Is your “Rock of Ages” still rolling? Have you stopped believing?
Hang in there: Rock ain’t dead yet.
A pair of high-profile ‘80s powerhouses will be tramping through your town this summer with dozens of familiar radio hits ready to sate the middle-aged masses…and younger listeners, too.
British (Sheffield) bad-boys Def Leppard and American (San Francisco) superstars Journey conspired for an evening of rock ‘n’ roll revelry in Cleveland on Monday (May 25) for a Memorial Day menagerie fans won’t soon forget.
Falling five dates down on 53-city itinerary, the Quicken Loans Arena double-bill saw each of the video veteran groups performing full, fifteen-plus song sets packed with the anthems and ballads that catapulted them to the top of the charts a quarter century ago. Both Def Leppard and Journey continue to write release new material, but these nostalgia-laced “legacy” shows are how they (and their hairband peers) butter their muffins these days.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. Not when you’re a four decades-old ensemble that can still deliver the goods on stage for faithful fans all around the world.
That dedication to craft landed Journey in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year.
Def Leppard are long overdue for induction, too, but the institution has—in a bid for relevance (and ticket sales) among millennials and teens—recently welcomed younger acts who’ve sold far less albums, notched fewer (if any) hits, and which barely qualify as rock at all. You’ve almost got to question the integrity of a Rock Hall that has enshrined Madonna (dance pop), Run-DMC, and NWA (hip-hop / rappers…but which shuns the amp-shaking guitar majesty of the men responsible for “Photograph,” “Rock! Rock! (‘til You Drop),” and “Run Riot.”
If Def Lep vocalist Joe Elliott and company are irked that Dire Straits, Green Day, and Public Enemy have surpassed them into that once-hallowed House of the Holy (Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Queen, etc.), they didn’t let on while playing the Rock Hall’s hometown. Instead, they delivered a loud, muscular, impassioned performance that mesmerized the audience (but underscored the omission).
Neal Schon and the Journey boys were equally heroic, turning in another athletic, engaging show whose narrative never strayed far from the band’s scarab-illustrated hot streak (1978-1996) with ex-singer Steve Perry.
Here are five reasons to catch Def Leppard with Journey in your own “city by the Bay.”
1. The “new” guys aren’t exactly new anymore.
Journey frontman Arnel Pineda may be fifty, but the Filipino vocalist still looks and sounds like he’s twenty-something. Tapped to replace departing singer Steve Augeri in 2007 after his jaw-dropping YouTube clips came to guitarist Neal Schon’s attention, Arnel infused the group with athleticism and outrageousness. More than mere Perry impersonator, Pineda charged opening numbers “Separate Ways,” “Be Good to Yourself,” and “Only the Young” with range, resonance, and emotional heft. What’s more, Arnel’s eleven years in Journey makes him the group’s second longest-serving singer (next to Perry), and that stage experience—those kinetics and charisma—were on full display in The Q.
Meanwhile, Irish-born guitarist Vivian Campbell’s been shredding strings in Def Leppard since their Adrenalize days (1992). The former Whitesnake / Dio daredevil signed on with the “Photograph” five-piece after Steve Clark passed away, and has since contributed to eight full-length Def Lep studio albums and a pair of mid-Nineties semi-acoustic singles (“When Love and Hate Collide,” “Two Steps Behind”), both of which were played in C-town.
Both Journey and Def Lep weathered lineup changes through the decades, but it’s safe to say their current lineups have galvanized…and are probably better off for the swap-outs and substitutions that got them here.
2. These songs are timeless.
Journey was long-lambasted as a “corporate rock” band that deliberately diluted its quasi-progressive Seventies sound in order to appease Eighties ladies. But such accusations were often leveled by jealous rivals whose personnel couldn’t dream up the hooks and harmonies of “Any Way You Want It,” “Lights,” and “Open Arms” for themselves.
Early on, Def Leppard was sometimes charged with writing same-sounding songs for different albums. While it’s true the quintet has a distinct “sound” (created with the help of producer Mutt Lange) all its own (ala Rush, ZZ Top, Metallica), it’s doubtful even casual fans can’t tell the differences (subtle or not) between raucous “Rocket,” arousing “Animal,” and frenetic “Foolin’”—the tracks opening the Cleveland show.
These tunes have been around longer than most of us can remember. People know them—and have heard them at high school dances, weddings, and sporting events. Now they live on via the internet (iTunes, Spotify, Pandora), on television (The Sopranos, Family Guy, The Goldbergs), and at the movies. They’ll still be catching airtime eons from now, long after the bubblegum boy bands and pop pinup girls of the 2000s have fizzled out or faded away.
3. The tour is a guitar-a-thon.
Campbell is killer, and Schon (who got his start as a teenager in Santana) is sublime. Then there’s Def Lepp demigod Phil Collen, who recently wrapped the 2018 G3 Tour with fellow fretboard wizards Joe Satriani and John Petrucci.
Granted, Collen wasn’t in attendance last night; he took an abrupt leave last week for a family emergency. So guitarist Steve Brown (Trixter)—who has subbed for Campbell in the past—filled in during the Def set.
The three ace axe men conjured riffs aplenty for Cleveland concertgoers, with Schon wailing away on Journey smashes “Who’s Crying Now,” “Chain Reaction,” and “La Do Da” from Infinity (1978), Escape (1981) and Frontiers (1983). Campbell and Brown scorched on Def Lep gems from High ‘n’ Dry (1981), Pyromania (1983), and Hysteria (1987)—like “Love Bites,” “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak,” and over-the-top instrumental “Switch 625.”
Oh, there were sizzling solos, too: Campbell and Brown traded licks and sprinkled lickety-split scales at every opportunity, decorating the Def Lep ditties with rapid-fire finger maneuvers that had folks wondering “How’d they do that?” These are the riffs that motivated imitators and bona fide followers to take up their Telecasters and Strats in the ‘90s and ‘00s, and which continue to inspire intoxicated air guitarists to this day. Even Journey keyboard man Jonathan Cain got in on the guitar action, when he wasn't busy behind the ivories.
But don’t forget the drummers: Journey stick man Steve Smith is versed in jazz and swing as well as rock. Employing a “traditional grip,” he kept the beat (and quirky time signatures) in Vital Information (and with Frank Gambale) during his time away from Journey in the late ‘80s and ‘90s.
More on Def Lep drummer Rick Allen in a minute.
4. The bands will personalize your concert experience.
Both acts have dazzling light shows. When Def Leppard takes the stage, the overhead video screens will display the show city (e.g. Hartford, Albany, Cleveland)…just in case you forget where you are. Later, the monitors will project images of blue skulls sailing through pink pyramids…and less-psychedelic ephemera, like archive photos of the band (including the late Steve Clark). On the Journey side, you’ll get flickering Frontiers covers, winged June bugs, and close-ups of keyboardist Jonathan Cain and bassist Ross Valory doing their thing (on Roland synth and red Jackson bass, respectively).
In Cleveland, Elliott prefaced unplugged hit “Two Steps Behind” by saluting Ohio favorite Ian Hunter (Mott the Hoople) with a snippet of “Cleveland Rocks.” For his part, Pineda created a party atmosphere by removing his coat and shirt to reveal a LeBron James Cavs jersey...just in time for the 2018 NBA Finals (versus those dreaded Warriors, again).
5. These guys are rock ‘n’ roll survivors.
It’s been so long since Def Lep drummer Rick Allen lost his arm in a car accident that it’s easy to overlook how effective a percussionist he truly is, triggering his bass and snare with foot pedals (in his bare feet) while handling hardware (cymbals, etc.) with his right hand. Occasionally, Rick Savage ascended the staircase and thumped his black “Union Jack” style bass alongside Allen’s rostrum, as if paying his pal a regular visit.
Campbell kicked cancer’s arse a few years back. Collen’s had health scares, too—but overcame his illness and took on a weightlifting regimen that got him ripped in his late 50s.
Lots of hard rock and metal bands have cycled through singers. Just ask Van Halen, Iron Maiden, and Anthrax how easy it is (or isn’t) to carry on after a well-known vocalist absconds from the group at the worst possible time.
But Journey set the precedent for swapping out singers in the 2000s when they picked up Pineda online. Since Arnel’s hiring, scores of other rock acts (Genesis, Yes) have recruited replacements by scouring the internet for the best possible candidates—be they lookalikes, soundalikes, or celebs in their own right.
Both Def Leppard and Journey have outlasted trends and shifts in taste (hip-hop, grunge, alternative), and found inventive ways to keep the old shtick tickin’. Still, there’s nothing better than bringing familiar, time-tested fare to the faithful. Accordingly, Def Lep closed out Cleveland with “Hysteria,” “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” “Rock of Ages,” and “Photograph” while Journey jammed on “Wheel in the Sky,” “Faithfully,” “Don’t Stop Believin,” and “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’.”