Phil Collen was a little off colour. Joe Elliott was occasionally off key. And Rick Savage was simply off with the fairies. But it is testimony to one of British rock’s true national treasures that Def Leppard still delivered a typically exhilarating set in front of the Sheffield faithful.
This was the penultimate show on the band’s co-headline tour with Motley Crue and, against all the odds, the hometown heroes were determined to get the Christmas party season started.
Flashing lights, giant silver baubles and a sackful of 80s gifts guaranteed the merriest of moods – even if the inclusion of Slang was akin to receiving socks from your old auntie (a kind thought but hardly appreciated).
Had Elliott donned a big red suit and a long white beard the festive effect would have been complete but instead he chose sparkly pumps to match his glittering mic stand. And perhaps that’s just as well.
Leppard’s bullish frontman has always been more about substance than style – he never appeared entirely comfortable chasing the tails of Tempest and Bon Jovi in the race for Smash Hits covers or MTV specials.
And for all his obvious pain in attempting to hit the high notes of Hysteria and Animal, Elliott is, in every other respect, in the form of his life as the powerful force behind one of live music’s last remaining juggernauts.
There was a time in the late 80s when a Leppard show became more about the visual than the aural but these days the balance is bang on.
Wide-eyed punters will forgive big Joe the odd bum note when faced with an array of high definition films and a stunning light show. And when Elliott gets it right he really gets it right – the acoustic interlude featuring a fabulous version of Bringing On The Heartbreak sending shivers down the spines of all those present.
Throw in the sensational work of Collen and Vivian Campbell – plus the innovative ‘Sav Cam’ – and Leppard offer full value for money at a time when finances are tight.
Choosing to roll out a quite wonderful version of Love Bites to kick off an emotive encore was the inspired decision of the night. Elliott nailed it and Sheffield loved it.
Whether they loved – or simply marvelled at – Motley Crue is open to debate. Vince Neil makes Elliott sound like Frank Sinatra but the Crue are the antithesis of this month’s welcoming hosts – all style and just a touch of substance.
Take out Tommy Lee’s awe-inspiring 360 degree drum set, strip away crowd favourites Girls, Girls, Girls, Dr Feelgood and Kickstart My Heart and it’s difficult to recall how the US sleaze metal legends managed to stretch out a 70 minute-plus set.
There were Mick Mars’ toe-curling solo slots (the display immediately following Lee’s drum spectacular sounding uncannily like a five-year-old getting to grips with Guitar Hero), an unhealthy amount of swearing and some lovely pyrotechnics. An otherwise heartwarming rendition of Home Sweet Home was spoiled by the frankly embarrassing group huddle.
Nikki Sixx’s 2011 album blows Crue’s most recent output out of the water and it’s time for the bass player to put his side project centre stage. This was a theatrical event, rather than a coherent concert, and a good one at that. But there was a time when Motley Crue was mostly about the music and those days are much missed.
Steel Panther manage to entertain and energise with their tongue-in-cheek pastiche on hair metal and some sparkling musicianship to boot. It was Elliott who referred to the band’s ‘talent’ when thanking Leppard’s tour buddies and only the most narrow-minded of critics (step forward Mr Lee) fail to see the value in a band born to entertain.
A half-full floor was a sea of smiles as 2011’s answer to Spinal Tap sent up all of their 80s heroes (Leppard and Crue included) with the on-stage banter to match their laugh-out-loud lyrics. Those overly familiar with the cringeworthy quartet are crying out for some new lines but as Panther would surely attest – the old ones are the best.
Mixing tracks from new album Balls Out – including the fantastic Just Like Tiger Woods – with a few key cuts from their major label debut, a short but oh-so-sweet set was a lesson in commitment and professionalism. And who would have believed that from four comedy characters making a mint from playing dumb?