Def Leppard Las Vegas Residency Needs An Exterminator
It probably started out as a good idea on paper. The Planet Hollywood Casino would hand the boys in Def Leppard a pile of money, and in turn they would do a handful of 2-hour shows over the course of 2 weeks. It worked a few years ago. Everybody wins.
Except, on this night, the fans rolled a snake eyes gambling on Joe Elliotts' vocals.
I've seen Def Leppard 5 times, and it seems for the band, the challenge is always trying to find a way to preserve the best vocal for the most shows of a tour (Well, except for the first show on Hysteria--that was all about Rick Allen.)
And the same tricks showed up here at Zappos Theatre. But for some reason, none of them were working. 'Die Hard The Hunter' should have been enough warning that Joe Elliott was not in good form. He was already reduced to singing a kind of low register version of his famous growl, leaving select notes for a falsetto that was a reminder of just how high so many of those songs were reaching.
'Animal' had a respectable sound, although Elliott was already giving up on the highs, leaving them for the band to tackle. However, 'Foolin'' was where the wheels started to really fall off. It was literally painful to listen as he tried to hit these notes after some 40 years of rock-and-roll lifestyle. That style of pulling the mic away for the extreme high notes just added a visual representation to the fact he wasn't anywhere near it. By the time 'Bringing On The Heartbreak' seared from the speakers, I was the one heartbroken. I stood in the crowd, which seemed to collectively wonder how much more of this he, and we, could take. Obviously not everyone was so critical. A lot of the crowd was fist-pounding their memories back to the fore. Personally, I felt like I was watching Rocky's first go around against Clubber Lang.
Mercifully, and probably purposely, the band then went into Switch 625 before an acoustic set of songs designed mostly to not stress Joe's already trashed vocals. From this upstage sit-down, 'Two Steps Behind' was a treat. Joe's gravelly vocal and intro actually enhanced the years of this song, giving it added depth and sincerity.
Back to the bombast of the final approach, the notes of 'Rocket' brought the crowd back to its feet. Elliott, who's vocals had been really distracting up to this point, used a backing track to keep 'Rocket' faithful in sound and attitude. By this time, the highlight of the show, the band sounded so good you wondered why they don't start with this song? Joe mimed along to the vocals like a guy who was waiting for this show to be over.
But the band, man they were GREAT! Anytime you get to see Vivian Campbell and Phil Collen trade licks is a pretty good night. Rick(s) Savage and Allen kept a thumping rhythm section. And it sounded like they were all working the vocals, too. More than usual, I thought, as they went into a place Joe Elliotts' voice had abandoned years ago. I really wondered why they didn't just add a few backing vocalists for this residence. Vegas would certainly have been a place where a little extra "Show" would have been acceptable.
But the obvious vocal track for 'Rocket' caught me off guard. I appreciated the desire to keep this song in particular sounding true. But I wondered why not just do that for all the tracks? At times, Elliotts' vocals were so off, the rest of the band seemed to be pulled off key. 'Hysteria' and 'Love Bites' were lower-than-usual to start out, so the highs that Joe could reach weren't even close, and the band seemed a little out of kilter too. Strong songs, but I was hoping for so much more.
'Armageddon It,' 'Sugar...,' and 'Let's Get Rocked' were pretty faithful show closers, bringing the fans into the mood. I had seen enough, and left what I assumed would be an encore of 'Photograph' and 'Rock of Ages' to the rest of the faithful. I couldn't bear to see those songs in the current incarnation, preferring to remember them from previous tours.
Vegas is a weird place. Everything old is new again. The House always wins. And everything can be had for a price. But I felt like I was that had been "had" walking out of a Def Leppard show that was charging 150.00.
**I've corrected my review to spell Joe Elliott's name correctly. I failed to proofread it before I wrote it. My eyes were swollen from all the crying I was doing while typing this up at the McCarran International Airport while waiting for my plane... so I could leave Vegas and try to forget the travesty I had seen the night before.
But thanks to this email, I have seen the errors of my ways, and changed Joe's last name.