It took Def Leppard 13 years to return to Tucson, but there’s a good chance after the reception they received Wednesday night at Casino del Sol’s AVA, it won’t take them that long to return.
For two hours, the band kept the crowd of nearly 4,000 on its feet, pumping fists in the air and singing along until their voices were horse.
They kept us up well past our workday bedtime, and it was worth every minute of lost sleep.
Scaling a catalog that stretches nearly 30 years, the band hit the highlights of platinum-selling albums and chart-topping hits that took us back to their last Tucson area concert: December 1999 playing before 7,000 people at Sunset Pavilion in the parking lot of the long-closed New West night club in Marana.
“Long time no see,” frontman Joe Elliott shouted a few songs in, sounding almost apologetic.
The band’s live show has matured in the last 13 years. There were video complements that showed up-close shots of guitarist Phil Collen’s chiseled bare chest — how a man his age (54) can maintain that shape is inspiring — and guitarist Vivian Campbell’s lightening fast licks. Close up angles caught one-armed drummer Rick Allen’s bare feet beating out a torrent of crushing rhythms then flashed to bass player Rick Savage standing next to him on the raised platform, cheering him along.
But the songs were the same — treasured gems of our youth: “Rocket,” “Foolin’,” “Animal,” “Love Bites,” “Hysteria,” “Photograph,” “Gods of War,” “Let’s Get Rocked,” “Bringin’ On the Hearbreak,” “Armageddon It.” The night was one continuous rush of clashing, heart-thumping, driving rock performed by a band whose chops don’t seem worse for the wear.
It took Def Leppard nearly 75 minutes before they slowed down for a set of acoustic songs including “Where Does Love Go When It Dies,” “Now,” “When Love and Hate Collide,” “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad” and Elliott’s solo cover of The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
The band members strummed acoustic guitars while sitting on a chest that was pushed to the end of the catwalk jutting out into the audience. The AVA removed several rows of seats and allowed fans to stand four to five deep in front of the stage.
Opening act Lita Ford watched the acoustic performance from a chair off stage. This is how she has spent her summer on the road with Def Leppard and fellow “Rock of Ages 2012” tour mate Poison. Each night, she told the Star, she sneaks back and watches the show.
Ford opened the night just before 7 p.m. with a blistering 30-minute set that included her biggest hits “Close My Eyes Forever” and “Kiss Me Deadly” and two new cuts off her months-old album “Living Like A Runaway.”
Poison, with frontman and Phoenix resident Bret Michaels in fine form, performed about 45 minutes, including a rollicking showing on “Unskinny Bop” and their signature power ballad “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.”
Before he left us, Leppard’s Elliott vowed the band would return soon.
“We’re going to make sure we don’t leave you for so long,” he promised.