During its 30-plus years in the rock ’n’ roll game, Def Leppard has parked a handful of misses alongside their dozens of hits. Arguably the biggest blunder: introducing American audiences to their long-awaited album Hysteria by releasing the disc’s initial track, “Women,” as the first single in the summer of 1987. While guitar-heavy and sexually implicit, “Women” lacked the one ingredient required to be a 1980s rock-radio hit—a catchy chorus. As a result, after an initial sales spike, Hysteria stalled on the charts, displaying absolutely zero signs that it eventually would sell an estimated 20 million copies.
Flash ahead to Viva Hysteria!, the band’s 11-show Las Vegas residency during which the British quintet is performing its 12-song epic from start to finish. Which means opening with “Women.” Which means a second chance for Def Leppard to show their now middle-aged fan base what they missed more than 25 years ago. Sure enough, following a blistering seven-song, 45-minute set of classic and lesser-known material—the band is serving as its own opening act throughout the residency—Def Leppard returned to the stage and played the hell out of “Women.” It would turn out to be one of the stronger performances on this night, and the packed house … still didn’t buy it, standing mostly flat-footed for a good six minutes. In fact, the loud ovation at the song’s conclusion probably wasn’t an appreciation for the effort so much as it was an awareness that the hits were forthcoming. And they were, five of them in succession—“Rocket,” “Animal,” “Love Bites,” “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and “Armageddon It.”
As one hit fed into the next and the men thrust their fists skyward and the women swayed their hips, it was clear why Hysteria managed to survive one strategic misstep and go on to reach iconic status—and why Def Leppard has chosen to honor its legacy with this three-week Vegas gig. The good news is the band still has the musical chops to do its entire catalog justice (only frontman Joe Elliott required a little, shall we say, technical support on his vocals). And after the crowd erupted following the requisite encore of “Rock of Ages” and “Photograph”—“some songs you have to do, or they won’t let you out of the building,” Elliott quipped—there was little doubt that more than a few customers would be returning before the residency concludes April 13 … even if it means hearing “Women” one more time. ★★★★☆ – Matt Jacob