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Def Leppard - July 14, 2007 - Camden, N.J. @ Tweeter Center

By: Gregg Xenakes

With two sections of reserved seating at the Tweeter Center in Camden, N.J., almost completely vacant, it appears the hysteria for Def Leppard has waned quite a bit these days.

The lads from Sheffield, England, are having a hard time giving up the past while facing the present and future during its third straight summer without a record of all-new material to support. Of the 16 songs in the group’s headlining gig, not one was an original by the band from the last two decades, and the group didn't even attempt to test drive any music from its soon-to-be-released “Songs From The Sparkle Lounge." The set list read like a classic rock revue, with the bulk of the songs being taken from “Pyromania” and “Hysteria,” two albums that have sold 10 million-plus copies apiece yet were unleashed back in 1983 and 1987, respectively.

Nicknamed the Downstage Thrust tour, the Leps again picked a formidable co-headliner in Styx, who filled the spot that Bryan Adams and Journey held the previous two years. However, with such high-profile outfits along for the ride, what does that say about Def Leppard’s ability to draw its own core audience now 20 years after its heyday? Women who have packed on the pounds and are a good 15 years past their freshness date slinking around railings when the band plays “Pour Some Sugar On Me” are just another indication that Def Leppard may be on the fast track to being a nostalgia act.

The trio of “Rocket,” “Animal” and the rarely heard “Excitable” opened the show, but it wasn’t until “Foolin’ ” that we could hear just how weak a link Joe Elliott has become as the frontman. Two years ago at Live 8 he sounded like he’d stayed up late and was yanked out of the gutter, but we attributed that to the band not having the stage and setup all to itself. At this gig the truth became more evident, given the echoes and distortion wrapped around his vocals to try to disguise his failing voice.

Looking as if he just stepped out of a 1985 photo shoot and nowhere near a half-century old, guitarist Phil Collen was four songs into the set and already bare-chested, taking some of the attention away from Elliott’s frail singing. Fellow guitarist Vivian Campbell, the so-called new kid on the block after replacing the deceased Steve Clark in 1992, had his shirt open and blowing in the wind as well. Someone forgot to let bassist Rick Savage know that the days of androgynous hair metal were dead and buried, because he bore a scary resemblance to Ozzy Osbourne from the “Ultimate Sin” days.

“Mirror, Mirror (Look Into My Eyes)” and “Another Hit And Run," dragged out from 1981’s “High ‘N’ Dry” album, were absolute gems, even though neither Collen nor Campbell were around to record the originals and few fans even recognized the songs. With hot mikes dotting the stage and the risers surrounding one-armed drumming wonder Rick Allen, everyone got in on the act of covering up for Elliott with their background vocals. Like an injured basketball player who refuses to step aside for the good of the club, Elliott could only escape his responsibilities for so long before it became obvious that the others were desperately trying to pick up the slack.

When he wasn’t coaxing the crowd into singing some of his more famous lines, Elliott simply talked his way out of trouble by downplaying the bombastic eruption during “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak,” and the band opted for an acoustic version to lift some of the burden from his shoulders. For that song and “Two Steps Behind” the front line moseyed to the end of the stage with acoustic guitars in hand, where even more microphones had spontaneously sprouted. There must have been a buy-one, get-one sale going on at the equipment store, because there were more than enough opportunities to keep Elliott from being embarrassed.

Seeping out from “Heartbreak," the afterthought instrumental “Switch 625” was accompanied by random videos of numerical sequences that occasionally flashed the coded title, but the display was almost as impressive as watching the daily lottery. Matching each other note for note during brief solos, Campbell and Collen turned up the heat for “Hysteria” and “Armageddon It” but fell into the background for “Love Bites,” the group’s lone No. 1 hit from its nearly 30-year career. As for the song that broke Def Leppard in the States in 1983, “Photograph” has become a shadow of itself now that Elliott can’t hide in plain sight. Once proud to be in the round and in your face, the band seems like it's becoming inconsequential if it doesn't even see fit to perform any recent material.


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