Part Eight of the Def Leppard Review Series
Original review: Pyromania deluxe (2009)
Leppard were riding high when they hit the L.A. Forum in 1983. Pyromania was selling hot enough that every kid in the neighbourhood had heard at least one of its singles on the radio. MTV was factoring in now, and its impact can’t be understated. Leppard had some high budget and good looking videos on offer. Their live show was just as impressive.
Widely bootlegged, the second night in Los Angeles must have felt like a victory lap, even though there were still months left on the tour. They hit the stage psyched to perform. Earlier, Frank Zappa phoned up to ask if he could score some tickets for his kids, Moon Unit and Dweezil. Members of Van Halen and Heart were in attendance. Best of all, Queen legend Brian May was in town, and he surprised Leppard by playing them the twin guitar part of their hit “Photohraph” all by himself!
Remixed and remastered, the second L.A. show is now easily available on the Pyromania deluxe edition — the first official release of a live album with Steve Clark, although it did not come until 2009.
“Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)” is a natural opener. Since it already opened Pyromania itself, it was well suited, but its extended (taped) intro made for a dramatic band entrance. Joe’s road-worn scream is employed to great effect. Even so slightly faster than LP, “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)” defined the mood. Rock rock till you drop indeed! Keeping with the “Rock” theme, “Rock Brigade” was locked and loaded for the second spot. It sounds fresh with Phil Collen on lead guitar and backing vocals. His solo is balls-out technical, and completely unlike those of Pete Willis.
Joe pauses to say “good evening”, and then it’s straight into “Saturday Night (High ‘N’ Dry)”. This ode to getting wasted from 1981 is not a vast departure from the album version despite Phil amping up the guitar work. Into “Another Hit and Run”, it’s pure adrenaline and foot on the gas pedal. Screaming into the ether, Joe sings of youthful self-destruction. It turns into a jam towards the end, before careening through the finish line.
“Billy’s Got a Gun” is one of those songs that can get a bit rickety live, but this version is solid. The excellent “Mirror Mirror (Look Into My Eyes” follows, and it’s very slightly revised to increase the tension. Some won’t notice the differences. As usual, the chorus kills. It’s been all album cuts thus far, and no hits. But then Joe invites Steve Clark to the spotlight to play an acoustic guitar solo, which becomes “Foolin'”, the first of the three massive hits rolled out in a row. This might be considered the center of the show: “Foolin'”, “Photograph” and (a slightly fast) “Rock of Ages”. Each one a perfect gem, but with the live edge intact. To take it over the top, a ragged “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak”, Leppard’s other recognisable hit, is rolled out immediately after. What do you do for an encore? We’ll get to that.
“Switch 625” follows “Heartbreak” as it should. With the hits behind them, Leppard spend the end of the set rocking really, really heavy. “Switch 625” is already a steamer, but it’s followed by “Let It Go”, “Wasted” and an encore tease, and then “Stagefright”. Clearly, this setlist was designed to rock! “Wasted” in particular stands out from this trio. Phil’s blazing solo technique adds that extra dimension to the song, but it is just as amped up and the best versions from the early years.
But “Stagefright” isn’t the real encore.
“Right, I said we got a surprise for ya. And we have a big one at that. Ladies and gentlemen, will you please welcome all the way from England — Queen’s Brian May!”
Queen were not on tour, but they were in Los Angeles recording their 1984 album The Works. The long friendship between Leppard and Queen began right here. A cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Travelling Band” is the earliest recording of Joe and May together, but certainly not the last! This is not only a piece of history, but it’s a brilliant track! Joe’s screaming voice is strangely well suited to an overblown CCR cover. But hearing the guitar trio solo together, each with their own style, is the real icing on the cake. May is so creamy!
There are no other live releases from the Pyromania era, and the band’s sound transformed permanently when they next hit the road. This live album is the end of an era, and an excellent good time of it too.
The Pyromania tour wrapped up 18 December in Dortmund Germany, another two-nighter. Two weeks later, on New Year’s Eve, Rick Allen had the car accident that severed his left arm. In a heartbreaking twist, the arm was reattached, but after an infection set in, had to be removed again. This devastating tragedy united the band. Ambulance-chasers were ready and waiting to take the drum stool away from Rick Allen, but the band refused to see it as the end for the drummer. We all know what happens next. It was total Hysteria!
- The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night
- The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
- The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
- The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
- The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings
- The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)