Milwaukee, WI - Media Reviews
July 4 is often one of the Summerfest's slowest days each year, with the amphitheater acts, at times, struggling to attract a big crowd.
Not this time.
With the '80s arena rock one-two punch of Def Leppard and Journey at the Big Gig Wednesday, the American Family Insurance Amphitheater was packed.
"The crowds keep getting bigger and bigger and louder and louder," thrilled frontman Joe Elliott said a few songs into Def Leppard's opening 90-minute set.
It wasn't total hyperbole.
Between the deaths of rock stars like Tom Petty — who died just a couple months after playing Summerfest last year — to artists like Paul Simon and Elton John announcing their retirement from the road, longtime fans realize their favorite artists won’t be performing forever.
So even with rain rolling through during third song “Foolin’,” people kept dancing on the hill, while a few others walked down to their seats in the lower bowl, drenched, beer in hand, grinning from ear to ear.
In return they saw a show that technically surpassed the first Milwaukee Def Leppard concert 38 years ago — with bold big screens and synchronized visuals, and booming sound that drowned out the roar of thunder.
And Def Leppard’s five longtime members — whose sequined Union Jack garb and flashy guitars fit like bassist Rick Savage's fingerless, diamond-studded left glove — still rule like the rock stars they've long been and continue to be.
At the end of a showstopping bit during "Hysteria," one of several visceral guitar solos supplied by Phil Collen, a wicked bolt of lightning ripped across the blackened sky. And one-armed drummer Rick Allen tore into a meaty solo at the end of "Switch 625" — paused, beamed at the video camera mounted to his kit, took a deep breath — and went at it again.
Since it was Independence Day and all, the British lads in Leppard kindly let their American counterparts in Journey close out the show.
Arnel Pineda — a cover band singer in the Philippines discovered by Journey's Neal Schon on YouTube — is Journey's third singer since Steve Perry left in 1998. But he was a powerhouse Wednesday, effortlessly nailing the high notes for showstopping "Don't Stop Believin' " in between spirited spins, sprints and leaps.
Their egos perhaps challenged by their frontman, Journey's veteran players were eager to prove their chops, with mixed results.
Jonathan Cain's keyboard solo ahead of "Open Arms" was dripping in schlock, and Schon played at least eight too many guitar solos Wednesday. Flashy as they always were, they too often slipped into showy clichés.
The real spotlight stealer was Steve Smith, who returned to the band for the third time three years ago. His late-show extended solo was already interesting, with light jazz touches slipping into the bombast, before he really started showing off, rolling a drum stick between his fingers as he played and tossing another drum stick from hand to hand without missing a beat.
And Journey offered something very special, and appropriate, during this Independence Day concert, with Schon playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" alone on electric guitar, while 19 men and women from the U.S. military, set to be deployed this Saturday, stood behind him.
On a night featuring two crowd-pleasing rock bands, they were the ones who received the loudest ovation.
By Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 2018.
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