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Def Leppard and Heart make for hard-rocking pair

for Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Tuesday, August 16, 2011

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It is the summer’s beauties and the beasts package.

And the pairing of English rockers Def Leppard with Heart is proving to be nothing but a love story, according to the participants, who will be on the road together until the end of October.

“It’s been going great, actually,” says Nancy Wilson, who founded Heart with older sister Ann Wilson in 1973. “The Def Leppard guys are just great. They’re just cool people, and it’s really fun.”

And the music, Wilson adds, is particularly to her liking.

“It’s not like the Journey and Cheap Trick (tour) we did a couple of years ago,” she says. “It’s a heavier rock show. (Def Leppard) is super heavy and they put on a massive spectacle of a show, so it’s a great blend. People go nuts.”

Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott, meanwhile, complains — tongue-in-cheek, of course — that he doesn’t have enough time to do his warm-up exercises “because I’m standing on the side of the (stage) and watching (Heart) play every night. Those girls and the rest of the guys in the band kick some serious booty when they go out there and they go down great and give us a job to do when it’s our turn.”

Elliott, 52, is five years Wilson’s junior, and his band is part of the next generation that came along in Heart’s wake. But he’s a fan — introduced to Heart by the late Def Leppard guitarist Steve Clarke when they were teenagers — and feels they’re more than suitable tour mates.

“Steve was a hug fan ’cause he was into (Led) Zeppelin and he knew that Heart were very Zeppelin influenced,” Elliott remembers. “So he’s the one who introduced me to stuff like ‘Dreamboat Annie,’ ‘Barracuda,’ ‘Crazy On You,’ all those classic songs.

“Then I got into things like ‘Dog and Butterfly’ myself. ‘Mistral Wind’ is one of my favorite songs by anybody. They’re certainly one of the bands that influences what we do.”

Wilson is flattered by the acknowledgment and says she can hear some of the same sensibility Heart has pursued over the years in Def Leppard’s music.

“They are a very melodic rock band and we are, too,” she explains. “A lot of heavy rock bands can’t claim to have the melody as well, and they also have some very romantic songs in their set which we can claim, too. So they’re not just mindless butt-rockers and they have some substance.

“So I think in that way we’re especially well-matched. But we’re different, too. They’re stylistically more ’80s than we are. We have a lot more ’70s we bring to our mix, but those things complement each other, so it’s a good show.”

Both bands have more than just touring on their plates this summer, however.

Def Leppard is promoting a new live album, “Mirrorball: Live & More,” which came out in June, as well as the retrospective book “Def Leppard, The Definitive Visual History” comprising more than 30 years of photos by longtime band friend Ross Halfin. But “Mirrorball” also offers an early taste of the quintet’s next studio album via three new studio recordings — “Undefeated,” “All About Believin’ “ and the anthemic “Kings of the World” — that are part of the set.

“When we decided to do (the live album), it just got said — I don’t know by who — ‘Why don’t we chuck a couple of new songs on the end?’ ” Elliott recalls. “And that two became three, and in fairness it could’ve been four if we’d just had a little bit more time. But we wanted to tour this summer, so any fourth or fifth song we had brewing, we’ll save them for the next record.”

The new tracks, Elliott adds, are “all very different to each other.”

“They don’t sound specifically like any previous Def Leppard songs, but they sound like Def Leppard songs. They have to have our identity on them, otherwise they might as well be Tom Waits or R.E.M. We have a signature sound that we’re not scared of anymore.”

Elliott says the group will continue working on new songs while on the road this summer, polishing them backstage in much the same way the band made 2008’s “Songs From the Sparkle Lounge.”

“If we can pull together the other seven or eight songs we’d like to do, we’d start recording them when the tour’s over and hopefully have them ready for summer of 2012, or if not, then out in the autumn for the Christmas market,” he says.

Heart, meanwhile, is celebrating the 35th anniversary of its debut album, “Dreamboat Annie” this year, while “Red Velvet Car” — its first new album in six years — debuted at No. 10 on the Billboard 200 chart last September. And Heart is already working on its next album with producer Ben Mink.

“We’ve got most of it written already,” Wilson reports. “This time we’re gonna go a little more heavy rock, a little more electric guitar. And so far so good; I think there’s some really amazing songs already.”

Wilson says the sisters and Mink have demoed “about eight songs already,” working “in various hotel rooms ... with microphones and his laptop and a couple of speakers and some guitars and notebooks.”

“Me and Ann work on stuff independently of each other and we bring our notebooks, and (Mink) brings musical ideas, too, and we write together and just put everything together.”

The Wilsons’ other major project this year is a memoir, which they’re writing in conjunction with Seattle-based Charles Cross — who’s authored books about Kurt Cobain, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix — and hope to publish in 2012.

“We’re telling the whole story,” Wilson says. “I think it’s important to be kind of brutally honest without making anyone else feel bad in any way, if possible. There’s a lot of stuff you remember that’s like, ‘Wow, why did I do this with that person?’ or ‘What was I thinking?!’ or ‘How controlling was so and so?’

“It’s definitely not a sensational, tell-tale book because that’s never who we are. There’s going to be some wild parties and some failed relationships, but not too much more dark stuff really.”

Wilson has also been particularly surprised by sister Ann’s “incredible” memory during the process.

“I feel like I’ve had a lot of painful situations that I intentionally delete from my memory,” says the guitarist, who divorced from husband Cameron Crowe in 2010. “So it’s been really good to have Ann there to remember a lot of this stuff because I think I kind of have defense mechanisms with forgetfulness. She’s filling in the gaps.”

Def Leppard, Heart and Evan Watson perform at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 17, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $29-$125 pavilion and $25 lawn with an $80 lawn four-pack. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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