Def Leppard fans had to wait decades for the definitive live album but the last 10 years have spawned a series of classic concert releases.
Here Rushonrock editor Simon Rushworth counts down five of the must-have live sets from a band synonymous with powerful performances and pin-sharp live production.
5. In The Round In Your Face (1989 VHS/2001 DVD)
For almost 35 years Def Leppard lacked a career-defining equivalent to Thin Lizzy’s Live And Dangerous or UFO’s Strangers In The Night.
It wasn’t until 2011’s Mirror Ball – Live & More that Sheffield’s finest finally committed a live set to CD (and vinyl).
And until that point this was the ONLY way to experience Leppard live in the comfort of your own living room.
Little wonder the original VHS version shifted bucketloads and the re-release – repackaged as a DVD set with Historia – proved just as popular.
As a snapshot of the band at their commercial and creative peak, a landmark show from the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado, does the job.
And then some.
Sure, the picture quality is ropey and the sound is so 1980s but ITRIYF contains a slew of hair metal’s biggest hits and some of the genre’s very best barnets and ripped denim.
Catch Joe Elliott strutting across Leppard’s groundbreaking In The Round stage belting out a bullish version of Animal.
And marvel at Rick Allen putting his space age kit through its paces as he continues his astonishing comeback from a potentially career-ending car accident.
ITRIYF can’t compare to the HD, digitally remastered live output that Lepps fans have been spoiled with in recent years.
But it’s an invaluable part of the band’s storied history and represents a band at the peak of their powers and at the very top of their game.
4. Live At The L.A. Forum (2018 CD & Vinyl, part of the Def Leppard Collection Volume One)
Recorded in September 1983 – just eight months after Pyromania announced Leppard as a pop rock force to be reckoned with – this stunning set marks the band’s transformation from NWOBHM pioneers to commercially savvy hitmakers.
If Mutt Lange was writ large over the band’s landmark third album then technology hadn’t quite caught up in time to reflect Pyromania’s dynamism in the live arena.
And that’s no bad thing.
At times the L.A. Forum could be Crooks Working Men’s Club all over again.
This is Leppard back to their raw and riotous best with the volume turned up to 11 and a band of South Yorkshire brothers showing the Sunset Strip wannabes how it should be done.
Openers Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop) and Rock Brigade do what they say on the tin.
Pyromania’s super slick production might have been pitched at the higher reaches of the Billboard Hot 100 – three of the album’s singles peaked inside the top 30 Stateside – but there’s more rock and less pop at the heart of this fist-pumping show.
Wasted and Stagefright wrap up a blinding set before Brian May joins Steve Clarke and Phil Collen for a triple threat axe attack on finale Travelin’ Band.
Leppard’s journey was just beginning.
3. Hysteria Live (2020 CD, DVD, Blu-Ray & Vinyl)
It might have taken Leppard almost 35 years to commit a definitive live version of Hysteria to record.
But the double clear vinyl reimagining of the band’s biggest selling studio album is well worth the wait.
The track for track performance of 1987’s game changer might fade away towards disc two, side two (Excitable and Love And Affection were always Hysteria’s weak link).
But until the final notes of the title song fade into the London night this is an absolute joy – and a necessity – for any self-respecting Leppard fan.
Back in the mid 80s Joe Elliott and co. were never quite able to recreate Hysteria’s groundbreaking sound in the live arena.
Mutt Lange’s audio wizardry was way ahead of its time.
And the PA systems and sound desks of the era simply couldn’t match Leppard’s bold studio ambition.
Fast forward to 2018 and the O2 Arena was set up like a vast studio with a pin-sharp production complementing Hysteria’s visionary sound.
And the only criticism of this carefully curated set is its über professionalism.
Contrast Hysteria Live with that 1983 L.A. Forum set and the former clearly lacks the raw appeal of Leppard’s early years.
But when the budget is limitless and perfectionism is in your blood why not do the very best job possible?
And this is the very best of the best.
2. When The Walls Came Tumbling Down – Live In Oxford (2020 CD, part of The Early Years 79-81)
In complete contrast to their polished 2018 Hysteria set at London’s O2 Arena, this eye-opening 1980 recording is the sound of a band feeling its way and having fun.
Built around driving debut On Through The Night and very much straying true to Leppard’s NWOBHM roots, it’s a show that captures their beating heart and burning ambition.
Pete Willis and Steve Clarke steal the show as punchy pair battle through a muddy mix to make themselves heard as one of the era’s most exciting twin guitar attacks.
And poor Joe Elliott deserves immense credit for sanctioning WTWCTD as there are moments when the fast-learning frontman sounds completely out of his depth in front of a baying Oxford crowd.
This sounds nothing like the super slick band Def Leppard would become.
And that’s the charm of the third disc in this revealing 5CD set.
By the time Pyromania and Hysteria were shifting millions of units on both sides of the Pond many of the band’s early adopters had abandoned them.
Nobody could have predicted Leppard changing their spots to such an extent.
And in 1980 their rapidly evolving pop metal sound was focused very much on the metal.
Live In Oxford has more in common with Saxon, Diamond Head and Raven than Bon Jovi and Europe.
But it’s a sound that perfectly reflects the attitude of five working class mates from the Steel City seeking to fit into a burgeoning NWOBHM scene.
It Could Be You, Answer To The Master and Lady Strange are three early years treats rarely revisited and much missed.
And all three sound spectacularly edgy on this must-have set for Leppard completionists and NWOBHM historians alike.
1. Hits Vegas – Live At Planet Hollywood (CD, DVD, Blu-Ray & Vinyl)
Originally issued as part of this year’s various London To Vegas packages, fan demand has prompted a standalone release of Def Leppard’s most comprehensive live set yet.
And the 28 songs here demand that Hits Vegas hits number one in our list of Leppard’s best live albums.
The very tasty triple blue vinyl edition is the pick of the bunch if you don’t mind regular visits to the turntable.
But a single disc change will see you through the double CD version with a comprehensive set split between instrumental Switch 625 and Let Me Be The One.
The latter ushers in a four-song mini acoustic set – (also available as a very collectible 10-inch picture disc vinyl) – that would have graced MTV Unplugged back in the day.
In later years Joe Elliott has been forced to readjust his vocals to cope with the unique demands of Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad and Two Steps Behind.
But subtle key changes and a more controlled delivery add greater depth to songs which dominated US FM radio in the early to mid 90s.
Remarkably Leppard’s irrepressible frontman tackles the band’s biggest hits and rockier numbers with the same gusto as he did more than 30 years ago.
And that’s never more evident than on Let’s Get Rocked and a beefed-up version of chart-busting ballad Love Bites.
Of course, there are plenty of opportunities to compare and contrast Leppard’s biggest sellers live – standalone live albums and box set rarities have flooded the market during the last decade.
But what makes Hits Vegas so special is the treasure trove of rarely heard fan favourites which pepper an all-consuming trip down memory lane.
Opening up with Die Hard The Hunter, it’s not too long before the band roll out Slang from the album of the same name.
Next up are Paper Sun and Promises from 1999’s criminally underrated Euphoria.
And Mirror Mirror (Look Into My Eyes) is a timely reminder that there’s so much more to High N Dry than Let It Go and the anthemic title track.
Now (from 2002’s X) and Let’s Go (from 2015’s self-titled return to form) keep a frenzied crowd guessing.
But wrapping things up with Rock Of Ages and Photograph makes complete sense on a night when the Zappos Theatre crowd in Las Vegas’s Planet Hollywood demanded the perfect send-off.
There was a time when listening to Leppard live was a pipe dream.
These days career-spanning sets are ten a penny.
But Hits Vegas hits all the right notes. Fans of Sheffield’s finest have finally hit the jackpot.
Simon Rushworth is one of the UK’s leading authorities on Def Leppard. He contributed to Classic Rock Magazine’s 2015 Def Leppard Limited Edition 100% Official Fan Pack, has seen the band live more than 30 times across the globe and interviewed various members on multiple occasions.
Def Leppard Hits Vegas is available in various formats here