Review: Def Leppard – The SSE Arena, Belfast
A Def Leppard show is usually something special when it rolls into town. The support acts are usually perfectly chosen, the stage set up as over the top as you would expect, the sound perfect, and the hits churned out one after the other. And there’s absolutely no change tonight. What makes it even more special this time around is that the tour is in support of the Hysteria album, 31 years old (30 when the tour started) and arguably the most important in Def Leppard’s career, never mind its record breaking success generally.
The support acts in previous tours have been excellent, from Whitesnake to Journey, and tonight is no different with US rock legends Cheap Trick opening the show, to an almost full arena.
The band may have aged a bit, but they sound as youthful as ever with guitarist Rick Nielsen pulling out the guitar hero moves and leaping (to a certain extent) into the air at times. As for lead singer Robin Zander, his voice was strong as ever, the power and range as great as it’s ever been.
Having listened to very little Cheap Trick before the show (I know, I know, it will be remedied), they really proved just why they have the legendary status they have, why they made it in the first place and why more than 4 decades later, they’re still around.
The set list for a 45 minute set was never going to be too adventurous and for most of the Cheap Trick fans in attendance it didn’t disappoint. Saving the big hitters for the last three, “I Want You To Want Me”, “Dream Police” and “Surrender” they left the arena more than ready for the night’s headliners.
Displayed on the giant screens front of the stage is clock counting down. At five minutes we get an announcement that the show will be starting soon, and cue Def Leppard’s latest single, ‘Personal Jesus’ – yes that Personal Jesus. But it’s a great cover and blaring over the PA it sets the mood perfectly.As the clock reaches zero the screens change to display the band’s logo and “Belfast” across the screens. If there’s one thing Def Leppard have mastered, it’s pure showmanship and spectacle.
As the screens rise, the intro to Hysteria opener “Women” starts, Phil Collen already placed dead centre behind the screen. Shirtless, obviously. The set list follows the album track list, which definitely marks this Def Leppard gig out as something a little different.
Fans of the band or even just that album will know then what songs are coming. And check this out for a running order, “Rocket”, “Animal”, “Love Bites”, “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, and “Armageddon It.” We’re not even halfway through the show!
The chat between songs is kept to a minimum, the music does the talking. But there is time for lead singer Joe Elliott to point out that Hysteria was released 31 years, and that the current line-up has been together for 26 of those 31 years.
An impressive feat for any band, even more so when it’s clear that he’s referring to the band continuing after the passing of the much missed Steve Clarke. And there is time for a touching video tribute to the late Clarke. Of course with Clarke gone, the spot had to be filled. As we’re reminded several times throughout the show, that spot was filled by our own Vivian Campbell, known to the Leppard guys from his days with Dio and Sweet Savage.
The Hysteria juggernaut rolls on, with the second half of the album providing some tracks that maybe get the live treatment a little less, the likes of “Gods of War” and “Run Riot”, with their backing videos of war and punks. It should be added that “Run Riot” as well as “Excitable” and “Love and Affection” were being performed in Belfast for the first time.
Of course the second half of Hysteria also feature the song of the same name, always a staple of any Def Leppard show. Finishing with “Love and Affection” the band draw the Hysteria section to a close, “ladies and gentlemen, Hysteria 2018.” And with that the band take their leave for a short break before the encore.
As well as a special celebration of the Hysteria album, it also happens to be bassist Rick Savage’s birthday and once the group has taken to the stage, the audience joins in serenading the legendary bassist. With that, the encore begins. We’re told that as it’s a hometown show for Campbell, he got to choose the song and we’re treated to “Wasted” – “unrehearsed. Un-fucking-rehearsed, Belfast.”
What a way to start an encore, as heavy metal a tune as Def Leppard have gone. What follows is just hit after hit, “When Love and Hate Collide,” “Let’s Get Rocked”, “Rock of Ages” and set closer “Photograph.” Could we really ask for more?
What Def Leppard provide is a spectacle, a show of the highest calibre. They’ve proven over the last number of decades that they can churn out a hit or ten. The band may be older, but the showmanship is there. The guitars sound huge, the bass and drums could knock you off your feet, and Elliott’s vocals have enough power and range left to belt out the songs, and keep the Leppard machine running a little while longer. Old enough to be called rock veterans, they’ve earned their stripes, and when they deliver a show like Hysteria 2018 you can’t help but be impressed.