Journey & Def Leppard at Wrigley

Last Friday night I was at a neighborhood bar watching baseball when I noticed an ad for a concert at Wrigley Field… I grew up listening to both Journey as well as Def Leppard and had never seen either of them in concert before, so I whipped out my phone and ordered up a couple of tickets for myself.

The doors were at 5:45pm (The Pretenders were opening up for the other two bands, who I wouldn’t have minded seeing, but I did not feel like sitting in a cramped upper-deck stadium seat for 4 hours.) I went to GMan Tavern and waited a little while to go to the show, enjoying the DJ Skills of Local H’s Scott Lucas who spun ‘Stop Your Sobbing’ by the Pretenders, and ‘Foolin’ by Def Leppard on the house system.

I’m a bit uncomfortable around big crowds, but hearing the Def Leppard songs at GMan really reminded me why I was there. My tastes have changed quite a bit over time, but when I first started playing guitar (1982?) it was radio hits like Photograph and Rock of Ages that really got me excited about music.

I texted my friend Brandy to come and meet me, and the two of us headed over to Wrigley and grabbed our seats. Journey had just finished up their first song, Separate Ways, and was launching into more familiar favorites. The original singer for Journey (Steve Perry) quit the band back in 1987, and after numerous other singers, was finally replaced by Arnel Pindeda- a younger kid from the Philippines who Journey’s guitarist discovered on YouTube. The inspirational story of finding Arnel, and his rocket to stardom is told in the somewhat lamely titled “Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey” which you can find playing on various portals around the web. If you like the band, check it out.

Their set was filled with energetic hits, and Pineda’s youthful voice is unusually similar to Steve Perry’s. The rest of the band were the original members: Neil Schon, Ross Valory, (native Chicagoan) Jonathan Cain, and Steve Smith. The setlist also included vestiges of a bygone era: piano solo, drum solo, extended guitar solo. Maybe this worked for some of the concert goers, but c’mon, I want to hear songs!

I always enjoyed the Journey catalog of tracks, and it was an amazing experience to be in a crowd of 40,000 singing the (I’ll go ahead and say legendary) tunes.

The band wrapped with “Don’t Stop Believin'” (fun fact: the most downloaded song ever on the internet). Half hour break while the bands switched, then Def Leppard hit.

Kicking off with a multimedia blast, the band launched into their 1987 hit, Rocket. Just as with Journey, Def Leppard has no shortage of hits, and it was great to hear some of the songs that I figured out by ear when I was learning to play. I do have to mention that their singer Joe Elliot was having a few vocal issues. To be fair, those melodies are very high, and Elliot is probably in his 60’s now. (Just looked it up. He’s 58. Oops! Sorry, Joe.) He was having a real rough time with the higher notes. Parts normally sung with chest voice were being sung in a kind of softer falsetto (not really ballsy sounding like the radio songs we know and love). Also, there was a lot of processing on his vocals compared to Journey’s singer. With Def Leppard, the vocals had a massive echo (a.k.a ‘delay’) and reverb in attempts to mask some of the rough spots. But hey, these guys are still up there crankin’ it out a hundred nights a year or whatever. Another fun fact: when I lived in Los Angeles in the early 90’s I would play billiards regularly with Vivian Campbell who has been playing rhythm guitar with Def Leppard for the past decade. There are some good NSFW rock and roll stories from Vivian (who started with Dio, then played in Whitesnake before Def Leppard). Maybe I save those for another blog post. Or not.

At the end of the day, I’m utterly thrilled that I made the impulse purchase of these two concert tickets. It was amazing to hang out with a good friend, hear these songs live, and to be in the same spot as some of my old heroes (and pool partners).