Def Leppard, Heart & The Choirboys @ AIS Arena, Canberra (25/10/2011)

You’d be excused for thinking Canberra had gone back in time 25 years.

We were met with a long line-up snaking out of the AIS Arena doors as we arrived for a trio of old-school rock bands. The foyer was a flurry black t-shirts, middle-age spreads and makeup as we made our way in to what used to be known as ‘The Palace’, the concrete monolith that has stood the test of time for arena rock in Canberra.

Due to the queue of people getting in, we missed the start of seminal Australian act, The Choirboys, but heard enough to know that they still deliver a punch with their classics, Boys Will Be Boys and finale Run to Paradise, not to mention a homage to Queanbeyan with Struggle Town.

The band seemed to enjoy taking a break in the middle of songs, with front man Mark Gable asking the crowd which decade they were born (the 70’s seemed to get the biggest cheer), or name-dropping various bands that they have toured with. Solid short set from this 31-year-old band.

A large proportion of the impressive crowd were solely there to see Heart. The sister pairing of Nancy and Ann Wilson have never visited Australia, which for a band spanning four decades is a sad fact.

Straight away we were blown away by the singing chops of lead singer, Ann Wilson. She moved around the stage with veteran skill as she belted out the Heart classics, Alone, What About Love and Crazy on You. It was the cover of John Farnham’s You’re The Voice that had the crowd torn. Whilst people mouthed the lyrics, you could tell that the ‘rock’ crowd were unsure how to receive a song more suited to the old cassette case. The excellent cover of Led Zeppelin’s The Battle of Evermore was much more suited to Wilson’s voice and gave the oldies in the crowd an ‘Eastern Glow’. Heart’s solid set was wrapped up with a roaring rendition of Barracuda, arguably their sexiest and most rock ‘n’ roll song.

It was time for UK rockers Def Leppard to make their way to the stage. The ‘Armageddon Pit’ was pulsing as lead singer, Joe Elliot ran on stage to their suitably named new track, Undefeated. Whilst not everyone may have known their opening track, they quickly jumped into Let’s Get Rocked, and the crowd warmed up.

The band went on to play songs spanning 3 decades of their career, from Foolin’ to Make Love Like a Man to Hysteria classics, Rocket, Gods of War and Love Bites.

The stage presence, particularly of Elliot and guitarist, Phil Collen, was obvious as they ran to every corner of the stage to give the audience their fill of ‘Hair Rock’ goodness.

The musicianship of these ageing rockers was notable. The doubled guitar solos of both lead guitarists is something to behold. Nonchalantly synchronising their solos at the front of the stage was a highlight, as was witnessing the one armed Rick Allen and his extraordinary drum kit. Never has a drummer had so many pedals!

Despite reunion shows and tribute tours of old rockers starting to wear thin, it’s worth mentioning that Def Leppard have never gone away. With 5 members of the band that have been going for nearly 20 years, they certainly don’t look like stopping and that’s not a bad thing when you’ve still got it.

Canberra’s impressive crowd, which mostly filled the AIS Arena, got some decent bang for their buck and as the army of black t-shirts walked out the door, I couldn’t help but reminisce for the old days of rock when things seemed simpler and a good fist punch in the air was all you needed to let out your frustration. Long live rock ‘n’ roll.