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By Tim McPhate
Classic album is a term often used in music. But let's face it, there are classic albums and then there are classic albums. Hysteria, Def Leppard's 1987 opus, certainly has the goods to defy hyperbole. The album spawned six Top 20 singles in the United States, rose to No. 1 on both sides of the Atlantic and earned rarified diamond status from the RIAA for sales in excess of 10 million units. (And as a teenager, it happened to be the first album I owned on a then-relatively new format known as the compact disc.)
I trekked to Las Vegas on March 30 to witness a celebration of this milestone platter in the form of the fifth show of Def Leppard's three-week residency at the Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Aptly titled Viva Hysteria!, the residency features the band playing the album in its original 12-track sequence in addition to other Def delights.
With a large British flag serving as the backdrop, Ded Flatbird — a "Def Leppard cover band" as frontman Joe Elliott later joked — stormed the stage with a raucous excerpt of the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again." The five-piece lumbered into "On Through The Night," a deep cut from 1981's High 'N' Dry, and then upped the rarity factor another notch in dusting off the infectious title track to their 1996 album, Slang.
Strutting along the "ego ramp" (a stage walk extending into the audience), Elliott announced the band would close their first set with side one of the aforementioned High 'N' Dry, which caused those attendees so inclined to raise their drinks in approval. The impressive twin guitar attack of Vivian Campbell and Phil Collen was on display during the riff-heavy lead track, "Let It Go," with the former opting for wah-infused licks during his portion of the solo while Collen countered with a series of chordal stabs topped off by a flurry of notes.
"You know why it's a hand's up kind of gig?" asked Elliott, seeking to raise the intensity in the Joint. "Because it's Saturday night, high and dry!" Collen plucked the intro riff to the album's AC/DC-ish title track as drummer Rick Allen locked in four-on-the-floor beat. The Les Paul-wielding Campbell was again in fine form, effortlessly mixing double stops, tremolo-picked runs and bluesy phrases during the guitar solo.
"Bringin' On The Heartbreak" received the warmest response of the opening set with the crowd shouting along during the choruses. The first set's conclusion was fueled by the atmospheric "Switch 625," an instrumental guitar composition that closes side one of High 'N' Dry. With bassist Rick Savage laying down a steady eighth-note groove, Collen and Campbell's dual six-string precision was impeccable on this number, which was penned by the late beloved Def Leppard guitarist Steve Clark.
Following a 15-minute intermission, the band launched into their magnum opus as Collen played the howling intro lick to "Women" from a platform in the center of the audience. Throughout the Hysteria set, a series of album-themed images and photo montages provided a complementary visual experience, augmented by rich lighting. Musically, the band sounded well-rehearsed for the material with Messrs. Collen, Savage and Campbell lending background vocals in support of Elliott's weathered gruff.
While the hits predictably went over well, Hysteria's lesser-played numbers were arguably the highlights, including the epic "Gods Of War" and the up-tempo rockers "Don't Shoot Shotgun" and "Run Riot." As for the hits, "Love Bites" and "Hysteria" had couples embracing while "Pour Some Sugar On Me" and "Animal" had them moving and shaking. "Armageddon It" — a mishmash of T. Rex, Eddie Cochran and the Stones — saw Campbell pay tribute to Clark's original solo nearly note for note. Bringing Hysteria to a close were "Excitable," a cut that was rumored to be the album's final single in 1989, and "Love And Affection," which hasn't been played live since Ronald Reagan was in office.
Though Hysteria had elapsed, the Saturday Las Vegas crowd roared for more. Def Leppard obliged with a two-song encore that brought the house down once and for all. "Rock Of Ages" and "Photograph" (both from 1983's Pyromania) were further evidence of how deep the group's catalog of hits runs.
While Guns N' Roses and Mötley Crüe may have been first to the Vegas rock residency punch, Def Leppard seem to have stumbled on the perfect residency template: mix one part classic album with a side of rarities and add some extra hits, plenty of color and lights, and serve with a warm blast of nostalgia. Viva Hysteria? You betcha.
To catch Def Leppard in Las Vegas, click here for tour dates.
"Won't Get Fooled Again" (excerpt, the Who cover)
"On Through The Night"
"Let It Go"
"Another Hit And Run"
"High 'N' Dry (Saturday Night)"
"Bringin' On The Heartbreak"
Viva Hysteria! Set
"Pour Some Sugar On Me"
"Gods Of War"
"Don't Shoot Shotgun"
"Love And Affection"
"Rock Of Ages"