“Do you wanna get rocked?” Joe Elliott asks, engaging 23,000 partisan fans with a mischievous glint in his eyes. It’s entirely rhetorical. Introducing Let’s Get Rocked, Def Leppard are so bone-shakingly loud that the football stadium’s hospitality staff are scrambling around to source more earplugs for their flummoxed VIP guests.
This Steel City rendezvous kicks off the European leg of the Sheffield band’s co-headline tour with Mötley Crüe. Leppard’s infamous Los Angeles glam metal tourmates retired eight years ago, having concocted an apparently legally binding agreement preventing them from touring beyond New Year’s Eve in 2015. 2019’s Netflix biopic The Dirt dragged them back in the public eye, and in true rock’n’roll panto fashion, they swiftly announced their return regardless.
On this showing, it’s a calamity that said cessation contract wasn’t irrevocable. In 2023, Mötley Crüe’s live fare is a relic in real time. There’s no denying Dr Feelgood’s propulsive stomp, or Kickstart My Heart’s high-octane riffage, but both Vince Neil’s range and ability to project his voice have all but abandoned him, and the singer struggles to keep up from the get-go. But it’s drummer Tommy Lee – a married, 60-year-old father of two – who best encapsulates the vibe. “Where are the titties? I don’t see one pair of titties,” Lee laments, lingering at the front of the stage. “Shall we pull our dicks out?” Mercifully, he marches back to his kit.
Three days earlier, Def Leppard played an intimate warm-up gig at the city’s illustrious Leadmill venue. That performance harked back to the band’s early, metallic edge at the forefront of the new wave of British heavy metal movement. Tonight, at the home of newly promoted Sheffield United, the approach is a stadium show masterclass, packed with hits from rock’s Premier League. Fittingly, Elliott is donning a red, white and black Union Jack jacket for the occasion – the colours of his beloved Blades.
Hackney-born lead guitarist (and “honorary Yorkshireman”) Phil Collen permeates Animal and Promises with his crisp, electrifying licks, while Rick Allen is inspiration personified. The one-armed drummer – owing to a car crash in 1984 – blasts through an inexplicable solo on Switch 625. Overwhelmed by the response, he leans into his stool and seems to tear up.
Hysteria remains a quintessential rock ballad, as countless smartphones light up the field. Signature song Pour Some Sugar on Me raises the volume another notch with its hook-laden, bottom-heavy rumble. “Sheffield will always be Def Leppard land!” Elliot declares. Having sold 100m albums across five decades – and now doing big streaming business – Leppard have the metrics on their side. This blockbuster homecoming confirms the band’s status as Sheffield’s most eminent musical export.