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Gig Review: Def Leppard, Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne- 8 November 2018

Some people really have it in for nostalgia shows. Some people might say they’re the last refuge of bands with nothing left to say. Who’ve pulled up stumps and departed the stage to count their big, fat pensions. I’m not one of those people. And if one-time paragons of cool The Stone Roses and Bloc Party can do it with a straight face, then why not Def Leppard.

And why not Hysteria – surely the greatest hairspray metal album of all-time. That’s not damning it with faint praise, by the way. From Mutt Lange’s faultless production, to the madness of Corvette accidents, the prohibitive cost involved in its genesis, and everything in between, Hysteria is an album which deserves feting. Not just because we’ll never see its like again, but because it’s just that fucking good.

And though time has altered Joe Elliott’s voice somewhat, and Steve Clark has long since departed, their show at Rod Laver Arena is an absolute triumph. Phil Collen parades the stage with his shirt off for the entire two hours, because thirty years of karate and working out dictate that he can. Joe Elliott seems genuinely touched by the reception generously gifted them; Rick Savage keeps time as all good metronomes should, whilst Viv Campbell and Rick Allen possess an odd kind of bashfulness which is both affecting and at odds with the balls-out showiness of a band who, in their day, could party with the likes of a pre-clean living and Sharon-calling Ozzy Osbourne.

Unsurprisingly, it’s the singles that elicit the biggest response. Women sounds like an actual squall, Collen’s and Campbell’s twin guitars engaging in a never-ending contest. And if there is a better four-punch combo than the aforementioned track, Rocket, Animal, Love Bites and Pour Some Sugar On Me, then your reviewer is yet to hear it. Sneer all you want but these are timeless songs from the deep well of both pop music and rock’n’roll. One memorable moment sees an overweight bloke grab his teenage son in an awkward embrace whilst they sing loudly and shamelessly out of tune. It’s strangely affecting and probably the essence of many of these songs: hooks, unsophisticated emotion, and a healthy bit of physicality.

They celebrate the inimitable Steve Clark with a sincere version of Hysteria and you’re left wondering why they’re still not talked about with the blind reverence of, say, a Guns‘N’Roses. Elliott himself has talked in the past about his frustration that they still lack credibility in some quarters, and though Hysteria would go on to sell upwards of 25 million copies, they would never again scale these heights. No matter. A muscular cover of The Sweet’s Action arrives, but not before Campbell and Collen tease the crowd by riffing on some of The Sex Pistols’ Anarchy In The UK, and Elliott returns to the stage in a Banksy-Ziggy Stardust t-shirt, as if to remind the crowd of their lineage. And if there was any justice in the world, When Love And Hate Collide should’ve surely and profitably soundtracked a disaster film in the 1990s. Let’s Get Rocked and Rock Of Ages sound absolutely mighty and Photograph is a wonderful valedictory address, underscored by snapshots of the band in all their younger glory.

They stay onstage for a ten-minute standing ovation, not for any reasons of ‘we honestly love you’-schmaltziness and chicken-in-basket neediness, but because they have played a blinder, as they say in the classics. Nobody wants them to leave. There are feelings of legitimate surprise and affection on the part of the band, and Elliott promises to return sooner rather than later. And why wouldn’t he. 100 million punters can’t be wrong.

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