“We sing better, we sound better, we look and feel better, our progression is perfect,” declares Def Leppard’s Phil Collen. More than 25 years since the seminal British hard rock band took the world by storm (selling upwards of 100 million albums), Joe Elliott and crew are back for another U.S. tour this summer — their fifth in a row — sharing the bill with Poison and Cheap Trick and promising audiences nothing but a good time. But just as vital for the band who turned traditional rock staging on its head by playing in the round back in the Hysteria days: putting on a show. “It was sorely lacking in the ’90s,” says Collen, who likens this tour’s production to that of a classic Kiss concert. “No pyro, we’ve done that before, but a big lighting rig,” he adds. “And the ego ramp to go down there and shake your stuff.” Guitarist Vivian Campbell interjects: “For Joe to hang out.”
Though Ozzfest was called off this year, and annual weekend festivals are slowly replacing multi-band treks, ’80s package tours represent one of the few sectors of the music industry that’s thriving. “It’s more value for the people,” says Campbell, though he confesses finding the right combination of bands can be tricky. “We always had a problem figuring out who we were compatible with. When it was suggested a few years ago that we tour with Journey, we all [thought], would we have something in common with an American keyboard-driven band? Turns out we know nothing about our audience because it was a massive tour and incredibly successful. The only downside for us is having to decide which songs we want to play because we’re all sharing stage time.”
Playing nice is key, insist the band’s two guitarists, dismissing Internet chatter of a spat between Def Leppard and Poison resulting from a comment Elliott made at a press conference in Sweden. “Joe said we were about the music, not like image-based bands” defends Collen, “I was sitting right there and didn’t see anything wrong with it.” Neither did Bret Michaels, who in recent years has clocked infinitely more TV airtime than hours in the studio. And yes, even the members of Def Leppard have watched Rock of Love.
No matter which way you slice it, says Collen, “It’s three to four hours of hits and great music.” Just don’t call it nostalgia. “I don’t look at it that way,” he demurs. “They’re great records. Sure, it’s harder to get us on Top 40 these days, because, let’s face it, youth is king. Taylor Swift, Rihanna… they’re under 20 years old. But when someone says, ‘I made love for the first time to “Love Bites,” ‘ or, ‘I got a hand job to “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” ‘ that’s great! As long as you make an impact any which way.” Adds Campbell, “Lots of younger people, they’re seeing and hearing it for the first time, so there’s also that energy and we feed off it. We may be playing ‘Photograph’ for the three-millionth time, but you’re still playing it to that audience that night for the first time ever. That’s always a joy.”
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