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Still Burning

Def Leppard keeps the torch of '80s rockers flaming on


By Matt Weitz / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

Wednesday night at Smirnoff Music Centre was a trip back to a simpler time, when a certain British band's name provided the sole definition of the word "def"– a Lynyrd Skynyrd-like moniker whose double misspelling effectively summed up not only the vitality and power of a jungle cat but also a degree of rock 'n' roll damage.

Phil Collin of Def Leppard

Mona Reeder / DMN Phil Collin of Def Leppard took center stage during the band's opening song Wednesday night at the Smirnoff Music Centre.

Def Leppard carried the hybrid standard of Mott the Hoople crossed with Deep Purple-big hair rampant on a field of power chords in an era when "rock from Britain" invariably meant punk.

In so doing, the band established itself as keepers of a flame that many expected to die out. Wednesday, the band members proved that the fire of countless chart-worthy hits still burns bright – at least for the estimated 6,000 fans who showed up.

The band kicked off the show with "Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)," and from the first note it was clear that it still had a firm grasp on its old strengths – most notably the ability to weld melody to sledgehammer chops.

It didn't hurt that the members had worked to guard their image closely – the same long, beautiful hair, the same skinny frames, the old leather pants not looking like overfilled sausages. They were able to reinhabit the old high school Camaro-cruiser spaces without making the cheering listeners look too stupid or diluded.

Whether it was 1983's "Foolin'" – destined to become one of pop rock's great stutter songs – or new tunes like "Paper Sun," from last year's Euphoria, the group looked and sounded good enough to pull off the old roles without disgrace and meet expectations.

Lead vocalist Joe Elliot got a check-plus for wearing a heavy-looking knee-length, tiger-print jacket for much of the show's beginning. As he reflected both on "Women" and how they compelled you to "Make Love Like a Man," a wall of scarlet-cased Marshall amps roared out with the distorted abandon of mid-'80s rock.

In the audience, there was much air guitar. Lyrics were treated to both the silent mouthing and unfettered sing-along treatments. The stage's background was an impressionistic, journey-to-the-center-of-your-mind-style study in light and dark contrast that reflected well the washes of color sent down from the lights in the rigging above.

"Promises" and "Two Steps Behind" got a sit-down acoustic treatment, followed by favorite crunchers such as "Bringin' on the Heartbreak" and the mammoth hit "Photograph," both of which harkened back to a day when MTV actually played the music videos that helped make the band a superstar.

The group played a solid two-hour set. When it first broke in this country, they were a perennial opener, warming things up for the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, AC/DC, and Judas Priest. Wednesday, they were operating at the same level as those long-ago headliners, having claimed its own as a focus of devotion, a deliverer of good times, and a reliable keeper of memory.

Matt Weitz is a Dallas free-lance writer.