For Journey fans, the most obvious sign that times have changed since it ruled the rock landscape in the ’80s is the same thing those fans have been buzzing about for the past 10 years: the presence of effervescent Filipino singer Arnel Pineda in the spot vacated by original frontman Steve Perry.
But Def Leppard — which co-headlined with Journey at Spectrum Center on Saturday night — has evolved more subtly and incrementally.
In fact, though the current lineup of frontman Joe Elliott, guitarists Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell, bassist Rick Savage and drummer Rick Allen looks more wrinkled and a bit paunchier than the images their old MTV videos projected, they sounded as dialed in as ever as they punched out hit after hit after hit after hit after hit after hit.
That’s not an exaggeration, either.
Def Leppard opened what would wind up being a 3-1/2-hour show with a pair of Top-5 tracks off 1987’s “Hysteria” — “Rocket” (supported by visuals of vintage TV sets showing old-school rocket launches) and “Animal” (which saw the stage lit up by a sea of fake neon signs) — then continued with four more songs they put in the Top 10: “Foolin’,” “When Love and Hate Collide,” “Let’s Get Rocked” and “Armageddon It.”
It wasn’t until 30 minutes in, when the band broke into their cover version of David Essex’s “Rock On,” that fans appeared to deem it safe to make a run to the bar or the bathroom for the first time. And most of those who ducked out didn’t make it back in time to catch another monster hit: “Two Steps Behind,” which Elliott sang on the catwalk as his three guitarists went acoustic.
These days, the 58-year-old Elliott has to concentrate harder and dig deeper than he used to to re-create the raspy elasticity of his heyday, but he mostly found his way — and the band mostly made up for any vocal shortcomings with solid rock-star showmanship. Elliott twirled the microphone stand adorned with his trademark British flag scarf. Collen muscled his way through iconic guitar riffs while sporting his iconic shirtless upper body. Allen banged away on his custom-made drum kit with just one arm and two very quick feet.
By the way, am I the only one who thinks Allen deserves four or five times the credit he’s given? Thirty-three years after his left arm was amputated as a result of a horrific car accident, it continues to feel freshly amazing that the guy can get such a full-bodied sound out of his drum kit with just one arm.
Perhaps the only thing more novel about Saturday night’s concert (which, like Allen’s disability, is something we probably should be used to by now, but that for better or worse might always be a distraction) was watching Pineda do his Steve Perry impression.
And make no mistake: It is an impression. It’s a really, really good impression, but it’s still an impression. Which can make him come off like an impersonator. Which can make Journey feel a little bit, now, like the biggest, best, most ambitious cover band on the planet.
Which can have you constantly taking Pineda’s vocals — on every song, from anthems like “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” and “Don’t Stop Believin’” to ballads like “Open Arms” and “Faithfully” — and putting them up against Perry’s in your head. (At times, Pineda’s voice is so close to Perry’s it’s scary; at others, it sounds more operatic and less airy.)
Pineda has an enthusiasm that makes you want to like him, and it’s pretty wild to watch him go zipping around the stage, or do a flying kick, or hit a note in the exact way Perry would have hit it. But I think it’s OK to miss Perry at the same time, and I think lead guitarist Neal Schon gave us permission to do that Saturday night while introducing 1978’s “Lights.”
“This was written by myself and Steve Perry. Second song I ever wrote with him. F-----’ love him,” said Schon, who is one of just two original band members left (bassist Ross Valory is the other).
Journey and Def Leppard will be rotating on who goes first and who goes second throughout this tour; Def Leppard led off in Charlotte, but I have to say that they felt like the headliner. There were far more tees scattered throughout the sold-out crowd touting Def Leppard than Journey, they generated louder screams, and people spent more time on their feet for the Brits.
Also, their final song — “Photograph” — left fans rapturous, while Journey did a note-perfect “Don’t Stop Believin’” (complete with a confetti-covered finish) but then curiously felt the need to come back to finish with “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’,” which feels more like a mid-show selection.
Finally, Def Leppard even managed to inspire a woman in the first row to hold up a pair of red panties by the waistband with her thumbs (and to twirl it on her forefinger) every time a band member looked in her general direction.
But none of them batted so much as an eyelash at her, suggesting that — at long last — they may in fact be too old for that kind of thing.
Def Leppard’s setlist
4. “When Love and Hate Collide”
5. “Let’s Get Rocked”
6. “Armageddon It”
7. “Rock On” (David Essex cover)
8. “Two Steps Behind” (Acoustic)
9. “Man Enough”
10. “Love Bites”
11. “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak”
12. “Switch 625”
13. Drum Solo
15. “Pour Some Sugar on Me”
16. “Rock of Ages”
1. “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)”
2. “Only the Young”
3. “Be Good to Yourself”
4. “Stone in Love”
5. “Any Way You Want It”
6. Neal Schon Guitar Solo #1
8. Jonathan Cain Keyboard Solo
9. “Open Arms”
10. “Who’s Crying Now”
11. “La Do Da”
12. Steve Smith Drum Solo
13. Neal Schon Guitar Solo #2
14. “Wheel in the Sky”
16. “Don’t Stop Believin’”
17. “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’”