“Do you wanna get rocked?” asked Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott at the start of this vast homecoming show in Sheffield. Sort of, I thought, but it is a Monday night and I’ve got a hell of a week ahea… KERCHOWWW! This was, without question, one of the loudest rock concerts I’ve ever been to. They were probably headbanging twenty miles away in Bakewell.
Tributes to fallen bandmates, and the sheer joy of being back where it all started, saw the soft metal titans play a triumphant show in front of the South Yorkshire faithful packed into Sheffield United’s football ground. Sheffield’s musicians are enjoying a purple patch right now. Reformed Britpoppers Pulp start a hotly anticipated tour this Friday, the Arctic Monkeys headline Glastonbury next month, Richard Hawley’s Sheffield-set musical transfers to London’s West End next year, and fêted singer Self Esteem, from neighbouring Rotherham, is about to hit the road again. Def Leppard – who formed in 1976 – have never been trendy (too commercial to be edgy, pre-Hoxton-era mullets), so it’s good to see them form part of a loose movement: Sheffielders united in showing their sonic steel.
Before Def Leppard played, however, we had a 90-minute set from co-headliners Mötley Crüe (the bands are rotating slots on a 34-date world tour, of which this was the opening European night). The hard rock band from Los Angeles sang about girls, motorbikes and Hollywood sleaze. Poor sound quality only made them seem more rooted in the Eighties than they already were. Singer Vince Neil had a voice like an angry Disney parrot. Drummer Tommy Lee wanted to see the audience’s “t-tties” (some obliged). It’s a long way from the Sunset Strip to Sheffield, and this just felt woefully outdated.
Wearing a Union Jack blazer, Def Leppard’s Elliott took to the stage with an almighty “Good evening, Sheffield!” The set’s highlights were tracks from 1987’s Hysteria, the multi-million-selling album crafted as a rock version of Michael Jackson’s Thriller on which every song was a potential hit. Hysteria brought shiny pop production to heavy metal: layered guitars, multi-tracked vocals and a heavily engineered drum sound (a situation partially prompted by drummer Rick Allen losing his left arm in a 1984 road accident).
Last night confirmed these songs’ evergreen status. With its picked guitar line, Animal sounded like U2 with rocket boosters attached. The lasers came out for Love Bites, and Pour Some Sugar On Me prompted a stadium-sized singalong.
But although four of the five Def Leppard members are in their sixties, they’ve avoided becoming an out-and-out heritage act due to venturous decision-making (last week they released an album with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra). The new songs packed a punch. This Guitar was a duet released last year with country star Alison Krauss (not present). They dedicated it to Steve Clark, their guitarist who died in 1991 from alcohol and prescription drug abuse. Clark’s mother and brother were in the audience. Ranged along the front of the stage, the band harmonised like The Eagles. The song duly soared. It was special.
As an emotional Elliott left the stage, he thanked the crowd for 47 years of support. “Thank you for being our birth town. Sheffield will always be Def Leppard-land,” he said. “Til next time. And there will be a next time.” Fans will no doubt be there. Once their ears have recovered.
Until July 6. Tickets: ticketmaster.co.uk