Hysteria wasn’t the easiest album to make. Its three-year gestation was marked by false starts (including aborted sessions with Meat Loaf collaborator Jim Steinman), a near-fatal car crash (costing drummer Rick Allen his arm), and a mindset so meticulous that mixing (usually done within a week) took three months.

But the persistence, and attention to detail, ultimately paid off. Hysteria was the album that changed everything for Def Leppard. Since August 1987, it’s sold over 25 million copies. Six of its seven singles have been a staple of the band’s live set for the past 30 years (and now included on the brand new The Story So Far hits collection). And following 2013’s Viva! Hysteria Las Vegas residency, it’s the centrepiece of the band’s first UK tour in three years (plus a series of European summer festival appearances scheduled for 2019).  

Tonight, at the band’s second London arena show in two weeks, the reason for that staying power becomes obvious. The LP is 12 songs built not just to last, but to connect with as many people as possible. Conceived by producer “Mutt” Lange as a hard rock version of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, with every track a potential single, the album is absolutely stuffed with hooks, harmonies, and melodies so instantly memorable that even Excitable, relegated to second-last on the tracklist, has the Wembley Arena audience clapping along (excitably).

It certainly doesn’t hurt that the five men in Def Leppard treat the lesser-known deep cuts with as much respect as the crowd favourites. They nail everything from the stacked backing vocals to the intertwined guitar licks, pairing the precision originally demanded by Lange with the adrenaline of a live show.

Women gets the night off to a sweaty start with twin guitar heroics as in your face as its lyrical misogyny, while a fist-pumping Rocket’s collision of African rhythms, neanderthal groove, and vocal loops reminds that this was no average ‘80s rock album. 

A pop song with muscle, the lean Animal clearly became a template for hair metal bands seeking chart glory at the tail end of the decade. Love Bites, in turn, was the prototype lighter anthem but none came close to the harmonic intricacies at its heart. The vocal interplay between frontman Joe Elliot and guitarists Phil Collen, Vivian Campbell, and Rick Savage on the Queen-sized choruses is recreated to near perfection tonight as the audience join in with equal enthusiasm.

The sleazy bump ‘n grind of Pour Some Sugar On Me elicits an even bigger response, before a vigorous Armageddon It ends the streak of big hitters. But, kicking off side B, Gods Of War just won’t be ignored. A seven-minute Cold War epic performed with all the Led Zeppelin pomp required, tonight the LP’s oft-forgotten masterpiece also acts as a fitting memorial to fallen guitarist Steve Clark.

An on-target Don’t Shoot Shotgun and adrenalised Run Riot go back to hard rock basics with chunky guitar riffs, widdly widdly Collen/Campbell solos, bounding Savage basslines, Allen’s big-hearted drumming, and Elliot’s full-throated voice pulling the crowd along for the ride.

The anthemic title track, in turn, requires no coercion as the lighters (or phones) come out once more for the US Top 10 hit. Rearranged slightly to allow for the lack of keyboards onstage, a strutting Excitable easily lives up to its name, until a confident rendition of the rarely performed Love And Affection brings the album (and first part of the show) home.

When the band return to the stage, the always-gregarious Elliot sincerely thanks the fans for what’s been a bumper year, from their Royal Albert Hall debut at the Teenage Cancer Trust in March to their recent election to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, before diving into songs that came “before and after Hysteria”.

Promises, the high-impact lead single of 1999’s Euphoria and a shredding playground for the always-shirtless Collen, gives way to a communal sway through quintessential power ballad When Love And Hate Collide. Slacker anthem Let’s Get Rocked is greeted with just as much enthusiasm and ups the pace once more for the traditional finale: a one-two knockout punch from 1983’s Pyromania.

The hard-hitting Rock Of Ages, built around some of Allen’s most powerful playing, is followed by Photograph and its video montage of archival band photos. Fittingly, then, the scorcher is played with all the enthusiasm of youth, despite being the last song of their last show of the year. They clearly still believe it’s better to burn out than to fade away…

Review of Def Leppard at Wembley Arena on 18th December 2018 by Nils van der Linden. Photos by Kevin Nixon.

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