Back in January when it was announced that Journey and Def Leppard would be playing together at Vivint Smart Home arena in September, I knew the wait would be long, that the anticipation would be high, but the show, when it finally got here, would meet all expectations. And did it ever. With two mega power hit machines like this, it was almost impossible not to know a song, or enjoy all three hours of music. It was an incredible night of music. I have seen both bands before, but never together. Seeing these two bands on the same lineup is an experience unto itself.
If you’ve seen these bands before, you know what to expect. And that’s a good thing. Neither band waivers too far from their hit songs night in and night out. So going to the concert you know that you’ll most likely hear the song you’re really hoping to hear. Both bands have played many a show at USANA Amphitheater, in fact, Def Leppard has sold out the venue in each of their last six stops there. That’s pretty impressive. It was a different experience seeing these bands in an arena setting. I asked some of the people around me what they thought and some wished the show had been at USANA Amphitheater because they loved seeing these bands there. Others loved that they were seeing these bands in an arena because it took them back to their hay day when all these bands played were major arenas. For me, it was just awesome seeing these guys again. I always love seeing bands in different venues.
Once again, we here in Utah have the benefit of being a small big city. Just two nights prior, these bands played in PetCo Park in San Diego. PetCo Park is the home to the San Diego Padres baseball team. It holds 42,000 people. Vivint Arena holds under 20,000. Some of the best seats available at PetCo park were worse than the worst seats at Vivint Arena. So we’re fortunate to see a show in an arena that has, many times this summer, been performed in stadiums. Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott even alluded to the fact that they’ve been playing these huge venues but being indoors in Salt Lake City was where it was at. And he’s right, it was a packed house, and the place to be on Tuesday night.
I had the perfect seat for someone reviewing the concert. I was direct to the side of the stage. I was really close to the bands, and in a position to see pretty much the entire arena as well. The digital screen behind the band was hard to see, and most of the band was in front of me, so I wouldn’t necessarily pick these seats normally, but as I mentioned, for the purposes of reviewing the show, they were excellent.
From what I understand, the bands switch who closes the show each night. So for us here in Salt Lake City, Journey was our opening band. You’re not going to see that too often. Now if I know one thing, it’s that Utah loves Journey. The show opened up with the band walking onto a darkened stage, then inauspicious music began to play through the speakers. It was ominous, and a little dark, but just then as the music slowed, the blazing keyboard intro from “Separate Ways” began. The audience went nuts! The night was off and running from there.
I must admit, I’ve always been an Arnel Pineda fan. Hearing about how lead guitarist Neal Schon found him on YouTube in the Philippines, and then watching the documentary “Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey”, it’s impossible not to like the guy, and be happy for his opportunity of a lifetime to front Journey. And he does an amazing job! But I’ve stated in a past review that I’m always going to miss Steve Perry. And I used to feel a little guilty about that because I really do like Arnel. Well, the way things have played out, I’ve become more and more happy with Arnel, and what he brings to the Journey table. Steve Perry has returned to music, and I think he sounds awesome. His new album Traces will be out October 5, and you can be assured that I’ll be listening. Yes, he sounds older (he is older!), and his voice is lower, but that’s not why I’m finally fine with him not being in Journey. He has said in a number of recent interviews that he loves Arnel and that he’s the lead singer of Journey now. He doesn’t want back in, he’s onto other things. I’d love to see Steve perform with Journey again, but if it’s his decision to stay out, and do his own thing, I can respect that. There are bands like Styx who have a former lead singer in Dennis DeYoung who would love to reunite, but is totally boxed out. That’s where I have the problem. Arnel has done a brilliant job and brings amazing life to the band.
Looking at the setlist you can see that the show was hit after hit. There were three solos in the set, the first starting with Jonathan Cain on keys. Donning a Karl Malone jersey circa 1998 he played an instrumental medley of “When You Love a Woman, Send Her My Love” and “I’ll Be Alright Without You”. It was beautiful. The only problem was that it made me really want to hear these songs performed in their entirety.
Steve Smith followed with his drum solo. To my surprise, the audience went crazy over it. I figured it would be good, and that the audience would cheer, but they were really into it. I enjoy the solos, but I’m always afraid that we’re missing another actual song. So I have mixed feelings. Regardless, Steve killed it!
The same can be said for Neal Schon’s guitar solo. Not only did the crowd cheer him on, but his wife, former star of “Real Housewives of DC”, Michaele stood in wings taking video and beaming with pride at her husband’s talented guitar playing ways. Neal’s guitar solo led into “Wheel in the Sky”, and the audience rose to their feet knowing we were entering the home stretch of Journey’s performance.
The man next to me told me that he felt like hearing “Don’t Stop Believin’” was going to be worth the money he paid for the concert itself. He had never seen Journey, and therefore never seen the song performed live, so he was anxiously awaiting what would become the closer for Journey. And he was right, it was worth the price of admission. The piano intro began and the jam-packed Vivint Smart Home arena roof almost blew off! I could barely hear Arneil’s vocals due to the defining crowd. It was a perfect end to an amazing show and set the bar for Def Leppard to try to reach. In the past year, there has been some inner turmoil with Journey, but they were so professional that there was no noticeable issue within the band. They didn’t always interact, but they seemed to love the music, and the fans.
Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)
Only the Young
Stone in Love
Be Good to Yourself
Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin
Jonathan Cain Keyboard Solo
(Snippets of “When You Love A Woman”, “Send Her My Love”,”I’ll Be Alright Without You”)
Who’s Crying Now
Any way You Want It
Neal Schon Guitar Solo
Wheel in the Sky
Don’t Stop Believin’
As I mentioned, Utah loves Journey, but they really love Def Leppard! Wow, do they love Def Leppard. I’m not sure if it was because they went on last, or if Utah is really that die hard in their Def Leppard fandom, but the electricity in the crowd was palpable. Def Leppard put a five-minute countdown on the digital screen and it seemed as if the energy grew as the seconds ticked away.
Just because there are two huge bands together on tour, it doesn’t mean that everyone will like both bands. I’ve been to many co-headlining shows where a good number of people will leave after they see the band they came for. Yes, some people left. I don’t get it, but they left. However, it really wasn’t that many people. Most people stayed and rocked with Def Leppard. And they were given a great show.
With ten seconds to go on the clock, the house lights went down, and there were no longer butts in the seats. At least in the lower bowl area. Def Leppard kept the arena on their feet when they opened with “Rocket”. They followed with “Animal” then “Foolin’”. What a start! I looked around the arena and all I could see were fists in the air and smiles on the faces. People from the front row to as far as I could see were singing every single word.
I thought Joe Elliott sounded great. His voice is so unique and I have no idea how he sings like that night in and night out. But his voice was strong, and he seemed in great spirits. As I mentioned, he said several times how much he loves coming to Salt Lake City. He recognized how good this place has been to the band for years, stating that Def Leppard has been a band for 38 years, and played their first gig in Utah 35 years ago. He talked about Def Leppard’s live album Mirror Ball and how the majority of the album is recorded here in Utah because he knew the crowd would be so good. I’ve heard him tell that story before, but it never gets old to me or to the thousands in attendance.
Phil Collen is 60 years old. If you don’t know what he looks like, go take a look. The guy is cut! 60 years old folks. He looks 30. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him with a shirt, but I can’t say I blame him. I didn’t look that in shape in my twenties. His guitar playing was excellent, and every time he came to my side of the stage the ladies fainted. Just kidding, but they were stoked. And the guys just threw up their hands to give the rock n roll signal.
Being that my seat was directly to the side of the stage, I had a great view of Rick Allen on drums. His playing is a sight to behold. Phil lost his arm over 30 years ago in a car accident so he does the majority of his playing with his feet. It’s impressive. Well, that’s a huge understatement, it’s mind-blowing. He finishes the band’s instrumental “Switch 625” with a blazing solo that sends not only the crowd into a frenzy but the rest of the band. They’ve seen him do it thousands of times, and yet they seem so excited for it every time.
To no surprise, Def Leppard finished their main set with “Pour Some Sugar On Me”. And similar to “Don’t Stop Believin’” for Journey, this song took the crowd to another level. When the chorus started, I could barely hear myself think. Fortunately, my only two thoughts were ‘This is amazing!’ and ‘Do you take sugar? One lump or two?!!”. The band then left the stage, returning to perform “Rock of Ages” and “Photograph”. What a finish!
When Def Leppard left the stage, I looked around as the house lights came back on. I could see people exhaling as to signify that they were totally spent from the evening they just witnessed. I knew these bands joining forces would produce one of the best nights in Vivint Arena all year. But it still somehow exceeded my expectations.
If I had to complain about one thing it would have to be the sound. Vivint Arena doesn’t have the greatest acoustics, and with two bands rocking like they do, it seemed difficult to find the right balance. There was a ton of echo during Journey. I couldn’t tell if it was just where I was seated, or just how it was going to be for the night. I asked people who were located all over the arena and they all had the same feelings. Things seemed better during Def Leppard, but they definitely weren’t perfect.
With the sound being as it was, more than anything it tells me that nothing can beat a good song. And both Journey and Def Leppard have plenty of those. In the moment it didn’t seem to bother anyone what it sounded like in the arena. When “Any way You Want It” or “Armageddon It” started, people just went wild. So when it comes down to it, that’s what matters most. I hope these bands join up again on another tour in the future. It makes for a really fun night of music and nostalgia.
Def Leppard Setlist
When Love and Hate Collide
Let’s Get Rocked
Two Steps Behind
Bringin’ On the Heartbreak
Rick Allen Drum Solo
Pour Some Sugar On Me
Rock of Ages