Context can be so important. Take a scene out of a movie, words out of a conversation or a still photograph of a facial expression and it can entirely lose its meaning without the things that came before and after.
But sometimes context can deceive, coloring your perception, preventing you from seeing something for what it is.
Metal (glam metal, hair metal, whatever) was such a popular genre of rock in the ’80s that many legitimately good rock bands were lazily lumped in with the Wingers and Warrants of the world, the kind of guilt by association that can ruin careers.
Fast-forward 25 years, take the music out of that era and we can see that bands like Guns ‘N’ Roses, Metallica and Def Leppard transcended the metal fad. A million and one metal bands have fallen by the wayside over the past quarter-century, relegated to the club circuit, but the biggies soldier on in stadium and arena dates. No need to think too hard about what genre those bands fit in when you can just see their music for what it is — great rock ‘n’ roll.
And that’s exactly what Def Leppard brought to the Blaisdell Arena on Friday night.
The Brits (along with guitarist Vivian Campbell, who hails from Northern Ireland) performed hits from throughout their nearly 40-year career — “Photograph,” Let’s Get Rocked,” “Rock of Ages,” etc., but the centerpiece of the show, which went for close to two hours, was their first complete performance of their 12-million-selling 1987 album “Hysteria” in more than five years.
Performing a whole album in order is great in concept and more bands should do it, but it is also tricky to pull off. How many albums are worthy of such treatment? There aren’t many, but on Frfday night, Def Leppard proved that “Hysteria” is one of them, showing each song the love it deserves — no shortcuts, no abridged versions. They even worked in every special effect from the Mutt Lange-produced masterpiece.
Their signature song, “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” got the biggest reaction (is there any band whose music is better summed up by its signature hit than Def Leppard is by that sweet but crunchy classic?), but it was clear that the entire record was embedded in the brains of nearly all the approximately 5,000 fans in attendance. (Friday’s show was the first of a two-night stand, but it was scheduled after Saturday night’s show was already a sell-out.)
“Rocket,” another of the seven chart hits on the album, got the crowd pumped up, as the band played it to its full album length of six-plus minutes. But even non-singles were met with enthusiasm, most notably “Excitable,” the penultimate track from “Hysteria.”
As great as the music remains, what makes the band worth seeing are the energy, the stage presence and the craft.
Guitarists Campbell and Phil Collen stride the stage like wind-up dolls, stopping only for solos or to chime in on vocals. And what solos they were! Collen got most of the flashy opportunities, but Campbell got to get the lead out a few times himself and was more than up to the task.
Singer Joe Elliott can still deliver a wail as great as ever, and bass player Rick Savage strutted every inch of the stage while laying a great musical foundation. Drummer Rick Allen was, of course, less mobile — that comes with the territory for drummers — but he remains another reason to see the band live. Where else are you gonna see a drummer excel using only one arm?
Two tips for anyone going to Saturday night’s show:
>> Get there early. … No, even earlier. There’s a craft fair in the same complex, which made parking a slow process Friday night, especially with the parking structure’s Kapiolani Avenue entrance closed. Consider alternative parking.
>> Bring earplugs. The show is quite loud, but the warm-up music, provided by a DJ, rose to an unbearable volume at times.
Notes: Friday’s show was scheduled for 8 p.m., but started at 9. Of course, no guarantees for Saturday night, so use your discretion as to what time to arrive. … T-shirts cost $30-35 and caps $25, but there was a vendor selling shirts from their recent co-headlining tour with Journey for $10 on the sidewalk near the parking structure. Incidentally, Def Leppard last played Hawaii in September 1983, and Journey played the Blaisdell Arena that same month.