I spent a big chunk of the summer of 1988 at my grandmother’s farm in rural North Carolina. It was seriously rural, and mainly I spent those two weeks hanging out in the barn listening to Def Leppard’s Hysteria on my Walkman. There wasn’t a single song on that album I didn’t like, and I could not get enough of it. Meanwhile, back off the farm, that album and the huge singles it spawned was everywhere. You remember. You had Hysteria too.
It’s the signature album of a band with a signature sound, but well before they recorded Hysteria, a Def Leppard song sounded like a Def Leppard Song.I’ve read articles and reviews and criticism in the years since that have focused on this album as too commercial, too pop, too slickly produced. It seems a reaction to a lot of the music that came from the 80s is that somehow popular is a negative thing. I never bought into that. There’s a reason we all bought it (and re-bought it on CD and digital) and loved this record.
One of the great things about Def Leppard is its balance; for a start, the guitar performances always seem to be more of a give and take than a lead and a backup, but it doesn’t stop there. Rick Savage and Rick Allen construct a mighty rhythm section, and Joe Elliott’s vocals have a sincerity that’s rare. But my point is, every part is essential to the big, distinctive sound. Sure there are solos, but this is a band who has skipped the dynamic of setting forth the singer and or guitar player– the usual choices– as the centerpiece. It’s a very egalitarian sound. Probably not coincidentally, they’re also one of the most stable lineups in rock music, and when these guys perform live they seem to like each other and genuinely enjoy playing together. They look like they’re having a blast.
So when Def Leppard announced that they would be doing a residency at the Hard Rock in Vegas this spring, and, to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Hysteria, they’d be playing the whole thing start to finish, I didn’t have to think it over. I called up the rest of the DGT&G crew and said, “We’re going.” Not a lot of arm twisting in that conversation.
The guys were their own opening act, adopting the persona of Ded Flatbird and playing selected material from their other albums. You can read about the first half of the show here. The main event was, of course, the start-to-finish performance of Hysteria, and it did not disappoint.
I saw Def Leppard on tour last summer with Lita Ford and Poison in Bangor, Maine. That was a very good show, but this performance at The Joint was a great show. The performance was tighter and the sound richer than what I heard from them on tour. Part of this may just be the acoustical resonance of The Joint itself, as opposed to an outdoor venue. But I also think the residency format is conducive to a better performance– there’s no wear and tear of the road happening when the audience can come to you.
They’ve kept the multilevel stage setup from the summer tour but added screens and visuals to accompany each track and provide a full multi-media experience. There was less banter with the audience in the Hysteria set, so the music could speak for itself. Here’s a quick rundown:
Women- This was always my least favorite track from the original album, but the live and loud performance has made me rethink my point of view on this song.
Rocket- The opening drum riff is my favorite sound ever. Rick Allen is a god.
Animal- The opening guitar riff is my second favorite sound.
Love Bites- Nobody sells a power ballad like Joe Elliott.
Pour Some Sugar on Me- The song that makes us want to leave our day jobs and become pole dancers. The fan videos they show on screen during this number support this theory.
Armageddon It- Do the apocalyptic statistics on the screens raise a song we all previously believed to be just a simple pun about fucking to a more complex pun about fucking instead of fixing the mess the world is in? But the next song is Gods of War, so you tell me.
Run Riot- As I said above, Def Leppard’s sound rests on the balance between two guitars. Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell seem to have a somewhat unique interplay in this respect, which really shows on this track.
Hysteria- In the show there’s a heavier vibe to this song than you get on the album. Just a touch of feedback, a little bit messier, with Rick Savage’s bass figuring more prominently than I remember from the recording. (At the exact moment I made that last note during the show, Savage walked out to the end of the ramp. It’s a sign. Of what, I don’t know.) I liked this version better.
Excitable- I know why the opening sound effects on this track make me laugh. I just can’t explain it here. I mean I can, I just won’t.
Love and Affection- This is like the youngest sibling of the power ballads. “Hysteria” and “Love Bites” get all the attention, but this track is a resonant and powerful end note.
Then the guys came out and did an encore with “Rock of Ages” and “Photograph,” because if they don’t play these two in a live show, people will riot, and rightfully so. They leave the crowd with such an energy, all we wanted to say at the end was “Do it again!”
Shows are scheduled at The Joint until April 13, so you have about a week and a half left before it ends. Break out the credit card and work through the jet lag– it’s absolutely worth the trip. If you can’t get there, take comfort in the knowledge that they were filming at this show (and maybe some of the others), so we can all live and relive the experience on DVD someday soon.
Click here for a full slideshow of photos from Viva Hysteria!
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