Def Leppard lead singer Joe Elliott didn’t wear the flag in the form of a sleeveless T-shirt, as was his custom in the rock band’s heyday. This time, it took the form of a scarf tied to his mic stand.
Then again, Elliott isn’t 19 anymore — as he was when Def Leppard recorded its debut, “The Def Leppard E.P.,” back in 1979.
Some things hadn’t changed when the band appeared Monday before a crowd that filled about three-quarters of the fair’s Chumash Grandstand Arena.
Just as they had on Aug. 3, 1999, Def Leppard kicked things off with “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop),” the opening track of the band’s breakthrough 1983 album, “Pyromania.” All in all, 15 of the 18 numbers Def Leppard performed Monday had been featured at that show on the eve of the new millennium.
The calendar might indicate this Leppard is getting long in the tooth. After all, it’s been nearly three decades since the Leps issued their 20 million-selling signature LP “Hysteria.”
But Monday’s show successfully turned back the clock for fans who stood and sang along enthusiastically to the closing number, “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” and the first of two encore numbers, “Rock of Ages.”
Among the highlights was “Switch 625,” one of the few acoustic numbers in the band’s catalog, which served as an extended coda to “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak.” A thumping bass intro by Rick Savage — wearing a sparkling glam shirt that read “I’m so (expletive) disco” — gave way to a hypnotic electric guitar duet by the shirtless Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell before climaxing in a slowly accelerating drum solo from Rick Allen.
The crowd cheered when Elliott introduced the “happy and healthy” Campbell, who has been battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma and announced last month that the cancer had returned.
It’s the latest in a string of challenges the band has faced over the years: Former lead guitarist Steve Clark died of an overdose in 1991, and Allen lost his left arm after a car crash on New Year’s Eve in 1984.
Judging from the crowd’s reaction, however, Monday’s concert wasn’t a tragedy, but rather a triumph.
Perhaps the only drawback was the acoustics.
Jeff Keith of Tesla delivered some screeching, albeit on-key, vocals to open Monday’s show, but Elliott’s voice sounded muffled at the start of Def Leppard’s set.
He made liberal use of the echo feature and dropped down an octave at one point during “Foolin’,” but seemed to hit his stride during the sixth number, “Love Bites.”
The sound appeared to even out later in the concert, striking a better balance between vocals and instrumentation. Elliott’s acoustic solo on “Two Steps Behind” provided an effective breather in the midst of a thumping sonic assault that shook the metal stands.
For fans disappointed by Mötley Crüe’s abbreviated 10-song set two days earlier, it was a shot of rock ’n’ roll redemption.