Tour Reviews: Adrian Hextall & Karen Hetherington
Photography: Adrian Hextall (MindHex Media)
It was always going to be a tough job. Black Star Riders, who opened the show in Birmingham had played a storming set of classic Thin Lizzy and modern BSR material (OUR REVIEW IS HERE). Whitesnake then followed with a set encompassing ‘Burn’ era Purple material with the classic Whitesnake anthems of the 1987 period (OUR REVIEW IS HERE). Def Leppard then, had to come out of the gate, all guns blazing each and every night of the sold-out 10 date UK & Ireland tour. To give you a sense of how they delivered on tour, our review of the Birmingham show is also followed by coverage of the Belfast arena show from Karen.
To review your favourite band objectively is always a difficult task but thankfully Def Leppard make my job relatively easy. The juggernaut that is the Def Leppard touring machine is a polished, slick efficient unit that perfectly synchronises the visuals with every track in the setlist providing one of the most polished performances you’re likely to see on stage these days. The effort required to change a setlist to encompass new or alternative tracks is mammoth and as such, the tracks are mirrored every night on the tour. The recent U.S. audiences didn’t even get to hear tracks off the new, critically acclaimed, ‘Def Leppard’ album until the end of the tour as the visuals were not initially able to be inserted. The UK and Ireland crowds however, coming onto the world tour on the back of the U.S. dates, are more fortunate. As such, ‘Let’s Go’ and the excellent ‘Dangerous’ now make appearances early on in the set and slot seamlessly in amongst classics like ‘Animal’ and ‘Love Bites’.
With the welcome inclusion of ‘Undefeated’, one of the studio tracks from the ‘Mirrorball’ release proving that the band do not have to stick to the classic late 80s era tracks to please the crowds, the band rapidly hit their stride and the grins rarely leave the faces of Vivian Campbell, Rick Savage and Rick Allen for most of the evening. Allen, hidden behind his customised drum kit is perched high on a riser in front of the immense video screen setup and it’s only when the cameras cut to him that we see his smiling sweaty face as he pummels his kit.
Elliott and Collen, the Jagger and Richards of melodic hard rock, know how to work a crowd and make the most of the walkway out into the arena floor. For the first two songs, we’re also alongside them taking photographs for the article and Joe Elliott it has to be said, appears to be a little camera shy. As we wait eagerly at the end of the runway for him to stride out, he spots us (several times) smiles, whirls around and goes back to the main stage. As we follow him, he waits and then switches once more, pacing past us to get to the crowd. It’s all part of the game however and by the end of song 2, we’ve managed to get enough shots to use and the gallery can be seen below.
Spectacle of course is what Def Leppard bring to the table these days. The video screens for a lot of the show present a backdrop that could easily place Birmingham in the middle of Las Vegas. Neon lights, signage and stunning visuals link perfectly to the songs and the end result is the slickest performance imaginable. For those who bemoan the fact that the setlist never changes and that it’s over produced, think back to when ‘Hysteria’ was released. It’s an album of pure perfection, polish and production. That ethos has been the foundation of everything the band has done since so its no surprise it all looks and feels so impressive.
‘Two Steps Behind’ sees Joe pick up the acoustic guitar and wander down the runway into the middle of the crowd. The arena sang their voices hoarse and then the band return for ‘Rocket’, again making use of the video backdrops.
Hit after hit follows and the main set closes with ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’, the song that nearly didn’t make it onto ‘Hysteria’ but is now widely regarded as one of the band’s best. For those fans that always moan abut “the older stuff” not being played, ‘Pyromania’ era classics are held until the encore and elicit a huge response from the crowd. With the outro being ‘Kings of the World’, again from ‘Mirrorball’, the band depart and the packing begins to move the convoy to the next venue.
With all of the kit, lighting and visuals needed for such a show, keep an eye on the road this winter. What you think is probably the Coca Cola Christmas Trucks might just be the Def Leppard tour gear moving across the world.
Rock On (David Essex cover)
Two Steps Behind (acoustic/Joe only)
When Love and Hate Collide
Let’s Get Rocked
Pour Some Sugar on Me
Rock of Ages
Kings of the World
SECOND OPINION: Karen Hetherington
ODYSSEY ARENA, Belfest, December 7th 2015
Def Leppard launched on to the Stage with Lets Go, the opening track from their new album. An appropriate song title for starting off a gig no doubt, but I felt it wasn’t magnificently well received. Animal and Undefeated followed in quick succession and had the crowd going crazy before Dangerous, which in my opinion is the best track from the latest release, was belted out. This sounds like the Def Leppard of old and went down a treat.
Joe remarked on at least two occasions that it was the biggest crowd Leppard had ever played to in Belfast and was obviously delighted at the huge turnout. Local Vivien Campbell was both looking and playing exceptionally well despite his recent health issues and Rick Allen – who I noticed is starting bear an uncanny resemblance to the aged Robert Plant, put on an amazing drum solo. The words “Norn Iron” scribbled on his tom tom bracket, he was evidently enjoying himself immensely, as were Phil Collen and Rick Savage and the band were tight but loose…. as always.
The rest of the evenings entertainment (or should that be the best of the evenings entertainment), featured classics from the Def Leppard repertoire. Love Bites, Armageddon It, Rocket, Hysteria, Lets Get Rocked to name a few created mass hysteria among the audience who seemed spellbound by the audio visual exhibition. Joe Elliot, who emerged in a high top hat looked rather like the mad hatter as the band performed a breath taking version of David Essex’ “Rock on” and Elliots acoustic performance of Two Steps Behind was quite simply stunning. The band finished off with Pour Some Sugar on me which raised the roof – no surprises there, before playing Rock of Ages and Photograph as encores. This was a band on top form and they knew it, crowd reaction says it all!
In conclusion, a joint gig of Whitesnake and Def Leppard – two bands I love in equal measure for entirely different reasons, was always going to be a major event and to have them introduced by such a high calibre band as Black Star Riders made for an absolute musical extravaganza.
I had slight reservations about the order of the performances, given the musical hierarchy in respecting those who came before. I felt that as Mr Coverdale has the more lengthy career that Whitesnake should have finished off the night. However it is not a competition and the crowd was comprised of Whitesnake fans, Def Leppard fans and all rockers that come between.
Whitesnake have suffered from, or benefitted from – depending on how you view it, several personnel changes over the years, while Def Leppard even though they have had their fair share of misfortune are still the close knit team they have always been.
It would be extremely unfair to make comparisons here as the two bands have unique sounds. I have always viewed Def Leppard as energised, catchy, upbeat, boyish even and Whitesnake as a deeper, more mature emotive sound charged with raw sexuality. Both acts were amazingly good – musical perfection played out in front of the audience, but I felt Leppard owned the crowd in Belfast – well doesn’t everyone love a tune that they can sing along to?