Def Leppard - Canberra AIS Arena, 25th October 2011

Do ya wanna get rocked?

I’m not sure what they teach kids in schools these days – my two certainly won’t tell me – but in my day our English Master, Tony ‘Backs to the wall, boys’ Stafford, used to bang on at length about something called ‘suspension of disbelief’, whereby our enjoyment of certain classic works of literature would be enhanced beyond all imagination if only we’d stop putting our hands up in class and saying ‘sir, but that wouldn’t happen!’ He was right, of course – you don’t get to parade about in a cape and mortar board without at least a modicum of knowledge – and so, later on in this review I’ll be investigating and indeed applying this principal to tonight’s headliners. Of whom more later.

But there are other things to take our attention first, not least the impressive size of the beer queues on both sides of a steadily filling AIS arena as local (read: Australian) support The Choirboys go about their business. Despite being a charmless shed, the AIS at least allows you to drink inside the auditorium and thousands of like minded souls are joining your reviewer and confrere ‘big’ Allan Sko in getting as much amber liquid down our throats as is possible before the real entertainment begins. As Run to Paradise’s final chords decay into the rafters we hastily gather up as much booze as we can carry and head to our seats, eager not to miss a second of Canadian classic rock titans Heart.

We’re glad we made this decision, as for the best part of an hour, Heart, led as ever by sisters Ann (whose voice has somehow maintained its strength and clarity despite the passage of time) and (the very, very lovely) Nancy Wilson, give a poised lesson in high class hard rock. Its years since they tasted success in the mainstream of course, but they rolled those years back in tremendous style tonight with stellar versions of radio rock hits Alone and Barracuda vying alongside marvellous renditions of Crazy on You and, improbably, John Farnham’s iconic You’re The Voice before quitting the stage to a very generous response. Personally I’d have been happy to have seen the billing reversed tonight and got to hear more from Heart but, as my good friend Mick Jagger once told me, you can’t always get what you want. ..

And so to Def Leppard and the suspension of disbelief. Nearly 30 years ago Dante Bonutto wrote of Lepps singer Joe Elliott in heavy metal bible Kerrang! Magazine ‘Let’s just say some great non-singers have managed to make it to the top,”  and for years the hallmark of many a live Leppard exposition has been its disappointing vocal display. The Leppard trademark – multi layered choruses, tracked and multi tracked to within an inch of their lives in the studio but nigh on impossible to replicate in the live arena- has always conspired to make Elliott sound lack a hapless buffoon yet here, tonight, he somehow seems to be in good, not to say powerful voice – how can this be? My disbelief is well and truly strung up and hung out to dry...

Whatever the reasons behind this startling upturn in form, the man is in fine voice tonight. Backed up stage left by guitarist extraordinaire Phil Collen  (who is simply unstoppable all night, throwing in licks and runs not present on the studio versions of these songs in seemingly effortless fashion) and to the right by tight-trousered bassist Rick Savage and second guitarist Vivian Campbell, who is as understatedly efficient as Collen is flamboyantly entertaining, Joe is in excellent humour tonight and the animated crowd laps up his every utterance as he leads us through a set that is just about untouchable if it’s eighties pop-metal nostalgia you’re after. Foolin’, Armageddon It, Animal, Let’s Get Rocked – all are here present and correct plus a dozen more slabs of the good stuff. Unbelievably good stuff in fact, delivered with verve and style by a group that continues to set the pace in live production despite entering its fifth decade in the business. Believe it.