Def Leppard, Wembley Arena, London

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The Independent Culture

Led Zeppelin chose the relative glitz of the O2 Arena for their comeback. But in Wembley Arena's shed of a rock venue, where old-fashioned fans feel more comfortable, Def Leppard are carrying on regardless.

The band have been on hard rock's cutting edge twice in their careers. Thirty years ago, as part of the new wave of heavy metal, they took a punk-like axe to the blowsy solos of Jimmy Page's generation. Then, with producer Mutt Lange, they took rock into the 1980s' techno-pop heart with Pyromania (1983), a massive-selling monster that duked it out with Michael Jackson in the US, and gave lessons in studio sheen and shag haircuts to Bon Jovi and Spinal Tap. The latter also spoofed Leppard's one-armed drummer, Rick Allen. His retention after the car crash that cost him a limb shows their fortitude. But, never taken seriously even by rock fans in the UK, the cutting edges that Def Leppard found led them nowhere special.

They open here with their biggest 1980s hits, "Rocket" and "Animal", spliced with material from redundant new album Songs from the Sparkle Lounge. The soggy 1995 power ballad "When Love & Hate Collide" makes Westlife look hardcore, the acoustic guitars for "Two Steps Behind" only making things worse.

The idea that Leppard connect to rock'n'roll's primal source, suggested on "Blue Suede Shoes"-quoting "Rock On" and others, meanwhile, seems sacrilegious. But it is not wholly wrong, as they prove when they hit this show's heart.

Singer Joe Elliott tosses the acoustic guitar to a roadie, as if to signal, "Enough of that". Then "Hysteria" begins. Elliott and bassist Rick Savage bend towards the crowd, and topless guitarists take soloing turns, to authenticate the music's layered harmonies and undodgeable 1980s synthetic punch. "Pour Some Sugar On Me" has a metallic smack shared with Sheffield contemporaries ABC, more than tonight's harder co-headliners, Whitesnake.

"We got something to say," goes "Rock of Ages". But they don't. There's no poetry, meaning or rebellion here. Just a sledgeham-mering to success from working-class roots. Carrying middle-aged heft in a tossed-on T-shirt, Elliott is barely a rock star. But, prancing round the stage and hitting high notes technology lets hang in the air, he does enough. Sheer volume and drive get even my cynical feet dancing.

All Def Leppard have, really, is a tricked-up version of rock's original beat, and the tenacity to keep playing it when most people think they're a joke. For their fans, that's admirable.



Def Leppard resume their UK tour from 14 to 17 July (www.defleppard.com)

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