Fans who go to see Def Leppard in concert know exactly what to expect: thunderous rock anthems, a dazzling stage show and high-voltage vocals anchored by powerhouse lead singer Joe Elliott.
But the veteran British pop-metal band, which rocks the stage Thursday at the Coral Sky Amphitheater in West Palm Beach along with Styx and Tesla, approaches its shows a little more wisely as it inches closer to 40 years of performing.
“I kind of sing slightly differently — I’m a lot more controlled than I was in my 20s,” says Elliott, 55, whose elastic voice reaches high notes most singers can only dream of on classics such as Photograph, Rock of Ages, Foolin’, Bringin’ on the Heartbreak and Pour Some Sugar on Me.
To say the songs are difficult to sing is more than an understatement. Need proof? When was the last time you saw a cover band take a stab at a Def Leppard tune? They’re simply too hard, vocally.
“Some of them aren’t too difficult,” says Elliott, “but some are bastards, like Photograph. For many, many years that was the bane of my life, you know? But the schedule that we’ve had on this tour, where we aren’t doing more than two [nights] in a row, affords your voice to avoid damage. Singing and screaming at the top of your lungs for 90 minutes — a 22-hour recovery is not always long enough. So you’ve got to be careful.”
Elliott was smart — and humble — enough early on to seek professional help to preserve his precious pipes.
“I do have a warm-up routine that I worked out with a vocal coach many years ago,” he says. “I’m not suggesting for a second that I’ve not had a bad gig since, but I’ve never canceled a gig on the day because I can’t sing. And the warm-ups that we do — and we all do them, because we all sing — get us through the night, and it just makes us all better musicians for it.”
If you’ve never seen Def Leppard live, expect to be blown away.
“We’re one of those kind of bands that likes to put on a bit of a show, you know?” says Elliott. It’s not The Rocky Horror Picture Show by any means, but we don’t just walk on and play and walk off — it’s a bit more dynamic than that. We’ve always believed it’s eye candy when you go to see a band, so we’ve got screens with some fantastic content flaring behind us, and we’ve got one of the best lighting engineers in the world, a Japanese guy called Kenji. But the most important thing, of course, is the guys in the band. As long as we’re there, playing the songs, that should always be the most important part.”
As for the songs, fans are sure to be pleased with the set list. Def Leppard isn’t interested in throwing a curveball by trotting out obscurities rather than fan favorites. You won’t even hear any new tracks, even though the band’s self-titled 12th studio album is in the can.
“As I speak, I think it’s probably just about finished,” says Elliott. “Our engineer and producer is doing last-minute tweaks to certain things right now, and I’m expecting a drop-off version of the finished thing tonight. But we’re not playing any new stuff off it, because we don’t want inferior versions up on YouTube before the album is out, which is not until October. And throughout our history, in the band’s experiences, playing new music before the album comes out doesn’t always work.”
As the members of Def Leppard creep past middle age and their gray hairs have become familiar companions, it’s fair to wonder: How long can it go on? (On Monday, guitarist Vivian Campbell announced that he had to skip the South Florida date as the Hodgkin’s lymphoma that the 52-year-old Irishman battled in 2013 had returned; Trixter rocker Steve Brown will step in.)
So does Elliott have a time frame?
“Well, I did in 1977 [laughs]. I was thinking we’d have about 10 years, because there was no yardstick back then for anything longer, you know? Led Zeppelin was still a band, and they’d been a band for about nine years by then. The Who and The Stones were maybe 13 or 14 years old. There was nothing.
There was no such thing of a band that had been around for 50 years, like The Kinks and The Who or The Stones. So the time frame comes and goes — it changes.
“At this moment in time, we don’t see a definitive end if everything works out, and that’s down to star alignment. The fact that we’ve got 35 years under our belts relatively unscathed — if we maintain our ability to perform, and the will to want to do it, we can go on as long as we want. Right now, we want to go on, I don’t wanna say forever — there comes a point where you probably become ridiculous. But I think we’ve still got a few good years in us yet.”
Def Leppard performs at 7 p.m. Thursday, along with Styx and Tesla, at Coral Sky Amphitheater, 601 Sansbury’s Way, West Palm Beach; LiveNation.com; $18-$118.