For a band with a history that goes back to the NWOBHM days of the late-70s, Def Leppard’s first official live album “Mirrorball” didn’t come about until 2011, and whilst that recording was as slick and polished as you would expect from a band well known for taking their time in the studio until everything sounds perfect, it was at least a spirited run through a back catalogue of crowd-pleasing cock rock anthems. Which makes releasing “Viva! Hysteria” a mere two years later, with no new material released in between and not tied in to any anniversary, a little odd.
Of course, any self-respecting rock fan who doesn’t own a copy of Def Leppard’s seminal 1987 album “Hysteria” is obviously in need of educating/beating (delete as appropriate). But when an album has a production as clinically precise and clean as “Hysteria” (and pretty much most of their back catalogue) then reproducing it live is quite a redundant affair as who wants to go to see and hear a band run through the set-list as if it were a corporate showcase instead of a rock n’ roll gig?
There’s no arguing with the songs on “Hysteria” and the first disc of “Viva! Hysteria”, as ‘Animal’, ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’, ‘Armageddon It’, ‘Rocket’, ‘Love Bites’ and the excellent title track are all top-shelf bangers that the band still play at their regular gigs but for the hardcore fans the second disc (which is actually the first part of the concert, where the band played under a different name as their own support act) sees a set-list of more interest as the band throw out some gems from their early days and a few latter-day choice cuts. There’s no ‘Let’s Get Rocked’, ‘Make Love Like a Man’ or ‘C’mon C’mon’ but we do get energetic renditions of ‘Good Morning Freedom’, ‘Wasted’ and ‘Slang’, and interestingly it’s this part of the show that has a looser, edgier feel than the main set.
The DVD captures the main “Hysteria” set without any of the preliminaries and what it highlights is that a) guitarist Phil Collen is (justifiably) very proud of his oiled-up physique and b) that singer Joe Elliott’s puffy red cheeks make him look like a child at a wedding who’s had too much squash and takes too skidding across the dancefloor. As an in-concert film it’s perfectly fine without being flashy or cinematic in any way, but playing it safe on camera sits well with the similar nature of the performance.
It may sound from this like “Viva! Hysteria” is a bit of a wasted opportunity, and in a way it is as Def Leppard are a band with a fascinating story to tell and hopefully one day they’ll get the chance to tell it through the medium of a stylish documentary movie, but for now this live document is fine for long-time devotees to have in their collections. For everyone else, however, a copy of the original “Hysteria” or a decent compilation will do a better job of representing the band – and those vocal harmonies – than this stop-gap, fans-only release.