In 2018, I missed the Def Leppard/Journey tour twice: once in Washington, D.C., and once during a visit with friends in Detroit, Michigan.

In early 2020, I bought tickets to see them at the Nationals Stadium in Washington, D.C. Then COVID hit; the tour was indefinitely suspended. It looked like it might go forward in the summer of 2021, but no luck as the Delta variant of COVID spread. Finally, on July 2 this year, after four years of waiting, I saw Def Leppard live at the TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida, alongside the other headline act, Mötley Crüe and supporting acts Poison and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts.

The wait was nearly further prolonged. As the gates opened at 4:30 pm, so did the heavens. From 4:30 pm to 6:15 pm, the entire stadium was sheltered in the concourse as a thunderstorm boomed overhead. The rain slowed to a drizzle, so Joan Jett & the Blackhearts took the stage. (Original openers Classless Act did not appear due to the delay.) ‘Cherry Bomb’ revved up the crowd’s engine, and by ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,’ the engine ran smoothly. In seven short songs, she saved the stadium’s soggy spirits. 

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts heated up the engine enough to withstand another weather delay from 6:45 pm to 7:20 pm. So hot was the engine running that when AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’ played on the PA system, you’d think Poison had arrived onstage. There was no stopping this train now. At 7:20, Poison came out, sans Bret Michaels, their singer. Just two days ago, he had been hospitalized because of a bad reaction to medication; Poison had to miss their Nashville show. When Michaels finally ran onstage, the crowd roared. The cat did not drag him in; health conditions or not, Michaels gave it his all, on his own terms. He sounded tired when he spoke, but his performance was outstanding. C.C. DeVille gave Michaels a break midway through the set with assorted guitar solos. As he began one, in particular, a bright red background cut across with white stripes at varying angles appeared on the massive screen behind Poison. As he began tapping the fretboard, the stadium cheered: DeVille was playing Eddie Van Halen’s ‘Eruption’ solo and nailing it. Poison closed their set (and the heavens) with ‘Nothin’ but a Good Time,’ and was it ever. 

I have a confession to make: I adore hair metal, and I dislike Mötley Crüe. (Is it two confessions if I admit to liking hair metal?) I like punk and glam; apparently, I dislike the two when combined in Mötley Crüe’s fashion. Personal preferences aside, however, Crüe’s show was insane. Joan Jett, Poison, and Def Leppard had comparatively simple stage setups. Crue had the works: smoke machines, video intros, dancers, props, and mayhem. TIAA Bank Field had a blast. Nikki Sixx looked and played as a man possessed; Tommy Lee hammered the drums like tomorrow didn’t exist (even though he had recently broken four ribs carrying his wife’s luggage). The seats rattled two-thirds of the way up the stadium where I sat. The rain had been staved off and no longer cooled the crowd. If another thunderstorm rolled through and canceled Crüe’s set halfway through, I am convinced the crowd would have rioted. 

After a New Year’s-style countdown Def Leppard took the stage. They opened not with any of their monster singles but with two tracks from their new album, Diamond Star Halos. Few bands on the nostalgia circuit could successfully open with that move, but Def Leppard pulled it off. It didn’t hurt, too, that the stadium was still catching its breath after taking a walk on Crüe’s wild side. After ‘Take What You Want’ and ‘Fire It Up’ off their new album, ‘Animal’ had the audience singing the words back to Joe Elliott, and they didn’t stop singing for the rest of the show. Phil Collen and Viv Campbell alternated lead and rhythm guitar like Collen, and Steve Clark used to. Rick Allen, the world’s most iconic one-armed drummer, treated the crowd to a delightful drum solo that would challenge any two-armed drummer. Rick Savage kept the low-end down pat, and Joe Elliott gave it his all to hit the most exciting high notes in Def Leppard’s hits.

No seats rattled during Def Leppard’s setlist, but 45,000 people singing ‘Love Bites’ is its collective catharsis. ‘Photograph,’ off Pyromania, the second album in their legendary three-album run, closed their set. Onscreen behind the band were fan-submitted photographs of the fans themselves. As the band walked off, over the PA system drifted faintly their own 2011 song, ‘Kings of the World.’ After forty-five years as Def Leppard, one hundred million records sold, and two albums certified Diamond, they indeed are the kings of the world. 

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