Houston, TX - Media Reviews
The mixture of Journey and Def Leppard isn’t quite oil and water, but it’s not quite peanut butter and jelly either. Sure, there’s a common thread of memorable hooks, those moments of genius that are spread out among both band’s catalogs, but seeing them in one night did a lot to highlight that not all classic rock bands are the same, even if the end result is a good but disconnected evening.
Def Leppard look like a rock band. There’s an effortless cool to their stage presence, a complete comfort with who they are and how they look that most bands pushing 30 years in the business don’t come close to. With their tiered stage, an ample amount of scarves flowing, and a small battery of lasers, the show visually looked like something not unlike the videos they showed looking back at their ‘80s tours. Honestly, the biggest difference might be the fact that Phil Collen looks like a total stud these days.
This is because when it comes to the music, the band sounds as good as ever. They have so much energy and when their hooks hit on songs like “Foolin’” and “Rock of Ages” you might just find yourself pumping your fist whether you care about the band or not. At this point, they understand the theatricality of live rock and roll and the ebb and flow of building a setlist, and while there were a couple of slow points, they mostly kept the crowd in the palm of their hand.
But theatricality manifests itself in different ways in the world of rock. Flip the coin over and you have the music of Journey. While Def Leppard’s songs are pretty straight-forward rockers, Journey is out to squeeze every ounce of emotion they can from a melody. Their songs create these great little worlds of drama where everything is high stakes, with everything about the production curated for maximum tension. Close your eyes and you can watch the movie of “Who’s Crying Now” play out in your mind.
But the thing about music like Journey’s is that you have to walk a delicate tightrope live, especially when you’re sharing a bill with a high energy act like Leppard. Leppard opened this night of the tour, and there was little in the way of filler in their set, which made Journey’s solo-heavy, extreme ups and extreme downs show seem kind of jarring at times. The songs are unquestionably good, and the solos aren’t bad when their the sole headliner, but the mix didn’t quite work after a scorching Leppard set.
And yet, I can’t tell you that I think Monday night’s show with Leppard on top and Journey opening will be better, because for all the good of Leppard’s set, the highlight of the night was a packed house singing “Don’t Stop Believin.’” It’s the king of arena rock songs. Still, it’s a concert that pleases frequently, featuring some of the best pop rock ever created. In the grand scheme, with bands who understand their music the way these two do, any reservations you might have will largely just be nitpicking. Enjoy them while you can.
Personal Bias: I’ve never listened to a Def Leppard album, but years of classic rock radio and MTV had more of their songs beat into my brain than I realized. Journey is a delight, but San Francisco feels worlds away from “Lights.”
The Crowd: There was so much money made on beer and merch sales last night. The grown-ups turned up to spend.
Overheard in the Crowd: “I’d rather stand up than climb over people,” said one woman with an aisle seat, on the value of seat placement.
Random Notebook Dump: Journey ends their set with a confetti blast, and I can’t help but wonder how annoying that is to sit in/clean up when they’re in the opening slot. Also, at the end of most of their songs, their name would flash on the screen, as if people didn’t know who they were, which made them look mildly insecure.
By Houston Press 2018.
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