Live Review : Def Leppard + Cheap Trick @ Echo Arena, Liverpool on December 15th 2018

According to Spotify, I spend approximately eighty percent of my time listening to obscure extreme metal but I still absolutely adore Cheap Trick. They are the sonic equivalent of devouring all of a king-size packet of Haribo by yourself; indulgent, sickly sweet and so so wrong but god oh so enjoyable. Tonight they are wonderful as ever, the sound is a bit raw and ready (you would expect me to say that), but for every single moment of their fourty five minute set they are just utterly magical. Yes I could have lived without the Velvet Underground cover, but you will not find a finer trio of vintage bubble-gum pop rock than the closing crescendo of ‘Want You to Want Me’, 'Dream Police' and 'Surrender’. They are each up there with the greatest songs ever written, but together it's like getting a sugar rush of the most epic proportion and I expect to still to be high on the saccharine rush for days to come.

But as much as I worship at the very feet of Cheap Trick tonight is for me all about Def Leppard doing ‘Hysteria’ in its entirety. This is very simply a childhood dream come true as it’s the album that the socially inept teenaged me listened to on a daily basis for two solid years. I literally wore my cassette copy of it out and with money earned on my Saturday job had to go buy it again on vinyl. Now ‘Pyromania’ may be a better album (don't argue, it just is) but these twelve highly polished slick rock songs spoke to the geeky perpetually awkward fifteen year old I once was.

Now that I'm a socially inept forty-six year old it has been a good long while since I revisited ‘Hysteria’ and to come in totally fresh I resist the temptation to listen to it again before the gig. So what immediately hits me is that in many places it has dated incredibly badly. 'Women' feels crass in a post #metoo world and both 'Armageddon Itand 'Excitable' sound paper-thin and very much of their time. However there are some tracks that have aged remarkably well, 'Gods of War' for instance still sounds both vital and relevant. It is also the only decent thing side two as Hysteria turns out to be a colossally lopsided album. Side one is just hit after hit after hit as it unloads ‘‘Rocket' followed by 'Animal’, followed by 'Love Bites', followed by 'Pour Some Sugar On Me. It's six single straight run one from the beginning to the end of the side. Side two however is where the filler lives as the title track is the only song from this end of town that was deemed to be single material. As the band do the album live in its precise order the unevenness of distribution means that the concentration of the crowd starts to seriously peater out towards the end of its performance and by the time we reach the conclusion of 'Love & Affection', we have lost around a third of the arena’s capacity to the bar. 

Because this is a party crowd who want to bellow along with songs they know, they are not interested in the fact that it is 'Run Riotfirst airing in twenty six years and therefore the whole celebration of a life-changing album (well, for me it was) all falls a bit flat. Even with the singles the almost capacity arena are virtuoso when it comes to the choruses but come across a little lost and confused with the verses. On the other hand, I can still recite on demand the every lyric on the album in order without hesitation or deviation. And that is my whole issue with tonight. For ninety percent of the people here, this is simply a Def Leppard gig where they can happily scream along with the songs they sing along to on Planet Rock in the car.

For me though this was meant to be musically cathartic, a tearful but joyous return to one the cornerstones of my pubescent years and the fulfilment of a lifetime’s ambition and in that sense it is all a bit of a non-event. Yes, Def Leppard are musically brilliant tonight and the way that the songs are performed is faultless but I come out disappointed and deflated as I have realised that one of the albums that made me who I am is probably not the masterpiece I remember.

Words by Stewart Lucas
Photography by Johann Wierzbicki