def-lep-white-river.jpg
Dave Lake
Def Leppard, Heart

White River Amphitheater

Thursday, Sept. 15

Def Leppard straddle both sides of the line. Early in their career they leveraged

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Def Leppard Turn the Time Machine Back to the 1980s at White River Amphitheater

def-lep-white-river.jpg
Dave Lake
Def Leppard, Heart

White River Amphitheater

Thursday, Sept. 15

Def Leppard straddle both sides of the line. Early in their career they leveraged their working-class roots to earn themselves street cred with hard-rock audiences which they parlayed into mega-stardom thanks to pop hooks, double entendres, and a slicker production than the rest of their pop-metal peers. It was a good move, and one that has kept the band in amphitheaters and arenas for 30 years now, including the White River Amphitheater on Thursday.

Def Leppard can thank their mostly mindless lyrics for some of their longevity, which isn't an insult as much as a saving grace, allowing their many hits to be preserved in a perpetual state of rock-radio glory, a collection the band dusts off every few summers for another trip around the globe. Lines like "Love is like a bomb, baby, c'mon get it on" may not yield any new wisdom in the decades since it was written, but at least it sounds good when sung by 15,000 people.

Beyond their songs, the other thing that has aged Def Leppard gracefully is their aesthetic and approach to performing. They've always been a no-frills band. They never got lots of tattoos or got heavy into Spandex and hairspray, always seeming closer to Journey than Poison. And they never relied on pyro blasts or other production elements, preferring a relatively simple stage set and a kickass light show. And little has changed. The band didn't hydraulically blast themselves onto the stage Thursday night or obscure themselves behind fog, they just walked on and went to work. And kudos to guitarist Phil Collen, who cut out the pretense by arriving onstage shirtless, saving him that requisite step later in the set.

The band opened with a song from their recent Mirrorball, but beyond that, nearly every other song in the set was a hit, including six, count 'em six, from Hysteria alone, including "Love Bites," "Armageddon It," and "Pour Some Sugar on Me." There was a short acoustic portion of the show too, featuring "Two Steps Behind" and the first half of "Bringin' on the Heartbreak," which concluded with the band plugging back in for the bridge and the epic final chorus.

Singer Joe Elliott, who still sounds good all these years later, said the tour was winding down, which he could tell because it was getting colder onstage each night. "It was 111 five days ago in Phoenix," he said. "And tonight it's shrivel time." Elliott was ably backed up by his bandmates, who provided powerful harmonies, another signature Def Leppard sound. Other set highlights included a trio of tracks from the band's breakthrough Pyromania: "Foolin'," "Photograph," which featured old photos of the band on the screens behind them, and show-closer "Rock of Ages," a title now befitting the band, among the reigning kings of arena rock.

Fellow rock-radio favorites Heart opened, playing a somewhat puzzling set that combined several classic-rock covers with their own hits like "Barracuda" and "Magic Man." "Does anybody remember the '80s," singer Ann Wilson asked before launching into "These Dreams," one of several power ballads the band found success with in the decade. Though the band lacked the power and craft of the headliners, the local heroes had plenty of fans who were eager to sing along and dance. Heart turned their time machine back even further, ending their set with a pair of covers, one from Led Zeppelin ("The Battle of Evermore") and one from The Who ("Love, Reign O'er Me").

BTW: Heart played the first-ever show at the White River Amphitheater in 2003 with Berlin.

Def Leppard set list:

Undefeated

Let's Get Rocked

Animal

Foolin'

Let it Go

Love Bites

Gods of War

Rocket

Two Steps Behind

Bringin' on the Heartbreak

Switch 625

Hysteria

Armageddon It

Photograph

Pour Some Sugar on Me

Encore:

Rock of Ages

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