Journey and Def Leppard
By Alun Thomas
Journey and Def Leppard, a live tandem made in heaven surely? Maybe in 1986, but 2006? Surely not you jest. To most casual onlookers both acts are past their prime, and in regards to new music both probably are, Leppard touring on the back of a cover album, 'Yeah!', which is hard to be acutely interested in, while Journey's last studio album was 2005's 'Generations', which was admirable, but died a fast death commercially. With an inexhaustible range of hits up their sleeves both can still pull in the punters and fill arenas, and the dual billing had been doing astounding business all summer and now well into fall. In a fit of inspiration I opted to attend the Moline show on October the 27th, leaving my one room existence to primarily see Journey (Leppard seen years ago) and submerge myself in AOR waves still untouched to this day.
It was pleasant to see the arena almost full, and this was probably the sanest crowd witnessed, dressed rather conservatively and of all ages. There was ample room for forty something males dressed in cut off 'Raised On Radio' era Journey shirts however and one ludicrous bastard in front of me with a mullet that makes Joe Elliot's circa 1987 look sane, had me spellbound. The capacity for the hair was one thing, but the sleeveless Leppard shirt and 1988 shades wrapped around his head put him in another dimension. Opening the show was Stoll Vaughn who I have never heard of. He brought out an impromptu band consisting of Jonathan Cain, Ross Vallory and Vivian Campbell and performed a stripped down version of 'Working Class Man' which he claimed he co wrote with Cain. It is a fact Cain wrote this only that was 1984, but this fellow? Insanity. Vaughn's debut album was only released in 2005. Without Jimmy Barnes on vocals who the track was written for it had no intensity. Goodbye.
Realistcially Journey could headline the show over Leppard and to be blunt they blew the Brits off the stage. These days veteran vocalist Jeff Scott Soto is handling vocals while Steve Augeri recovers from throat problems. Augeri might be out of a job. Soto handled the material like he was the frontman from day one in 1973. But whether it be Soto, Augeri, Steve Perry or Gregg Rolie, the foundation of Journey is guitarist Neil Schon and keyboardist Jonathan Cain. You have them, you have Journey. Their set bought tears to my eyes. Not even The Who did that. Much of their track selection confused the crowd aside from the basic hits, 'Open Arms', 'Faithfully', 'Seperate Ways', 'Wheel In The Sky', 'Don't Stop Believin' et al and I took great pleasure in seeing the stunned faces. Wheeling out 'Edge Of The Blade', 'Chain Reaction', 'Dead Or Alive', 'Escape', 'I'll Be Alright Without You' and 'Message Of Love' was a masterstroke and it was played as if it were all new material, all the solos and original synth notes intact.
Journey will always be the quintessential AOR legend and to see first hand the passion and energy that still runs through their collective selves was staggering. Neil Schon's guitar work made me a quivering wreck and those seated near me watched me openly crying as he tore through the surging guitar harmonies of 'Edge Of The Blade'. Resurrecting 1996's 'Message Of Love' was an inspired decision, nobody knew it except myself by the looks and if anyone has ever recorded heavier melodic AOR than 'Chain Reaction' then tell me what that is and I'll bend over. It's rare to see any band firing on all cylinders anymore like this, but live Journey are still in their prime. Easily. With Soto they might reach Steve Perry heights. I'll even forgive the aging, shirtless muscleman in front of me for his confused, awkward dancing during 'Anyway You Want It'. What I can't forgive are his high fives with unknown bystanders.
Def Leppard were passable but I'd seen it all before, basically the exact same show as 1999. Tried and true hits abounded at every turn and Joe Elliot's voice is more broken than a cracked flower pot in the garden. Hearing him struggle to hit the notes during 'Rocket' was captivating. Honestly if I want to hear 'Photograph' or 'Animal' I could turn the radio on right now, and it's time to unleash 'Rock Brigade', 'Run Riot' and No, No, No' onto crowds expecting and getting their overplayed favourites. Watching a busty blonde in front of me provided more cheap thrills. I knew she was gone to attempt a jig with the shirtless muscleman. I left and tripped over a step on my way out. 'Are you all right?' asked a security guard? I turned and acted like it never happened. Leppard that is.
Journey I'd go out of my way to see again. Leppard certainly not. When you're a grown man and moved to streams of tears like that of an infant you realise you are in the presence of something in a musical stratosphere that can barely be equalled. That's the enduring power of AOR and Journey. And if that reads rather cornily then it's supposed to. Because it's the truth.