely, the only attire that colleagues have seen me wear is a suit and tie when meeting clients and at meetings. It meant that as I clocked my colleague in the merch queue, her recognition wasn’t immediate. The hoodie, beanie and Iron Maiden Vans may be my clothing of choice in my spare time, but not for Lenitha, who had to double-take before waving excitedly in my direction.
I last saw Sheffield’s finest export 15 years ago, at the Regent Theatre in Ipswich, a far different venue to this evening. However, my South African colleague had never seen Def Leppard live before. So for once, I may have not been the most excited person in attendance. Nevertheless, the anticipation for the show was immense and as we took our seats, positioned almost dead centre behind and above the mixing desk, I had a very good feeling about the show ahead.
Support for the evening was provided by Chicago-based rock band Cheap Trick. The veterans could not be faulted for their enthusiasm and showmanship but the fact was that I was there for the main event and Cheap Trick were simply not my personal cup of tea. The steadily-amassing crowd accepted them warmly and politely but the quartet were hamstrung by a less-than-crisp sound that meant that their brand of no-frills hard rock became a little muddy and indistinct to these ears. It also meant that just about every one of Rick Nielsen’s thousand guitars that he paraded on stage sounded exactly the same, rendering the entire stunt rather redundant.
Replacing Cheap Trick on stage were two giant digital clocks to obscure the frantic set changeover and to count down the thirty minutes to the arrival of Def Leppard. Via excited chat and the abstention of beverages – who on earth wants to pay £7 for a pint of average lager or £4.50 for a bottle of water? – we patiently waited for the timer to hit zero, joining the impromptu countdown from 10 to 1 as the stage was revealed to a huge roar from what now looked to be a near sold-out arena.
And what was revealed was a relatively simple two-tier stage, with drummer Rick Allen on the upper tier and the remainder of the band generally on the lower, with bassist Rick Savage occasionally venturing up the steps. Behind them, the entire backdrop was transformed into a giant screen with a further three large screens above that. And, for every song, the design and images changed to reflect the music being played.
And on the subject of the playing, it became obvious within the first minute or so of opening song ‘Women’ that these five veterans of the rock world still have it and age has not dented their energy, ability or enthusiasm one bit. From where I was positioned, the sound was clear and weighty without being too loud, allowing the evergreen Def Leppard to deliver a commanding performance.
I think that sometimes this can be overlooked, but Def Leppard are genuinely great musicians. On stage, this is demonstrated with a clarity that can’t be ignored. In Phil Collen and Viv Campbell particularly, the band is blessed with an excellent dual guitar attack, full of precision and dynamism. Rick Allen never ceases to amaze with his punchy and crisp delivery. Rick Savage is the oft underappreciated heartbeat of the band, whilst Joe Elliot is as compelling and larger-than-life as ever.
You all know the ‘Hysteria’ running order by now, so I won’t bore you by reiterating it here. Instead I’d point to the delightfully up-beat and anthemic ‘Animal’ or the neon laser-show that accompanied a gripping rendition of ‘Love Bites’ as personal highpoints among far too many to mention. Mind you, hearing the crowd sing along to ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’, at points loud enough to rival Joe Elliot and his trusty mic was pretty incredible as well.
And if that wasn’t enough, after a poignant tribute to the late Steve Clarke, I also got to hear what might be my favourite Def Leppard song of all time in the live arena. Weirdly though, ‘Gods of War’ wasn’t appreciated quite as much by some others as several punters in my section took this opportunity to powder their noses. Some people eh? This song is brilliant and it sounded immense in this setting too. Bucket list entry ticked.
However, the very best moment of the night came when the title track kicked into life. The nostalgic photo and video montage that accompanied this incredibly important song, alongside a difficult time in my personal life meant that I had to work hard to ignore the lump that was growing in my throat. It got me thinking hard about how I’ve changed over the past decade and a half since I last saw this band on stage. Births, deaths, careers, friends coming and going; it has all happened and more and it is hard not to feel emotional at times like this – regardless of the imagery, the power of this great music would have had the same effect all on its own.
With the entirety of ‘Hysteria’ aired, it was then over to the encore, a quick-fire blast of a handful of fan favourites including ‘When Love And Hate Collide’, ‘Rock of Ages’ and ‘Photograph’ which was the perfect curtain-closer to a fantastic show.
Tonight was another timely reminder of the power of music and the fact that properly good compositions will stand the test of time, sounding as vital, important and magical, even if it happens to be over three decades old. Put it another way, as someone who was just seven years old when it was released, ‘Hysteria’ has aged a damn sight better than I have, that’s for sure. And, on that sobering thought, I headed off into the night, fully sated but bereft of voice, thanks to an incredible show by an equally incredible band.