Co-headlining bills appear to be the wave of the future. I hate themâ€¦plain and simple; these shows are not good bargains for anyone other than the artists or promoters. Back when Kiss and Aerosmith toured together in 2003, everyone was thrilled at the prospect of seeing these two rock giants on the same bill, but all I could think was "where's the rest of my show"? For $140 Kiss and Aerosmith each played an 80-minute set with no jamming or unique sets ala Billy Joel/Elton John. Billy and Elton played for well over three-hours, covered each others songs and opened and closed the shows together giving the fans a performance you could not see if you were to see either of them solo. The only thing that occurred on the Aerosmith/Kiss tour was less work from the two bands. The year before the co-headline jaunt, I saw Aerosmith for a top dollar price of $75 with Kid Rock and Run DMC in support. It was arguably one of the best tours of their thirty-year career. I saw Kiss for around the same price a few years earlier with their full two-hour stage show and two solid openers. With all that in mind, I went to see Journey and Def Leppard's co-headline summer tour stop just outside of Chicago. I had no desire to go even if tickets were conservatively priced for a double bill ($30-$85). I had seen both bands last year and it was unlikely either band would improve on those shows, however, I was about to be proved wrong.
It's better to burn outâ€¦than fade away!
-"Rock of Ages"
2006 has been a rough year for Journey so far. Vocalist Steve Augeri has been suffering from vocal issues and had to leave the tour in its infancy. Replacing him is Jeff Scott Soto, lead singer for Neil Schon's side project Soul Sirkus. The whole situation is practically an outtake from "Spinal Tap". Does Journey tour with a bullpen of lead singers at their disposal? A lesser band would have called it quits and gone home, however, the stakes were raised with the co-headline bill and they brought Jeff in, on short notice, without missing a beat. In a weird stroke of luck, it may have been a blessing in disguise. This is by no means any disrespect to Steve Augeri, but Jeff Scott Soto brought a fresh perspective to Journey's classic songs. With the amphitheater near capacity, guitarist Neil Schon and Jonathan Cain took to the stage. Neil launched into a stirring version of the "Star Spangled Banner" which immediately segued into "Anyway You Want It". I was stunned last summer at how tightly knit the band was when I caught their 30th Anniversary tour. It was a remarkable three-hour show encompassing their entire history. It was also one of the reasons I had no interest in seeing them this summer. How could they top what they did last year?
This evening was short on talk and after a very brief introduction of Jeff Scott Soto, the set ran at a breakneck pace with most songs segueing one into the other. Following in quick succession were the greatest hits "Ask The Lonely", "Stone In Love", "Wheel In The Sky" and "Who's Crying Now" each receiving an elated response louder than its predecessor. These songs are so imbedded in the public consciousness it does not matter who is singing them. This is a testament to the songs. How many acts can perform in front of close to 30,000 paying people two-decades past their commercial peak without the original singer? Not many. This is a band that never ceases to surprise me despite numerous obstacles to overcome. Even though the Chicago show did not have any material from the last decade, this set was relevant and prevailing just from the venerable performance. Jeff Scott Soto did not even have to finish some verses, as the near capacity crowd was there with him following along singing every last lyric. Nostalgia or not, this was a scene to behold.
Journey has so many hits, it would be easy for them to pick a standard set list and play it every night of the tour, but to their credit, they're not playing it safe. "Chain Reaction", "Dead or Alive" and "Escape" were not obvious choices for a shortened set list, but they're deep album cuts which added furor which the crowd fed off of. Last summer, drummer Deen Castronovo, stole the show with a passionate performance of "Patiently". This year he not only left the crowd breathless once again, but he did the impossible by stunning us with trancelike performances of "Open Arms" and "Faithfully", arguably two of the five best known Journey songs. His vocal delivery was so striking that I don't think he should hand vocal duties for these two songs back to Steve Augeri, upon his return. An extended bluesy intro to "Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin'", featuring Jonathan Cain on harmonica, was refreshing to see. Journey is a classic rock staple and no one would ever expect them to fiddle with these songs in any way, but this is what keeps them relevant and not becoming a band destined for state fairs. I don't even deem myself a Journey fan, but each and every time I see them, they win me over with their endearing performance, proving the naysayer's (including this writer) wrong.
If all of this was not enough to impress, the finale put the crowd into a state of delirium with "Don't Stop Believing" taking on a life of its own. It became an anthem last year for the Chicago White Sox during their World Series run and as a result, the Chicago crowd made this song a tour de force moment. The lone encore of "Separate Ways" fired up the crowd prepping them for Def Leppard's set. Whether this was one's tenth Journey concert or their first, it's unlikely it will be their last if the wails of the crowd are any indication. Few bands can handle as many challenges or hardships as Journey, but they are survivors in the truest sense of the word. They continue to exist because of sheer determination. If you don't take them seriously, that will be your call, but never count them out. These guys are in it for the long run.
By the time Def Leppard hit the stage for their 85-minute set, the crowd was ready to riot. Most surprising to me, the lawn was almost completely sold-out. I spoke with one of the promoters after the show and he informed me they had sold 2,000 tickets in the two-hours before show time. If it was a weekend this show would have been sold-out (the amphitheaters capacity is just under 30,000). This was the largest crowd Def Leppard has played to in the Chicago area since two back-to-back shows at Alpine Valley in July of 1988 (each show brought in 35,000). Once Queen's "We Will Rock You" intro finished, the lights dimmed and the band took their spots on stage where lead singer Joe Elliott made his way to the microphone with one question for the audience; "Do you wanna get rocked"? After the surging opener, "Let's Get Rocked" the band ran through "Make Love Like A Man", the undervalued "Promises" and "Bringin' On The Heartbreak" with ease performing the songs with unwavering precision. From my vantage point in the second row, the band was not only proficient with their instruments but was in another realm during this show. While the song selection provided no surprises, the resolve with which each song was performed did. The band was incredibly focused at not only keeping those up front engaged but those a half mile away on the lawn as well. Despite seeing the band numerous times before, I never quite noticed how mobile they are when they hit the stage. Aside from drummer Rick Allen the band members do not take us residence on any part of the stage and roamed freely. Most acts find a spot on stage and stay there for the entire evening never budging. In fact, this was the most mobile I've seen any band in quite some time.
The evening's tour de force performance was the gorgeous and melodious "Hysteria". While watching the band perform this understated pop gem, I couldn't get over how perfectly constructed this elegiac pop song is. This is one of those songs you could go years without hearing, but when you do, it's comes to life and you marvel as to why you didn't realize it's luminosity before. There are those who say that the band owes all of their success to Mutt Lange. While he was without a doubt the sixth member of the band, he was not the one who played all of the instruments on the record or went on the road touring giving these songs focus. The sonic landscapes of "Hysteria" are luscious and the band amazingly not only recreates this sound on stage, but gives the song a creative edgy arrangement. "Hysteria" is easily one of the top 200 albums ever recorded and when listening to it recently, I couldn't help but feel that this album could have been recorded two weeks ago and not twenty-years ago. This may be the very reason as to why these songs continue to resonate.
Only two songs from their new covers cd, "Yeah!" were performed; "No Matter What" and "Rock On", the same two from last years tour. Earlier in the tour, they were performing four songs and now it's surprisingly down to two. In shows following Chicago, "Hellraiser" made a few appearances but I believe "Waterloo Sunset" is the one that should be performed nightly as it could perfectly segue into or from "Hysteria". Last summer's set lists were invariable for the most part, however, this summer has shown the band rotating certain songs in and out of the set list (including "Hellraiser", "Hanging On The Telephone" and "Let It Go"). If Def Leppard were smart, they would take a page from Journey's book rotating songs in and out of the set and include a few songs from "Slang", "Euphoria" and "X", three near masterpieces which completely are off most people's radars if for no other reason than being unaware they even exist. All three albums show a distinctive side to the band and even though their combined sales as less than their b-side album "Retroactive" (from 1993), I believe the brilliance of these albums will come to shine through one day. One can only hope the band realizes these gems deserve a second chance and rotates them in and out of the set, giving these songs their due and proving the cynic's and critics wrong.
The remainder of the show focused on fixating nostalgic compositions that effortlessly supercharged the crowd to new heights. As I watched the band effortlessly churn out these greatest hits, an epiphany took place. I could not help but notice how much fun these guys were having. I've seen hundreds of concerts over the last few years and some acts while proficient with their instruments don't enjoy being on stage. Def Leppard was euphoric in their delivery, power and conviction with which they performed "Rocket", "Photograph", "Rock of Ages" and "Pour Some Sugar On Me", all of which are nearly two-decades old. When all is said and done, isn't rock n' roll supposed to be fun above all else? While scoffed at a decade back for being "soft" and coming from an era that has largely been despised over time, Def Leppard has never given up and have proven themselves to be survivors.
While many view this co-headline show as a pure nostalgia fest, both bands surprised me with the resolve, drive and force they put behind their music. Despite lack of new material finding its way on the radio, never underestimate either of these bands because their secret weapons lie within their live shows. As long as Journey and Def Leppard believe in themselves and continue to perform with the same conviction as I witnessed on a steamy Chicago night, they will continue to thrive and survive even if radio formats ignore their most recent albums. One thing I know for sure is that neither band is going to burn out or fade away any time soon-they are both survivors in the truest sense of the word.