Mega-rockers Def Leppard return to Wells Fargo Arena on April 24
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributing music writer Jon M. Gilbertson shares photos and his thoughts from Def Leppard's Marcus Amphitheater show for Summerfest on July 6, 2016.
Music has the magic power to make someone’s day better — and that’s what British rockers Def Leppard have been doing for four decades.
Formed in 1977 in Sheffield, England, the band became one of the leaders of a new genre — the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) — which also bred other iconic British bands including Iron Maiden, Saxon and Diamond Head.
Consisting of vocalist Joe Elliot, bassist Rick Savage, drummer Rick Allen and guitarists Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell, Def Leppard continues to soar.
Making the transition from a novice metal band in the late ’70s, to MTV video kings in the ’80s, to arena rock titans in the ’90s, Def Leppard has become one of the top touring bands around today.
On its current North American Tour, the quintet returns to Wells Fargo Arena on April 24 with Poison and Tesla as support acts. The last time Def Leppard packed the house in the Capital City was in 2012.
Fresh off the heels of the band’s new live DVD/CD, “And There Will Be A Next Time … Live From Detroit” (released Feb. 10), Def Leppard will be playing cities it didn’t get a chance to play on the first leg of its North American tour that began last year.
“That’s the whole point of this one,” longtime guitarist Collen said during a phone interview from Sacramento, Calif., where he’s producing Tesla’s new album. “One of the great things that is different about this package is it’s an absolute celebration of integrity. All three bands have original members; it’s not like it’s one guy and a bunch of new guys. We all know each other and we’ve toured constantly over the years, so it’s a nice feeling.”
One thing is perfectly clear, fans love seeing the band live — and the instant gratification of playing live is what Collen & Co. still live for after all these years.
“I’m 60 this year,” Collen said. “I go on stage and songs I’ve spent hours in the studio or writing or recording, people are singing them back to me. Women are throwing their underwear and people are going crazy. I don’t see how that could get boring. Obviously, if we didn’t put the effort in, then people wouldn’t react that way. But that never gets old. Give me that every day.”
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the 12-times platinum “Hysteria” album.
Released in 1987, “Hysteria” charted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and catapulted the band into another stratosphere by spawning seven hit singles and selling millions of copies.
“That’s when I stopped drinking, so I have a very clear thought of the process and especially the tour after that,” Collen said of “Hysteria.” “I remember we put so much effort into it. God bless (producer) ‘Mutt’ Lange, because he said we didn’t want to create ‘Pyromania’ Part 2 and that it was going to take a lot more hard work. We had to step outside the genre and try to cross over. We went along with him and that’s why we’re still celebrating 30 years later as a band. It was just amazing to be a part of that team.”
However, it was 1983’s “Pyromania,” and the first Def Lep album to feature Collen, that broke the band in the U.S. in a huge way.
The album started to transition the band’s sound away from the early heavy metal roots of its first two albums, “On Through the Night” and “High ‘n’ Dry,” into the massive, radio-friendly pop-rock sound that it now has become.
Trying to top it with “Hysteria” was just a natural progression of the band’s sound, Collen said.
“When people mention the typical Def Leppard sound, they’re usually referring to that album (‘Pyromania’),” he said. “The album prior to that, ‘High ‘n’ Dry,’ you could still hear other influences that were stronger than the band itself; they were still trying to find their identity. I think after ‘Pyromania,’ we really put the crown on it with ‘Hysteria.’ That was the ultimate Def Leppard sound.”
One of the highlights of a Def Leppard show is the massive video screen behind drummer Rick Allen, which at one point shows classic clips of the band and its former guitarist, the late Steve Clark.
“I miss Steve every day,” Collen said. “I don’t always see the scene, but I know the footage is up there. Steve’s still a member of the band and he’s still part of it in a huge way. So, I think it’s really nice that we give respect to Steve. It’s great to see him up there. It’s the best way we can honor him.”
Before Collen joined Def Lep, he cut his teeth with the U.K. glam band Girl, which also featured current L.A. Guns vocalist Phil Lewis. He’s also been involved in several side projects over his career, including Man Raze (with former Girl bassist Simon Laffy) and his blues project Delta Deep, who are currently working on a second album.
These extracurricular projects are a great outlet from his day job, and Collen finds it necessary to enhance his artistic freedom.
“If you keep doing the same old thing, you’re actually putting a lid on inspiration getting out,” Collen said. “I think the fact that I’m working with a soul/funk/R&B/gospel unit, it’s a totally different flavor.”
After 40 years as a band, Def Leppard is still killing it live. And more important, the members still love it.
“Musicians provide a service,” Collen said. “You make people feel better; you create escapism. When you write a song, you hope you strike an emotional chord. Some people take it to heart. All we can hope for is that it makes someone’s day better, one way or another.”
IF YOU GO
What: Def Leppard with Poison and Tesla
When: Monday, April 24 at 7 p.m.
Where: Wells Fargo Arena, 730 3rd St., Des Moines
Ticket info: $29.50, $59.50, $79.50, $99.50, $129.50, available at the Wells Fargo Arena Box Office, online at iowaeventscenter.com or by phone at 866-553-2457.