download-poster-new@ Castle Donington, Main Stage, June 14 2009

Emotions were always going to run high the day Def Leppard finally returned to the world famous Donington stage. But 23 years after drummer Rick Allen made the comeback to beat all comebacks at the very same venue, following the serious road accident which threatened both his career and his life, there was a fear Sheffield’s finest would struggle to keep those emotions in check. Nobody needed to worry. Perhaps the occasion did get to an occasionally distracted Joe Elliott more than most. Nervous before the show, his normally cocksure banter wavered and his early expression was one of anxiety, rather than joy.

Describing Allen’s injury as ‘terrific’ was an honest mistake but it proved Elliott was feeling the full weight of expectation on a night which meant so much to the NWOBHM’s great survivors. Thankfully Joe’s vocal performance when it mattered most – belting out the hits that brought Leppard to the lofty position of festival headliners in the first place – was his best for years.

It is impossible to recall a more powerful version of pop rock anthem Pour Some Sugar On Me. Twin guitarists Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell have been cranking up the power chords on Leppard’s chart-busting classic for some time now but Sunday saw the super catchy tune take on a new lease of life. Suddenly the multi-million selling rockers appeared unstoppable.

Restoring Love Bites to the set list following last summer’s arena tour was a welcome decision and the Hysteria standards still work as well live as they do backed by Mutt Lange’s pristine production. Rocket, Animal, Armageddon It and the album’s title track got the Download crowd dancing – and that’s hardly a familiar sight at this most metal of modern-day festivals.

As predicted, the emotion did prove uncontrollable but it was middle-aged women, even older men and kids with caps on who couldn’t resist a little tap of the foot, or more, as Leppard transformed another professional performance into a full-blown party. Even the impeccable acoustic interlude, featuring Two Steps Behind and Bringin On The Heartbreak, couldn’t dampen the delerious mood.

But after Download’s blood and sweat came the inevitable tears. They came from Allen, as he rose to salute a 70,000-strong standing ovation. They came from friends, family and crew. And they came from fans. Not just Leppard fans but punters who put aside their devotion to any one band and recognised the immense challenge accepted and overcome by a very special man.

It was Allen who ushered his colleagues into a cracking rendition of Rock Of Ages – one of many highlights within a set both tight and focused, uplifting and expressive. Facing the lights of the encore like a victorious gladiator, Elliott took the fight to Download one last time. And he won. This was a triumph for classic rock, a shot in the arm for British music and a big, big win for Leppard.