For well over a decade now, the charity shows in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust at the Royal Albert Hall, curated by Roger Daltrey, have been a landmark in the Spring gig calendar. As well as raising awareness of this very worthy cause, they are an opportunity for one off collaborations or for artists who normally grace bigger stages to play one off shows.
The days when rock bands were banned from the Albert Hall in the seventies have long passed into history, but disappointingly hard rock has rarely had a look-in at these shows, a 2006 show with Judas Priest, The Scorpions and Ian Gillan being an honourable exception. So it was timely for this Def Leppard show to redress the balance, even though for Roger to call it a ‘metal night’ was stretching the point as the Sheffield boys last realistically fitted that description in about 1983.
The content of their show was kept under wraps, and was the subject of much speculation. Would they mark the release of a new box set by digging out some older obscurities to the delight of long-time diehards? Would they play some covers and invite special guests to sit in? Or would they use this as a warm up for the already announced Winter tour where they play ‘Hysteria’ in full? Whatever it was, my money was certainly on a truncated set.
After moving scenes in which a film about the work of the Trust preceded Roger bringing on a selection of the young people they had helped, with their families and carers, the lights dimmed and we were kept waiting by a seemingly interminable tape of ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ before Leppard took the stage to play the climax of the song.
Within seconds it segued into recent song ‘Let’s Go’, which was rather tentative and something of a carbon copy of former glories but things soon picked up with a crowd pleasing ‘Animal’. Complete with a neon lit backdrop it signalled that we were getting none of the above, but a full-length, full stage set version of the show they had been taking round the world at length since their last UK tour over two years ago.
While probably in a minority, I always preferred the rockier edge of the pre-Hysteria Leppard, so was delighted when Phil Collen, who must have been feeling an Albert Hall chill as his sleeveless shirt stayed on all night, came to the front of the stage to play the opening riff to a storming ‘Let it Go’. It was followed by a livelier new number in ‘Dangerous’ and another of the old favourites in ‘Foolin’, which recovered from a slow start.
Joe Elliott mentioned that it was their first show in nearly six months, but any rustiness was not apparent after the first few minutes while his voice was certainly feeling the benefit of being fresh. The intimate environment also had other advantages with the band more relaxed and Joe more spontaneous in his between song remarks.
While ‘Hysteria’ gets its moment in the spotlight later this year, there was no way they could omit the big hits, whether it be the lush balladry of ‘Love Bites’ or the anthemic ‘Armageddon It’. The latter was one of the few songs where Vivian Campbell, for whom this was a particularly poignant night as a cancer survivor himself, was allowed a spell in the spotlight as he generally played second fiddle to Phil.
All the hallmarks of a Def Leppard show were there – the big backing vocals, plenty of movement on stage and immaculate choreography. It wasn’t all to my personal taste – the cover of ‘Rock On’ preceded by Rick Savage’s bass solo overstayed its welcome some time ago while, despite generating some audience participation, the Queen-in-dance-mode ‘Man Enough’ simply lacked enough guitar for my liking. On the other hand their harmonies turned ‘When Love And Hate Collide’ – a No 2 single at the height of grunge in the mid-nineties, lest we forget – into an exquisite example of a power ballad.
The second half of the set saw the band in tried and trusted territory with ‘Rocket’ and the double of the timeless ‘Bringing On the Heartbreak’ (in the full electric version I prefer) segueing into Phil and Viv’s guitars jousting on the instrumental ‘Switch 625’. During ‘Hysteria’ – complete with a snatch of ‘Heroes’ – the career spanning montage projected onto the back screen really added to the song’s atmospherics and fostered an increasingly celebratory atmosphere.
This reached a new peak with the closing duo: ‘Lets Get Rocked’ has never been my favourite but I was in the mood, still chuckling from Joe’s cheeky introduction when he said – with tongue literally wedged in his cheek – ‘here’s a question you don’t hear too often at the Royal Albert Hall’, and the inevitable ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’, which saw him clambering up and down the stalls at the side of the stage.
The encores were the two ‘Pyromania’ classics that to this day bridge the old and new Def Leppard with Rick Allen being introduced at the start of ‘Rock Of Ages’, followed by the equally timeless anthem of ‘Photograph’, Joe sounding less strained than at shows in recent years and broad smiles on Phil and Vivian’s faces as they pulled some guitar poses.
Joe’s usual ‘until next time… and there will be a next time’ sign off was more relevant than usual with the ‘Hysteria’ tour making its way to arenas in December. Nevertheless those gigs will struggle to match the thrill of this night, seeing their full show delivered in such a relatively intimate yet distinguished setting and in aid of such a worthy cause.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
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