Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Don't Stop Believin' in Rock of Ages: Def Leppard, Journey and The Pretenders Make for a Fun Night at the Friendly Confines -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Def Leppard
w/ opening act The Pretenders
July 14, 2018
Wrigley Field, Chicago
Composite rating: @@@@

In my early teens, Def Leppard were among my five favorite rock bands in the world.

I loved their 1981 second album, High 'n' Dry--with lead single "Let It Go" and then "Bringin' on the Heartbreak"--and 1983's terrific follow-up, Pyromania, made the British quintet true superstars.

Although I was starting to go to rock concerts around then, I still recall ruing that Def Lep--who merited a poster on my bedroom wall and my owning a logo-emblazoned sleeveless Union Jack t-shirt--never played a headlining show in Chicago in the wake of Pyromania (merely a slot opening for Billy Squier, which I didn't attend).

Like many fans, I waited anxiously as the band--whose drummer, Rick Allen, lost his left arm in an car accident on New Year's Eve 1984, but remains in Def Leppard to this day--took 4+ years to return with Hysteria in August 1987.

Although it was the first newly released album I ever bought on CD and became a huge hit with several singles--"Pour Some Sugar on Me," "Love Bites," "Armageddon It" and the title track--I didn't like it nearly as much as the preceding albums.

I finally saw Def Leppard live at the Rosemont Horizon in October 1987, but really haven't care much for or about any of their subsequent material.

Still, they've impressively remained a sizable concert draw, and I saw them with my main concert pal, Paolo, in 2009.

Although we didn't initially jump on getting tickets to their co-headlining show with Journey last Saturday at Wrigley Field, the combination of my favorite place on Earth and $26 tickets on StubHub prompted our eager attendance on what turned out to be a beautiful night.

Adding considerably to the appeal was "special guest," The Pretenders, who took the stage to a half-empty stadium at 6:00pm.

Sporting blonde hair these days, a sixty-something Chrissie Hynde--truly one of the greatest women in rock history--sounded great out front of the five-piece band.

Although I don't know that Def Leppard and Journey are a perfect match for each other, The Pretenders wouldn't seem to quite fit in any real way other than chronologically.

I think they're the best of the three bands--historically and, albeit in the sunshine without any visual accoutrements, on this night as well.

Of course, they only got 45 minutes of stage time--about half of each headliner--but made good use of it, with largely a "greatest hits" 10-song set.

Hynde, original drummer Martin Chambers and a trio of more recent members began with "Message of Love" and powered through "Kid," "Back on the Chain Gang," "My City Was Gone," "Don't Get Me Wrong," "Talk of the Town" and "Middle of the Road," among others. (See the Pretenders setlist here.)

I would've liked to have heard "Brass in Pocket" from the band's terrific 1980 debut album, but despite feeling a tad dwarfed, the performance was pretty special nonetheless. (Although we were seated in the upper deck, the acoustics were rather solid all night long.)

Next up, still in bright daylight at about 7:15pm, was Journey.

Now, the first thing I--and perhaps others--think about with Journey is that Steve Perry, the lead singer from their heyday, remains out of the band, as he has for the past 20 years.

To his great credit, vocalist Arnel Pineda--who joined in 2007 after lead guitarist Neil Schon found him singing for a Philippines cover band on YouTube--sounds just like Perry.

He is also a highly amiable and energetic presence, and from the opening notes of "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)," the set was full of Journey chestnuts that sounded swell on a beautiful night with a great friend in my favorite place (a few nearby asshats not withstanding).

Although Journey was hugely popular back in my teen years, they--like contemporaries REO Speedwagon and Styx--were on the wrong side of cool for me to really embrace them. Or more likely, I was.

But tunes like "Lights," "Open Arms," "Any Way You Want It," "Faithfully," "Wheel in the Sky" and "Don't Stop Believin'" are rather indelible, and all and more were well-delivered at Wrigley. (Full setlist)

This was my first live Journey experience, and I sufficiently enjoyed it.

Along with founding member, Schon, bassist Ross Valory, drummer Steve Smith and keyboardist Jonathan Cain all date back to at least 1980 (though some have been in and out over the years).

Yet still, though I hold nothing against the terrific Pineda and can't claim any devout allegiance to Perry, it still felt like I was watching the world's best Journey tribute band.

Journey had put out three largely forgotten albums in the mid-'70s before Steve Perry joined the band and co-wrote and originally sang most of the hits that the crowd relished on Saturday.

Perry was part of the band's 2017 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but didn't perform any songs with them, so whatever squabbles led to his excommunication, it's quite possible he's no longer able, willing or wanting to tour with Journey.

Pineda really does seem like the next best thing, and he and the band sounded as good as one could hope (see the video I shot of "Don't Stop Believin'" below).

But it still doesn't quite feel like I've seen Journey, in a holistic, historic sense.

As for Def Leppard, most of the classic quintet remains intact--save for the late Steve Clark, long replaced by Vivian Campbell--and just shy of 59, singer Joe Elliot's still sounds pretty good, gravelly voice and all.

With the benefit of the sun having set, and all kinds of lights, lasers and video backdrops, the band put on a show as strong as its best material (for me, the three Pyromania tunes: "Foolin'," "Rock of Ages" and "Photograph") and as weak as its worst.

Though much of the Hysteria stuff is rather dumb--the show-opening "Rocket," the bad pun of "Armageddon It," the pole-dancing anthem that is "Pour Some Sugar on Me"--I'll grant that it's crowd-pleasing and sufficiently fun.

But tunes like "When Love and Hate Collide," the saccharine ballad "Two Steps Behind" and especially "Man Enough" exemplified why I haven't considered myself much of a Def Lep fan for 30 years, if not more like 35.

I was glad they reached back to High 'n' Dry for "Bringin' on the Heartbreak" and "Switch 625," but would've relished hearing "Let It Go," "You Got Me Runnin'" and another Pyromania song or two.

As my @@@@ (out of 5) composite rating attests--roughly covering my assessment of both headlining bands, and the Pretenders great-but-brief set--this was a show I enjoyed, especially for the low price.

It won't go down as one of my favorite concerts, even this month, but given my relatively middling levels of fandom for Def Leppard and Journey, I wouldn't have expected it too.

If you love either or both bands, and thought they were fantastic, I wouldn't argue.

Neither did anything to disappoint, and largely delighted. Their performances just didn't make me any more fervent a fan than I was in arriving at the Friendly Confines.

I'm glad I didn't have to sit through any thunderstorms to see it, but--while bringing out the over-zealous and over-served, never a great combination--the triple-bill made for a swell wrock 'n wroll show on a summer night at Wrigley.

Here are videos I shot of "Don't Stop Believin'" and "Photograph," which closed the sets for Journey and Def Leppard, respectively.


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