Shaw Conference, Edmonton - Jan. 7, 2000

MIKE ROSS -- Express Writer

, Last Updated: 10:08 AM ET

EDMONTON -- The hair may be thinning, but the world's greatest hair-metal band is as thick and polished as ever. You'll find no surprises at a Def Leppard concert. In 2000, they're just as grand and bombastic as they ever were. The British fivesome delivered a blast of big, dumb fun for their fans in the Shaw Conference last night, mere months after the Rockfest '99 fiasco. As singer Joe Elliot put it: "We promised we'd come back for a real show - and voila! Here we are!" There was much rejoicing from a crowd of 3,000, who clearly got every penny of their money's worth. The focus was on the new album, sporting yet another multisyllabic title that means as little as any of the band's songs - Euphoria. Think of it as the ninth sequel in the musical equivalent of an action film series starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. Older hits were dispensed sparingly, teasingly, like tasty candy. Would it be a cliche to say the crowd ate it up? It certainly wouldn't be any dumber than a typical Def lyric - lines like, "making love like a man, I'm a man, that's what I am" or perhaps "skin on skin, let the love begin." Such sublime poetry. But what am I thinking? No one comes to a Def Leppard concert for the lyrics. This band serves up pop-metal at its finest, a grandiose larger-than-life form of music far removed from the simple, immediate feeling that great rock 'n' roll was once rumoured to generate. This show went strictly by the numbers. The band made its entrance to the strains of Rock and Roll, Part II (they must be the only people in the world who don't know the song was written by convicted child porn possessor Gary Glitter) and then it was a frenetic opening accompanied by strobe lights. The crowd got three fast tunes in a row, every one a hands-in-the-air anthem in which every available space was stuffed with bombast: pile-driving beats from one-armed drummer Rick Allen's specially made kit, duelling guitars awash in effects and thick knots of vocal harmonies. Elliot bounded across the stage, pausing here and there for an impressive rock-star pose as the cheers washed over him. From there, we got hit after hit after hit. Seasoned showmen they are, the Leps know how to pace a concert, where to insert power ballads that would sink through the stage in lesser hands, where to introduce newer, less familiar fare and where to rally the crowd with such gems as "hey, hey, hey, Edmonton!" The title track from Slang - the band's grunge-era experiment - sounded kind of like a Def-jam, hip-hop kind of thing. It was actually one of the most interesting songs of the night. Of the music from the new album - not that memorable, overall - the single Promises probably went over the best. It had a strong anthemic hook that harkens back to the band's glory days of Hysteria and Pyromania. And yes, the hands were in the air. Bic lighters came out, as they tend to do, for an acoustic ballad off the Last Action Hero soundtrack album, Two Steps Behind. It was a nice interlude. Elliot introduced the song with some advice to young rockers: "Anything more than three chords is a waste of time. You get into four chords and you're into jazz - and jazz blows." Considering how needlessly complex some of Def Leppard's songs are, I'll assume he was just laughing at himself. Someone's got to do it. Enough of Def Leppard. I personally found the opening act much more interesting, although most of the crowd was in the beer garden during a terrific set from Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. In a perfect world, Def Leppard would be opening for this band. Decked out in chains and leather, Jett proved to be a consummate rock performer, backed by a lean and mean band that looked like they took a wrong turn on the way to CBGB's. Still singing about sex and rebellion - as convincingly as ever - Jett was able to command the crowd with the smallest gesture. Her raw, powerful voice did the rest. The Blackhearts' brand of rock 'n' roll was as basic as can be, free of frills of any kind. Few songs did indeed have more than three chords. It was a fascinating selection of tunes. Of course they had to play the Hit - I Love Rock 'n' Roll - but that wasn't the highlight. The band pulled out Iggy Pop's Real Wild Child and I Wanna Be Your Dog with the same aggression as the theme from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. The title track from Jett's latest album, Fetish, was an ode to kinky sex delivered with passion. Also heard were Crimson and Clover and Do You Wanna Touch Me, written by - you guessed it - Gary Glitter.

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