There was that time in Las Vegas when Def Leppard got flak for not being Def Leppard. Even though they were, in fact, Def Leppard.
“The Thunder God” remembers it well.
The British hard rockers were kicking off a residency at The Joint at the Hard Rock in spring 2013.
Exclusive to the engagement, the band constructed a two-set show where Def Leppard would warm the stage for itself, essentially.
“We are your opening act for the evening, ladies and gentleman, our name is Ded Flatbird, and we are the best Def Leppard cover band in the world,” frontman Joe Elliott announced during one of the concerts, dropping a pseudonym that was a nod to a mispronunciation of the group’s name back in the day.
But, with Elliott semi-incognito in shades and a top hat, and the band playing deep album cuts and rarities, a few of which they’d never aired live, some crowd members didn’t know just who it was they were seeing.
“I think a lot of people in the audience didn’t realize it was us, because we sort of put on a disguise,” recalls drummer Rick Allen, he of the aforementioned Thor-worthy nickname. “In fact, I think we got a few boos here and there.”
From jeers to cheers
In hindsight, though, Def Leppard has mostly been applauded for that stint: Of all the Las Vegas residencies, it still stands out for a show that was truly unique to the market.
Sure, plenty of bands have tweaked their setlists a bit or added a production flourish or two for their extended stays in Vegas. But oftentimes, the shows aren’t radically different from what you’d see at any given tour stop.
Def Leppard took the opposite tack, though, doing something it had never done, including revisiting a chestnut such as “Good Morning Freedom,” which the band hadn’t done in 33 years.
It was a show you could only see in Vegas.
This was the point.
“In an audience like that, where it’s normally the real die-hard fans, we figured we could play anything we wanted to and everybody would be happy,” Allen explains. “Sometimes when you’re out and you’re doing huge shows or you’re on a tour, you’re limited by time, and then the other thing is that people expect you to play all the really well-known songs.
“This was a great opportunity for us to play songs that, in some cases, I hadn’t played since I had two arms, which was fantastic,” adds Allen, whose left arm was amputated after a 1984 car wreck.
For its latest 10-show run in town, Def Leppard is switching properties, relocating to the Zappos Theater at Planet Hollywood Resort.
Moreover, longtime visual artist Allen will have some of his paintings displayed in the balcony and for sale in the nearby Zappos store.
The pieces will be culled from Allen’s “Legends & Dreams 2019” collection, which consists of lifelike yet impressionistic portraits of musicians who have influenced him, from Jimi Hendrix to Freddie Mercury to John Lennon.
Though Allen has been painting since he was a boy in his native Sheffield, England, only in recent years has he started to share his art publicly — at the behest of his clutter-averse wife.
“She was like, ‘We don’t have room for any of this stuff. You need to show it,” the 55 year-old Allen says. “I told her, ‘I’m afraid. I’m afraid that people are going to judge me or that they’re going to say, “Oh, yeah, just another musician trying to be an artist.” ’
“And then when I showed people what I was doing and the positive response I got, it was like, ‘I’m doing the right thing,’ ” he continues. “If I hadn’t shed that fear, I don’t think any of the pieces that I create would ever be finished. At a certain point, you’ve got to go, ‘It’s done. Show people what you’re doing.’ ”
It was another loved one who helped Allen loosen up creatively.
“I started painting with my youngest daughter and I realized that when she painted, she painted without any rules. When it was done, it was done,” he says. “I was like, ‘That’s really cool. I really want to paint like that.’ I realized that when I started to paint without rules, it sent me to the same place that I go to when I play music. What it told me was that no matter what you do, you can find this place, this zone, that makes you feel like you’re completely in the moment. That’s exactly what the art does for me now.”
Of course, there’s still the whole touring the world in one of the biggest hard rock bands ever thing that occupies a good deal of Allen’s time.
Def Leppard’s upcoming residency sees the band moving indoors after spending much of the summer on the European festival circuit prior to a recent Canadian tour.
This time around, the group is getting new inspiration from old friends.
“We’ve known the Aerosmith guys for a long time, and I feel the way they’re approaching their Vegas residency is really unique,” Allen says. “We look at their production and go, ‘How the hell are these guys making any money?’ It’s massive.
“So we’re like, ‘OK’, not wanting to compare ourselves or upstage what they’re doing, but kind of taking a leaf out of their book and going, ‘Let’s make this really special,’ ” he continues. “We feel like we can present a unique experience, that nobody outside of that room in Vegas is ever going to experience ever again. We want people to go away with a lasting memory.”
Who: Def Leppard
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, with additional performances through Sept. 4.
Where: Zappos Theater at Planet Hollywood Resort, 3667 Las Vegas Blvd South
Tickets: $69 and up (702-785-5882)