July 31, 2011
Jiffy Lube Live
Bristow, VA USA
Review by Craig Hunter Ross
Photos by Craig Hunter Ross
Def Leppard - Bristow
"Mirror Ball" Tour
In the middle of July 1981, an upstart English group by the name of Def Leppard released their second studio album, High 'n' Dry. A few weeks later a new music based network, MTV, would begin broadcasting on televisions across the United States. The band and the channel would go on to have a long and mutually beneficial relationship. One could even argue that they each greatly contributed to establishing the legitimacy of the other. So it seemed ironic, even appropriate, that on the eve of MTV's 30th anniversary that Def Leppard would be on stage providing their loyal audience with something MTV no longer chooses to...great music.
A thoughtful review of Def Leppard's back catalog will reveal they are one of only five rock bands with two original studio albums to have sold over 10 million copies each in the US. With the others being The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Van Halen, that's some pretty elite company in the recording industry.
Thus, it's hard to believe that within an extensive catalog (13 albums over 31 years), that Def Leppard has just released their first live album, Mirror Ball: Live & More. Anyone in Jiffy Lube Live's mostly "over 40" crowd who had already purchased Mirror Ball knew that they were in for an evening celebrating the soundtrack of their youth, with maybe a few surprises sprinkled in. Their heroes would not let them down.
Following a solid performance by fellow classic rock mainstays Heart, as well as a stirring on stage tribute to several disabled military veterans by the Wounded Warrior Project, the house lights dimmed, the fog machines rolled and the familiar refrain of AC/DC's "For Those About to Rock We Salute You" thundered through the sound system. As the anthem concluded, the crowd was now at a fever pitch. The opening drums to "Undefeated" (a new studio recording from Mirror Ball) began to shake the floor and the several LED screens that encompassed the stage came to life with video clips of individual band members building up even more excitement. Just when it seemed the audience could no longer handle the anticipation, the stage became awash in light and Def Leppard took the stage.
The backdrop video was a montage of sports highlights appropriate to the very well received new single before transitioning to live stage action as the band continued to set the tone for the evening by going right into "Let's Get Rocked".
The loyal fan base continued to stay on their feet, having been transported back in time to a more carefree place in life while Phil Collen and Vivian Cambpell put on a virtual guitar clinic during two longtime Def Leppard standards, "Animal" and "Foolin".
Sensing the need for pause, or perhaps needing a bit of a rest themselves, the well paced set moved into the melancholy power ballad "Love Bites", the band's Billboard number 1 hit from their album Hysteria. There would be no rest for guitarist Vivian Campbell on this one though, as he delivered an incredible solo that left the appreciative crowd in amazement.
It was now time for bass player Rick Savage to shine as he provided a near four minute bass solo leading into a smooth full band cover of the David Essex song "Rock On".
Now getting a second wind, the band was full speed ahead, hitting on all cylinders as they and the audience joined together with lead singer Joe Elliott for a rousing rendition of "Rocket", before settling down into acoustic versions of "Two Steps Behind" and "Bringin' On the Heartbreak", with giant mirror balls above both the stage and seating areas in full spin. The crowd was in strong voice for the chorus of both songs, though the once obligatory lighters of yesteryear have been replaced by the LCDs of smart phone devices.
The masterful acoustic work ended strong with "Heartbreak" going full amplification before evolving into the driving guitar based instrumental "Switch 625", providing a mini guitar dual of sorts between Mr. Campbell and Mr. Collen that left those fortunate enough to be in the front few rows potential victims of smoke inhalation from the two fret boards.
The upbeat pop ballad "Hysteria" and "Armageddon It" kept the fans smiling and singing along as the giant LEDs began to fill with rolling still images from several points covering the band's thirty year history. Obviously, the familiar opening chords and reversed gate drums that are the opening to the hit "Photograph" were sure to follow. Once again, as they had been most of the evening, all were on their feet and singing along.
Rick Allen would soon provide the familiar beat to "Pour Some Sugar On Me" as the crowd erupted upon recognizing the anthem made so popular by the live video that was such a 1987 staple in the rotation on MTV.
An encore of "Rock of Ages" capped the evening in which so many had obviously relived good times and memories most definitely created some new ones. Just as the aforementioned song asks, "What do you want?" and answers, "I want Rock and Roll", the audience this night got exactly what they wanted. Long live Rock and Roll.
* Donald Gehl contributed to this review