Stadium Rock Of Ages: Def Leppard Solidifies Headliner Status

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PHOTOGRAH: Def Leppard is co-headlining “The Stadium” tour, which initially was announced in 2019. Pictured are the band’s Rick Savage, Rick Allen, Joe Elliott, Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell. (Photo by Anton Corbijn)

They’ve sold more than 100 million records, putting them in select company with the most popular musicians in the world. They are among a handful of rock bands that can claim “Double Diamond” status, with two original albums to sell more than 10 million copies each in the United States. On the touring side, they’ve remained at the arena and stadium level consistently and, since 1999, have sold nearly 8 million concert tickets over more than 800 shows, as reported to Pollstar. They’re Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame members, inducted in 2019 by actual rock royalty (and close personal friend) Brian May.

Mention any of that to the actual band, however, and they don’t want to hear it.

“The big thing with us is we haven’t got what we wanted out of it yet,” says Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen, who joined in 1982 before the recording of the 1983 hit Pyromania that catapulted the Sheffield, England-born band to international superstardom. “We’ve always aspired to be Queen and The Rolling Stones. We want to be touring like The Rolling Stones and have that reward – not financially but artistically – and we want our catalog to be out there like Queen.”

Inspired by the likes of David Bowie, T-Rex and Mott The Hoople, Def Leppard helped
define the term “arena rock,” with ‘80s anthems like “Armageddon It,” “Rock of Ages,” “Photograph,” and “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” with pounding drums, huge hooks and singable choruses, not to mention power ballads like “Love Bites,” “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak” and still more ubiquitous tunes that multiple generations have grown up with and loved.

Co-leaders Collen, 64, and lead singer Joe Elliott, 62, light up at the mention of their favorite artists – often now actual close friends and contemporaries – much like the teenagers who were initially inspired to form a band in the first place.

“When I say we aspire to be Queen, we want that catalog. We want that diversity within the band, and we want to share it with everyone,” says Collen. “And, the Stones thing, we want to tour like that. It was always exciting from the ‘70s onward when the Stones would go on. It still is now. They go out there and it’s such an event and that’s what we want out of it. We are finally getting there.”

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ROCK HALL OF AGES: Def Leppard pictured during the Rock & Roll
Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony at Barclays Center in Brooklyn in 2019. (Kevin Mazur / Getty Images The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)

Getting there may be a moving target, due not only to the band’s ambitions but also COVID. Announced in 2019, “The Stadium Tour” was to head out that summer, topped by Def Leppard and fellow ‘80s favorites Mötley Crüe, with special guests Poison and Joan Jett playing Major League Baseball and NFL stadiums across the U.S.

It sold more than 1 million tickets at onsale but, of course, was derailed by COVID. The band was planning to do some studio work when the pandemic hit, but had no idea what it would lead to, or how.

“It’s not like we had an epiphany in March of 2020 that this was how it was going to be, but what we did have was a lightning-bolt moment during the 30- or 40-minute phone call when we were due to fly in to Dublin and work in the studio on just a few songs,” adds lead vocalist Elliott. “It was like ‘Now what? What do we do now?’ [laughs].” Over the phone and from different continents, Collen and Elliott began sharing song ideas, riffs and vocal clips.
“You’ve got to remember this is March 22, 2020, I think,” Elliott says. “We don’t know how long lockdown is going to last. We were planning to do some recording, we were not getting an album finished, it was just going to be whatever we got. We had rehearsals in May and then the tour.”

What surely would have been a successful tour and fruitful recording sessions turned into a prolific creative period for the band, with a renewed excitement for the May 27 release of those pandemic recordings, their 12th studio album, Diamond Star Halos.
ON THE COVER: Def Leppard pictured in 2022, London. L-R: Vivian Campbell, Rick Savage, Phil Collen, Joe Elliott, Rick Allen. Photo by Anton Corbijn.

“When we started, we didn’t have a record deal, so didn’t have a delivery date, so this was just art, having fun writing until we stopped,” Elliott says. “It’s stretching our wings, the way Queen did. We’ve both been saying recently, it’s like the quantum leap that Rumours was from previous Fleetwood Mac, or Hotel California was for previous Eagles. This for me is a career defining album in that respect. We had this opportunity to do this, but it’s not like we knew that when we started out. It just organically became this different beast.”
Joking this is the future of recording for the band, which has no interest in reverting back to placing “four alpha males in a studio together” waiting for the magic to happen, Elliott says the creative freedom has led to renewed inspiration. “You’ve got to keep looking for a better song, that’s the thing,” he continues. “Have we written our most successful song? Maybe. Have we written our best song? I hope not.”

See: Plant-ing The Idea: How The Golden God and Soccer Banter Brought Alison Krauss To Def Leppard’s New Album

That energy and creativity has carried over to “The Stadium Tour,” which sees the band
finally embarking on what organizers are calling the biggest tour of the summer.

“The tour is so successful, it’s the biggest tour in North America this year with 36 stadiums and most of them sold out,” says Dennis Arfa, founder of Artist Group International, which has represented Def Leppard since the early ‘90s and also represents Mötley Crüe. He says the tour has grossed over $154 million. “The only ones that are not sold out are basically ones that we had to (reschedule). We’re basically selling refunded tickets back at this point.”

Arfa notes the strength of the five newly added shows, saying, “I think we surprised a lot of people with our success in cities like Edmonton and Milwaukee that sold 44,000 on the onsale. Toronto, Vancouver, Las Vegas are some of the new additional cities that are tracking to sell out.” He adds jokingly, “When we announced this in 2019, Las Vegas didn’t even have a stadium.”

For Def Leppard specifically, “They now have established themselves as a stadium act, ” Arfa says, noting a 2018 tour with Journey that included multiple stadiums. “Stadiums are their home of the future and the home of the present.”

Securing the dates initially was enough of a task, taking place in the summer at baseball stadiums and going into the NFL season.

“One challenge we faced was coordinating timelines with MLB and the NFL when booking stadiums for these shows, but (AGI agent) Peter Pappalardo was diligent and creative in making the routing work,” says Live Nation’s Rick Franks, who credits Arfa with the idea for the tour. “I knew we had created something special with this show and that we had an impressive lineup that hadn’t been done before, but I think we surprised many people on the sidelines with the success of the ticket sales. This particular tour run completely establishes the band as stadium headliners on a global scale.”

Def Leppard is managed by CSM Management’s Mike Kobayashi.

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PYROMANIACS: Vivian Campbell and Phil Collen pictured during the 2019 iHeartRadio Music Festival at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas Sept. 21, 2019. (Denise Truscello/Getty Images / iHeartMedia)

“The Stadium Tour” kicks off June 16 at Truist Park in Atlanta and takes in stadiums including Fenway Park in Boston (two nights), Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., the friendly confines of Wrigley Field in Chicago, and NFL stadiums including Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Highmark Stadium near Buffalo, N.Y., and SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif.

The closing set of each night will alternate between Def Leppard and Mötley Crüe.
For the band, new music has brought renewed energy to the upcoming tour, with a new stylist and concept for the visual aspect of the production, coinciding with Diamond Star Halos.

“We are definitely going to present it in a different way, and that wouldn’t have happened had we not had the pandemic,” says Elliott, mentioning advances in stage production just since 2019 making for a more spectacular experience. “It would have been a nostalgia tour.”

“This pandemic has put us into this different orbit, which is really exciting because now we get to do this tour,” he adds. “Now our biggest problem is which three or four songs are we gonna drop to make room for the others, the new ones, you know? It’s like a football manager having a 100% fit squad. Who does he not play? You know, it’s the same thing. That to me is a gigantic problem, but it’s a fantastic, gigantic problem to have.”