Those who doubted the decision to thrust Def Leppard into a Download headline slot for the second time in three years were made to look particularly foolish as the final bars of the wicked Wasted drifted into the Donington skies.
There are few rock bands in the world who can deliver a festival set with such power, passion and professionalism. With Leppard you know what you get and if that’s perceived as predictability by some then it is, in fact, no more or less than crowd-pleasing entertainment at its very best.
In stark contrast to fellow headline acts System Of A Down and Linkin Park, the Lepps don’t try to be artistically smart or particularly clever. What they do is play slick hit after slick hit and after the sound problems of 2009 lead singer Joe Elliott produced one of the performances of his life to close day one with a flourish.
Opening with new track Undefeated looked like a gamble on paper but it’s got all the makings of a signature Leppard hit – so much so that many of the uninitiated fully believed it had been culled from one of the band’s mega-selling 80s albums.
Throwing Let’s Get Rocked into the mix early doors set the early pace but the decision to retain the David Essex tune Rock On beggars belief. Apart from allowing Rick Savage an opportunity to tap out a funky bass solo it’s difficult to understand why a band with so many self-penned hits still persist in sullying their show with a piece of pop rock pap.
Thankfully the remainder of a sensational show was pure guilty pleasure for anyone of an 80s hair metal vintage. The acoustic mini-set, featuring Two Steps Behind and Bringin’ On the Heartbreak preceded a fabulous version of the instrumental Switch 625. But it was Photograph – with its stunning backdrop of historical snapshots – which stole the show.
Significantly guitarist Vivian Campbell followed his cameo with fellow main stagers Thin Lizzy earlier in the day with the most influential performance of his Lepps’ career. In an interview with rushonrock earlier this year the Irishman admitted he didn’t find the bulk of his guitar work alongside Phil Collen too challenging – causing raised eyebrows across the rock world. On this occasion the solos flowed and it seems the message has got through: Campbell is ready to take on greater responsibility as he approaches a third decade with Sheffield’s finest.
Keith Weir, of the Quireboys and Down N Outz, added his own magical touch to encore favourite When Love And Hate Collide before classic NWOBHM standard Wasted wrapped things up. A total triumph and proof that Leppard are back and here to stay.