Concert review and photos: Def Leppard sizzles at sold-out Atlanta show

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Joe Elliott bringin' on some heartbreak. Photo: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC
Joe Elliott bringin' on some heartbreak. Photo: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC

Joe Elliott bringin’ on some heartbreak. Photo: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC

About halfway through Def Leppard’s perfectly executed rock show Friday night, singer Joe Elliott strolled the catwalk jutting from the stage and surveyed the lawn area.

“We’ve been playing (the U.S.) since 1980 – and look at this,” he said, gesturing at the mass of humanity blanketing the grassy hill. “God bless you all.”

That Def Leppard is still selling out amphitheaters – 19,000 crowded Lakewood – four decades into their career and still dotting their set lists with solid new material is a testament to their craft.

And that they clearly pour not sugar, but cash, into their stunning live production – waterfalls of lights and a stadium-worthy video screen highlighted the visual aspect – is a testament to their respect for their fans.

You want some zip for your ticket price? Well, sit back and enjoy.

Oh yes, it’s so very easy to mock any band from the ‘80s who might have dabbled with lip gloss and Aqua Net. But the fact is, hits such as “Animal,” “Armageddon It” and the cynical ballad “Love Bites” endure for a reason: They served their genre well and they remain solidly crafted, melodic rock songs with enough of a pop sheen to keep them accessible through the generations.

The British quintet – Elliott, guitarists Vivian Campbell and Phil Collen, bassist Rick Savage and drummer Rick Allen – were in peak form at Friday’s concert.

Seeing Campbell, who has been battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma, onstage looking healthy and happy, was meaningful to fans, while his muscled and shirtless counterpart Collen likely made every guy in the venue feel inferior about his gym regimen.

Elliott belted “Foolin’” into his microphone – the stand adorned with a Union Jack scarf – with eyes scrunched, his passion for the game apparently undiminished.

He took the crowd on a history lesson through the summer of 1977, when Savage – his self-described best friend of 39 years – would come over to scour Elliott’s “massive” record collection as they listened to The Clash and the Sex Pistols.

REO Speedwagon frontman Kevin Cronin. Photo: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC

REO Speedwagon frontman Kevin Cronin. Photo: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC

The story introduced their cover of David Essex’s “Rock On,” which spotlighted Savage’s chugga-chugga bass lines and Elliott’s spiffy top hat.

The band also showcased the three strongest songs from last year’s self-titled album – the opening “Let’s Go,” which fits perfectly in the Def Leppard stomp-and-clap canon, “Dangerous” and “Man Enough.”

Elliott can’t hit every note that once came effortlessly, but he impressively stuck the landing on the lush “Rocket” and yowled with gusto during “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak,” which was followed by Collen and Campbell riffing gracefully through “Switch 625.”

Of course fist-jabbers “Let’s Get Rocked” and strip club anthem “Pour Some Sugar on Me” re-ignited the adrenaline, proving that even after all of these years, there is still plenty of vitality in the Def Leppard catalog.

While Tesla is part of this summer tour, the band had to bow out of a few dates due to unspecified illness. That allowed Def Leppard’s other tour mates, REO Speedwagon, to play an extended set that included singalongs “Time for Me to Fly,” “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” and their rousing closer, “Roll with the Changes.”

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