To anyone of a certain age, a few riffs from a Def Leppard anthem is all it takes to be transported back to the 1980s, when the British pop-metal band ruled the airwaves with two albums: 1983’s Pyromania and 1987’s Hysteria. Both were multiplatinum sellers that generated multiple hits each and put the band in the rare company of only four other rock bands (the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Van Halen) to have two original studio albums that sold more than 10 million U.S. copies.
The air was rife with nostalgia at SPAC last Tuesday for the double bill of Def Leppard and Heart, another chart-topper from decades past. “Let’s go back in that time machine to 1983, shall we?” asked the ever-gracious Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott to massive cheers, during an early run through three of the band’s classic hormone ballads: “Animal,” “Foolin’” and “Love Bites.”
Other than opening number “Undefeated,” a new song recorded for Def Leppard’s recently released Mirrorball live album, and a spacey cover of David Essex’s 1973 one-hit wonder “Rock On,” the band stuck to the hits. With so many, they didn’t need flashy stage optics beyond a few smoke bombs, red and blue flashing lights and the pumped up pecs of bare-chested guitarist Phil Collen.
Collen and fellow guitarist Vivian Campbell traded dueling licks on the hypnotic anthem “Rocket,” before the band strapped on acoustic guitars to lead the crowd in two sing-along ballads, “Two Steps Behind” and “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak,” dedicated to Elliott’s father, who passed away a few weeks earlier.
“We are the kings of getting old—34 years of fucking getting old,” Elliott announced at the start of the band’s “Rock of Ages” encore before introducing his bandmate Rick Allen to thunderous applause. Allen, famed for soldiering on as a heavy-metal drummer despite losing one arm in a car accident decades prior, launched the song with its touchstone intro of “Gunter glieben glauben globen” Germanic gibberish, as flames lit up onstage video screens and Elliott sang, “We got something to say/It’s better to burn out than fade away.”
Of course, opening band Heart could easily headline SPAC on their own after nearly 40 years, and it showed. Sisters Nancy and Ann Wilson (the only two early members still in the band) took the stage by storm, with magnetic singer Ann Wilson prowling from one side of the stage to the other in a flowing black tunic and knee-high boots, while guitarist Nancy Wilson rocked out and just generally kicked ass, living up to her long-standing image as one of the coolest women in rock. Still able to belt it out with the best of them, Ann Wilson propelled the band through some of their biggest hits, including “Magic Man,” “Barracuda” and “Crazy on You” (along with two Led Zeppelin covers, “Rock and Roll” and “The Battle of Evermore”).