Joshua Tehee

A rockin’ renaissance? Def Leppard a consistent force through the ages

Def Leppard lead singer Joe Elliott performs in August 2016 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. The band stops at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif., on Monday, June 12, 2017, along with Poison and Tesla.
Def Leppard lead singer Joe Elliott performs in August 2016 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. The band stops at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif., on Monday, June 12, 2017, along with Poison and Tesla. McClatchy file

From one angle, Def Leppard is experiencing a kind of renaissance, what with the upcoming 30th anniversary release of “Hysteria” (out Aug. 4 as a remastered box set), the success of the band’s last album (which debuted at No. 10 on Billboard’s Top 20 and topped the Rock album charts in 2015) and a massive arena tour that had to be extended out of sheer demand.

The British band is quintessential ’80s hair metal, with a look and sound that dominated pop culture at the time. The hit musical “Rock of Ages” features music from Journey, Bon Jovi and Twister Sister, but it’s named after a Def Leppard song; and it’s not even one of their biggest hits. The band has a few: “Animal,” “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” “Love Bites,” “Armageddon It,” “Rocket,” and “Photograph” top the list.

The tour, which stops Monday night at Fresno’s Save Mart Center, feels like it could have happened in 1988, seeing as the opening acts include L.A. rock band Poison (with all four original members) and Sacramento rock band Tesla. Both bands did tours with Def Leppard back in the day, but this is the first time all three have toured together.

The tour’s lineup aside, Def Leppard’s members aren’t much into playing the wave of nostalgia that has kept many of their contemporaries in work. While other bands went through break-ups, lineup changes and solo careers (and later the ubiquitous reunions), Def Leppard was always the odd exception; more in line with AC/DC than Mötley Crüe or Bon Jovi.

The band has been consistent in its sound; touring and releasing music since “Rock of Ages” was getting play on MTV.

“We actually never went away,” says guitarist Phil Collen, talking in advance of the tour.

“It’s the original band. It’s the same four guys,” he says.

Not that Def Leppard hasn’t had its share of tragedy or struggle. There was the car accident in 1984 that left drummer Rick Allen with one arm. He returned two years later and saw the band through its most successful period, playing on a specially designed electronic drum kit. Then, there was the death the band’s original guitarist, Steve Clark, in 1991. He was replaced by Vivian Campbell, who has been in the band since.

I will be 60, but I feel 25.

Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen

But Def Leppard’s career has not been marked with any obvious ego trips or infighting.

“We have an integrity that other bands don’t have,” Collen says.

“This is partially a reward for that integrity,” he adds, responding to the question of Def Leppard’s current successes.

The band’s value system is a product of being raised by working-class parents who experienced the hardships of World War II. “My mom would be down in the air-raid shelter and the place was being blown up,” Collen says.

The biggest day of Collen’s life (and he’s had a few no doubt) was when he was able to quit his job as a dispatch rider, where he ran deliveries around London, to focus on being in the band. So, he doesn’t take playing music lightly. To stress the point, he tells the story of being on a flight with members of A Tribe Called Quest and how, for the entire flight, each member of the hip-hop group was separately and completely enthralled in writing lyrics. Even on the plane, they were at work.

Seeing that level of dedication left an impression on the guitarist.

“Every second of that flight, they were in it,” he says.

“That’s what you have to do.”

Joshua Tehee: 559-441-6479, @joshuatehee

Def Leppard

With Poison and Tesla

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