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Friday, 15th June 2018

Newark, NJ - Media Reviews

Def Leppard and Journey still shred, plow through the hits at N.J. concert By Bobby Oliver

It’s a fair question: why bother reviewing Def Leppard and Journey in 2018? Neither band has released relevant music in at least a couple of decades.

Well, it’s the same reason you attend a Paul McCartney, U2 or Elton John concert: sometimes looking back helps us to keep marching forward, and reminds us what some of the most monstrous successes in rock history really look and sound like beyond all the accolades. And as we begin to consider the best albums of 2018 at its mid-year point, returning to two-dozen real, enduring smash hits played live — by a pair of still very capable bands — keeps everything in perspective.

Combined, Def Leppard and Journey have sold close to 200 million records and 15,000 fans per night have shown up to this summer co-headlining tour, which visited Prudential Center in Newark Friday night with all the gusto and Union Jack tank tops one might expect.

In dress, the crowd of longtime fans and families certainly seemed to pledge greater allegiance to Def Leppard, who played the first of matching 90-minute sets and rattled off its long list of mega-hits, largely from the “Pyromania” and “Hysteria” records. If you saw the band on its last co-headlining tour with Journey, back in 2006, you’d notice little change in personnel — Def Leppard has been Joe Elliott, Phil Collen (guitar), Rick Savage (bass) and Rick Allen (drums) since 1982, and they added “new guy” guitarist Vivian Campbell in 1992.

Sonically the exuberant Brits are still reasonably tight, with Collen and Campbell trading solo hair-metal shreds, Allen pounding away on his custom kit, and Elliott doling the vocals, which struggled a bit on the higher register — as he has since at least that last Journey tour — but was generally passable and energizing, especially with Collen, Campbell and Savage all mic’d up to back him.

“We’re going to take you back in our little time machine,” Elliott, 58, said before “Foolin’,” in a moment down on the stage’s center thrust, away from his microphone stand clad with Union Jack scarves.

All the expected hits were run through, from party starters “Rocket” and “Animal” to the moodier “Love Bites” and “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak.” The 1995 single “When Love And Hate Collide” is a strong and affecting later track, and the band did roll out one newbie: a bass-heavy jammer called “Man Enough,” from its 2015 self-titled album you definitely didn’t know existed until right now.

The lasers often flashed across the arena, old photos and videos of the band flashed on the big screen behind them during “Hysteria,” the guys were affable though probably a little bored, and of course, everyone danced for “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” If you don’t shimmy at least a little bit to “Sugar,” you’re not living your best life.

Then came Journey, about a half hour and a full stage tear-down later, and all bets were off.

The San Francisco hit-makers in 2008 found a new lead singer in Arnel Pineda, a once-homeless and unknown singer from The Philippines, whom the band first saw covering its song “Faithfully” on YouTube.

In a true rags-to-riches tale, Pineda joined the band full-time a decade ago and has since revitalized their live show, bringing buoyant energy — he’s 50 years old but looks about 25 on stage, galloping around the stage, urging the crowd to sing, falling to his knees, laying flat on his stomach to reach out and high-five fans.

And that voice. Whoa. Admittedly, this was my first time seeing the new-look Journey, and Pineda blew me away. Not only is there unending power and crispness to his vocal performance, in tone it is often so similar to longtime frontman Steve Perry, it’s almost eery. For a full minute of “Lights,” as hundreds of cell phone lights illuminated the arena as Pineda sang, I closed my eyes and wondered if I would have been able to tell it wasn’t Perry if I didn’t already know. I’m not sure I would have.

On stage, Journey, which was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 2017, is more of a musician’s band, giving greater space to the craft itself; Berklee-trained pounder Steve Smith — a god in the drumming world — nearly cracked the venue’s foundation with his extended solo mid-way through the set, and founding guitarist Neil Schon finds room on just about every Journey song for a searing guitar break, be it from the original recording or improvised.

And longtime pianist Jonathan Cain provided a sensational instrumental medley, including bits of “Who’s Crying Now,” “Send Her My Love” and “I’ll Be Alright Without You.”

The set finished with mammoth singalongs to “Faithfully” and a track I was unfamiliar with, I couldn’t catch the name, something about a midnight train going anywhere.

Anyway, it was a worthy night of ‘80s arena-rock where fans each have some vivid memory connected to so many of the songs.

My connection to the music is this: Def Leppard and Journey were the soundtracks to my high school summers, working blistering days as a junior maintenance guy in a Central Jersey condominium complex, painting fences, fixing dryer vents and picking up trash. Both bands’ greatest hits albums played in regular rotation on my portable CD player — if I got through a whole CD without any tune skipping, the day was a win.

By NJ.com 2018.


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