New Orleans hosted two big headlining bands in one night when the Def Leppard/Journey tour landed in the Louisiana city on Monday night [August 27] and rocked it to the ceiling of the Smoothie King Center. A highly anticipated show, sold out by the looks of it, the crowd soaked up every song with enthusiastic screams, applause and just downright rock star worshiping.
A flip/flop tour, on this night Journey headlined with some of their most beloved hits – “Don’t Stop Believin,” “Faithfully” and “Separate Ways” among them – while Leppard worked up the crowd into a near frenzy with hits like “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” “Armageddon It” and “Rock Of Ages.” Old mates, the bands packaged this tour to be the ultimate summer concert experience when it was announced in January, with Journey guitarist Neal Schon promising, “These co-headlining Journey/Def Leppard dates will be epic classic rock shows. So many hits.” And that is certainly what they brought with them on stop #43 of their 58-city musical expedition.
“It’s been twelve years since we last toured with Journey,” Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott told the crowd. “And the tour ended in this building.” Bringing their lights, lasers, enormous screens and a catwalk with them, both bands enjoyed super-sized sets that fans young and old, die-hards or those who came only to sway to the ballads would take home memories of.
Leppard began with “Rocket,” and just powered straight through “Animal,” “Foolin’,” “When Love & Hate Collide,” “Let’s Get Rocked” and “Armageddon It,” before covering a longtime favorite of theirs, the David Essex tune, “Rock On,” with Elliott introducing it with, “We decided to celebrate the music that we grew up listening to.” With a huge bass intro from Rick Savage, the song certainly belongs to Leppard now.
Journey also kicked off their set with hits that brought people out of their seats, never to really sit back down again. With the huge opening chords and drumbeat of “Separate Ways” from their 1983 #2 Billboard album Frontiers, the San Francisco band then slowed it down just a bit for “Only The Young,” “Escape” and “Stone In Love,” the latter featuring a sexy Schon crescendoing Fender guitar solo.
For those who spent their adolescence mooning over crushes to the anthems of Journey power ballads in the 1970’s and early 1980’s – “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’,” “Faithfully” and “Open Arms” – Journey brought them back to their days of pimples, parties and puppy love. A few decades later, Leppard would do the same, except with a bit more titillation helped along by MTV’s constant playing of “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and “Love Bites.”
Both bands started their careers slow, with a couple of albums under their belts before hits started coming. For Journey, their first album appeared in 1975 with keyboardist Gregg Rolie handling vocals. “When we first started, Journey was more of a fusion/progressive rock band based upon a lot of soloing and taking the music to heights, kind of like Santana but no percussion,” Rolie told me during a 2017 interview. “So where it became powerful was usually through soloing, through Neal and myself.” It would be album #4, 1978’s Infinity, that would break them through on the propulsion of “Wheel In The Sky” and “Lights.” It was also the album that introduced new singer Steve Perry into the band. “When Steve Perry came into the band, that was like really the first time that I sat down to write with a singer,” Schon explained to me in a 2014 interview. From there, the hits kept dropping.
Def Leppard released their first album, On Through The Night, in 1980, just a few weeks after Journey’s Departure hit shelves. Caught up in the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal scene they almost got lost in the crowd but their sophomore album, High N Dry in 1981, pushed them into new frontiers with the song, “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak.” Album #3, Pyromania, shot them even further up on the charts while #4, Hysteria, would make them superstars.
As with most bands with long-standing careers, Def Leppard and Journey have had their ups and downs but the music is still there. It’s being discovered by new fans as generations multiply and becomes more appreciated by those who were there at or near the beginnings. Songs such as “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Rock Of Ages” fail to show signs of aging as music styles change with the decades. Musicians become stronger, adding in new touches to timeless songs. And they continue to connect with audiences. “If you’re playing a stadium or someplace huge and you can’t really see, you just get the energy off of it and you just react to the energy and it’s coming back at you,” explained Leppard guitarist Phil Collen, who has been in the group since 1982. “It’s a wonderful exchange, all energy. The more you put out, people react to it, even if they’re a mile away, you can still sense it.”
Highlights of the night were many but here are two well-worth singling out:
The rhythm section of Ross Valory and Steve Smith is a dream come true for any band. Smith, who is on his third go-round with Journey, is a hard-hitting but crafty drummer who never appears to be causing a loud commotion with his sticks. Pair that with the quiet yet powerful bass hum that Valory seems to emit, and it’s the perfect foundation that allows Schon, keyboardist Jonathan Cain and singer Arnel Pineda plenty of room to play on.
For Def Leppard, nothing pulls a more super-sonic punch than “Heartbreak” and “Switch 625,” usually played as virtually one song. No matter how many times you hear them together, it never sounds old, it never fails to raise the hairs on your arm. The latter especially, an instrumental which allows Collen and Vivian Campbell to rage on their guitars, is a beast of a song.
Both bands ended big, Def Leppard with a one-two punch of “Rock Of Ages” and “Photograph;” and Journey with “Don’t Stop Believin’” and shooting confetti. Fans walked out singing the songs they had just heard inside, making the parking lots surrounding the arena the loudest spontaneous karaoke bars in the city.
There are still some dates left on the tour so get those tickets without hesitation.