When Joe Elliott took the stage at Planet Hollywood’s Zappos Theater Wednesday night (Aug. 14), it was his debut concert as a sexagenarian. Having celebrated this milestone birthday on August 1, the rock legend told Billboard in an interview before the show that “this will be my first gig in my 60s.”
But standing on stage opening night, with his shaggy blonde hair and signature leather pants and jacket, Elliott and the band — comprised of one-handed drummer Rick Allen and guitarists Phil Collen, Rick Savage and Vivian Campbell — were a timeless symbol of the power of great instrumentals and lyrics. The multi-gen audience, which ranged from teens to seniors, was packed with the band’s super fans.
“Legacy artists and great music doesn’t have an age on it anymore, it’s like fine wine, it doesn’t matter. And these songs are now appealing to young kids,” Elliott says, noting that he consistently gets commentary on his Planet Rock radio show from teenage fans who have discovered Def Leppard by raiding their parents’ record collections.
The almost two-hour long set was filled with big moments, including two songs that Def Leppard has never played before in concert, “Let Me Be the One” from 2002’s X album and “We Belong” from 2015’s Def Leppard; as well as “Have You Ever Been,” which they hadn’t played in 25 years.
“We dug deep into our catalog and we’re going back [as recent as] the latest album. And songs from High ‘n’ Dry that we don’t play on a regular basis, songs from Pyromania that we haven’t played in decades, and a couple of songs we’ve never played at all,” Elliott says. “We like to present the show in three stages. You’ve got the A, B, and C list. You’ve got the crown jewels, which you wouldn’t get out of the building alive if you didn’t play. And then you’ve got the B list, which is the very cool album-track stuff that weren’t necessarily hits or had videos but still earn their spot. And then you got the C list, which is what we call the floaters, and that’s when you can bring in a song that you haven’t played for a while but the hardcore down in front go, ‘Oh my God, brilliant.’ And everybody else will indulge it. We kind of messed around with the set in that respect and of course, because it’s Vegas, and it’s 12 shows in the same building, we’re not going to play the same set twice.”
Thanks to the range of the set list, everyone gets a taste of the Def Leppard they love. This is quite a departure from the arrangements of most residency efforts that infrequently modify if ever. “We have a certain section of the show that’s changeable for songs that are of a similar style so that we don’t get bored doing the same thing every night,” he says. “You change it up in such a way that you’re not going to disappoint too many people, because the ones that are coming just for the hits will get them, but the ones that are coming to see what else we might do, they’re the ones that will go, ‘Okay, cool.’ At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you play. You could poll everyone leaving the venue and say, ‘Was there anything you wished they played?’ And they would say, ‘Yes, I wished they played ‘blah blah blah.” There will always be somebody who wants half of the first album, which, come on, you know we’re not going to do that. So you have to go with your own gut.”
Elliott made it through almost two dozen obscurities and the hits — from “Let’s Get Rocked” to “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and from “Photograph” to “Foolin” — with pristine vocals and his unmistakable mulit-octave heavy metal battle cry. So between “Photograph” and “Foolin,” which does he prefer to perform live?
“I probably have to say ‘Photograph,’ but it’s like asking me to pick my favorite child,” Elliott says. “They’re two vastly different songs. There aren’t many rock songs that have the impact and longevity as ‘Photograph.’ Everybody bought it. They all played it. And it never gets old playing it live. It’s never the easiest song in the world to sing, it’s always a physical challenge for me the older I get.”
So, what truly excites a band that has played all over the world for the last five decades? Vegas, baby.
“When we got in the building, we spent the first half an hour, just standing at the end of the ramp looking back at the stage, saying ‘Wow.’ It was pretty impressive,” he says. “The fact that we can still go out there and pull crowds and entertain, and have the enthusiasm and ability to do it, because it’s all we’ve ever wanted. That’s pretty much what keeps me going.”
Continuing on with the firsts, this is also their debut at Zappos Theater, formerly the Aladdin Theatre for the Performing Arts opened in 1976, which has hosted most of music’s major acts over the years. And to honor that stage, they knew they had to pull out all the stops. The lasers and LED displays that fill the immense space are pure heavy-metal magic. “We wanted to make an impression with this,” Elliot says. “We’re going into a venue where artists like Gwen Stefani, The Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears types have played. You can’t just go in there with your standard rock rig and expect to compete. We wanted to bring big, brash, Las Vegas-style theatrical visuals. And because we don’t have to keep stripping this down every night and moving it to the next town, we could really go completely hog-wild. It stays there for the three weeks that we’re here, so, we could really go to town with it.
This, however, is not their first residency rodeo. The band previously did 11 shows at The Joint inside Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in 2013 — but the list of other Las Vegas firsts goes on.
“I remember when I first visited in 1983, I bought my first-ever video camera here. It was towards the end of the Pyromania tour, we were still only on about $50 dollars a week, but I took an advance of $500 dollars to buy this camera. It must have been 18 inches long and weighed about 40 pounds. I remember driving up and down the Strip filming the billboards. I had to capture this mad scene, which is what it was to a kid from Sheffield,” he says. “But compare it to what it is now it’s kind of calm, like normal—so it’s a sensory overload and that’s okay for a short period of time,” he says. “I think it might drive you mad if you were here forever. You’d have to run to the hills between performances, but it is a fantastic place to visit. It’s kind of like getting a day-pass to somewhere like Hell.”
Catch them in Vegas while you can, because Elliott says they won’t be adding dates. “You come in, you do three weeks in a month or whatever it is, and then you leave. Maybe one day, somebody’s going to [ask] how would you like to do it for six months?” he says. “Maybe one day we would fancy it, but we’re that kind of band right now that this is like a novelty for us. Essentially, we’re a touring band, this is just a little different because for once, people come to see us, and we get to sleep in the same beds for 29 nights.”