Album Review: Def Leppard – Hits Vegas (Live)

Def Leppard Hits Vegas Live Album artwork

The #1 concert of 2019 gets the live release treatment as Def Leppard dropped Hits Vegas (Live) on Friday (May 29), a 28-song live album that captured the band in its finest moment last year at the Zappos Theater inside Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas.

A live album offers an ideal souvenir for those in attendance or gives the fan who missed out a taste of what was missed. I saw the penultimate show of the Hits Vegas: The Sin City Residency and was floored. It was the end all be all of Def Leppard concerts and given a chance to live it all again? I’ll take it!

Def Leppard Hits Vegas (Live) encapsulates everything that makes Def Leppard perhaps the best rock band living and breathing today. The show I saw on Sept. 6, 2019 Def Leppard played 24 songs so Hits Vegas (Live) offers four more not played that night in a nearly 2 ½ hour package that works as a definitive collection in the live format. Def Leppard also offers Hits Vegas (Live) as a double album, of sorts, with Hysteria At The O2 (Live), recorded December 2018, in a boxset called London to Vegas which comes in various packages (including DVD and Blu-ray) with merch to delight the casual and ardent fan.

Outside of Rush, I have limited experience with live albums from other bands. However, a band like Def Leppard with a strong catalog of music encompassing more than 40 years of material has now produced a number of live albums, the first released just nine years ago with 2011’s Mirror Ball – Live & More that included “Undefeated” which made this website’s Top 10 Best Def Leppard songs.

At any rate, Hits Vegas (Live) is the first Def Leppard live album to capture my attention. Therefore, I am not already bogged down with a seemingly endless supply of live material for the same ole songs. I don’t enter this review possibly annoyed at another “live” album but instead with a fresh set of ears. Regardless, Def Leppard Hits Vegas (Live) fully exhibits the wide breadth of the Def Leppard catalog.

Rather than tackling a track by track breakdown of a 28 song live album with already many well-known radio hits, I’ll cover some highlights and give an arching overview of Hits Vegas (Live), Def Leppard’s first live album since And There Will Be A Next Time…Live From Detroit released in 2017, and second Las Vegas Residency release, the first being 2013’s Viva! Hysteria recorded at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

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Def Leppard Hits Vegas (Live) Album Review

Hits Vegas (Live) opens with “Die Hard the Hunter” which I think left longtime fans at the show with jaws dropped. You know, from the start, Def Leppard will not rely solely on a setlist of singles. Quite methodically the band spreads out deep album cuts and older  material along with popular fare and radio staples through the first half of Hits Vegas (Live) including  “Excitable” the second to last song off their smash album Hysteria, “Billy’s Got A Gun,” an underappreciated “Slang,” the great “Paper Sun,” and even three straight off 1981’s High ‘n’ Dry – album openerLet It Go”  with a sweet Phil Collen guitar rip to close it out, a solid, heavy-and-hard “Mirror, Mirror (Look Into My Eyes)” which gets lost amongst all the other hits this band has given the masses and “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak.”

As Def Leppard has done for quite some time in concert, the band applies the breaks midway through the show and moves to a smaller stage set up above the floor crowd as all five members play an acoustic set captured on Hits Vegas (Live) but unfortunately without the atmosphere. It lasts just four songs, but still drags a bit, especially by the end of “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad.”  The melody of “Two Steps Behind,” the final acoustic pick, injects a bit of life into the set but “Now” off 2002’s mostly forgotten X helps rebuild the momentum lost from the first half as the second half of the album indeed launches from here.

You get the extended cut for “Rocket” which starts what now pretty much consists of the “classic” setlist the band uses on a regular arena tour featuring all the smash singles and much of Hysteria. “Armageddon It” has Collen in fine form and an absolutely rocking “Action” sets up “Rock of Ages” and “Photograph” to finish Hits Vegas (Live).

Whilst at the show, I did notice a seemingly heavier use of backing vocals from the rest of the band which provided some depth but also, perhaps, some relief for singer Joe Elliott. Some criticism in recent years has bubbled up about Elliott’s vocals not what they used to be, an unfair assessment in my opinion and something I have never “heard,” but Hits Vegas (Live) definitely shows a limited range and ability to execute, ironically, in the lower octaves rather than when he lets it fly.

He’s got a “frog” in his throat on some songs, especially poignant on “Two Steps Behind” and “Now” which follows, while he works through one on “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” However, “Love Bites” really should put to bed any question on whether Elliott can still bring it. He puts in a fine performance.

No doubt a live show bears a far different environment than the studio and I don’t know whether these songs were recorded earlier in the residency or near the end (“Action” and most likely “Rock of Ages were captured from the final night) but overall Hits Vegas (Live) sounds untouched with limited post-production to give a true live experience of the 2019 Las Vegas Residency. So, um, Yeah! Leave him alone. He sounds fine. It’s a live album. Enjoy the version this album offers to all your favorite Def Leppard songs and get acquainted with some you might not know.

Overall, you get unadulterated Def Leppard songs straight from the stage complete with lead-in accouterments and little meandering from or messing with the original studio recordings.

Grade: B+

Def Leppard Hits Vegas (Live) Track List:

  1. Die Hard the Hunter
  2. Animal
  3. Excitable
  4. Foolin’
  5. Too Late For Love
  6. Billy’s Got a Gun
  7. Slang
  8. Promises
  9. Paper Sun
  10. Let It Go
  11. Mirror, Mirror (Look Into My Eyes)
  12. Bringin’ On the Heartbreak
  13. Switch 625
  14. Let Me Be The One
  15. We Belong
  16. Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad
  17. Two Steps Behind
  18. Now
  19. Rocket
  20. Let’s Get Rocked
  21. Hysteria
  22. Love Bites
  23. Armageddon It
  24. Pour Some Sugar On Me
  25. Let’s Go
  26. Action
  27. Rock of Ages
  28. Photograph