Journey (Photo: Travis Shinn)

In the crowded summer concert season, artists will often roll out a variety of gimmicks with the hope of enticing music fans to part with their hard-earned money. These may include celebratory performances of classic albums from the act’s catalogue, “farewell tours” that are more often than not followed years later with the requisite  “comeback tours,” and of course, the package lineups that pair up two or more marginal bands with the “more bang for your buck” belief.

At first glance, one might categorize the current Journey and Def Leppard co-headlining string of dates in North America as an example of the latter. But dig deeper and you’ll realize that both groups are powerhouses on their own, who play to capacity crowds year after year, with or without an equally massive band at their side. Not too shabby for two acts who haven’t had bona fide hit singles in roughly 20 years.

Journey lead singer Arnel Pineda (Photo: Marty Moffatt)

A sold-out Madison Square Garden in New York City played host to the rousing double bill on June 13, a jaunt in which the two legendary bands have traded off opening and closing slots each night. There wasn’t an empty seat to be found inside the famed New York City arena, an impressive feat not only for a venue the size of The Garden, but also for a midweek event taking place on a Wednesday night.

The San Francisco-based Journey kicked the evening off with the familiar keyboard notes of “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” and followed up with fan favorite “Only The Young,” a track perhaps most known for being the root of a legal battle with 80s act Scandal — Journey sold the song to them to use, only to subsequently record their own version of it as well. But a courtroom was the furthest thing on the minds of the thousands in attendance as they sang every word along with lead singer Arnel Pineda.

Pineda, with the least amount of tenure served in the Bay City-bred band, deserves all the credit in the world. After all, replacing an icon like Steve Perry, arguably one of the greatest voices of our generation, is no easy task; yet, the Filipino frontman showcases his incredible instrument during every performance, with his faithful interpretation of Perry’s hard-to-top vocals.

Guitarist Neal Schon, the only current member to have played on every album and tour, displayed his virtuoso-like skills with ease during a mesmerizing solo that packed an intense fervor. But perhaps even more awe-inspiring was his guitar work during the underrated gem “Stone In Love,” off of 1981’s classic Escape. The track often gets overlooked by the anthemic “Don’t Stop Believin’,” by far the album’s most notable number, but it’s every bit as infectious as its predecessor.

Journey guitarist Neal Schon (Photo: Erik Kabik)

The band’s rhythm section of bassist Ross Valory, also an original piece of the puzzle, albeit with a 10-year hiatus in its lengthy history, and drummer Steve Smith, demonstrated their longevity as a tandem known for their tightness on the popular “Wheel In The Sky” while pianist Jonathan Cain took fans on a ‘journey’ of some of the group’s greatest hits during his presentation, with an eclectic mix of snippets of “Send Her My Love,” “I’ll Be Alright Without You,” “Who’s Crying Now,” and “When You Love A Woman.”

A unit for an astonishing 45 years, Journey capped off their brilliant set with the frenetic “Any Way You Want It,” which closed out their portion of the evening perfectly.

A clock counting down the minutes until Def Leppard’s appearance was a nice touch that ensured as minor an interruption of momentum as possible in the festivities.

A one-two punch of heavies off of the Brit rockers’ seminal 1987 masterpiece Hysteria kicked things off with the ardor that their fans have come to expect in the form of “Rocket” and “Animal.” Singer Joe Elliott managed to keep the throngs in attendance on their feet with his undeniable charisma as he next led the Leps back further with 1983’s “Foolin’“off of Pyromania.

The dual guitar sounds of Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell that have long been a trademark of the storied pioneers of the new wave of British metal were evident on set cornerstones “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak,” “Let’s Get Rocked,” and “Armageddon It,” while founding bassist Rick Savage subtly shined on the grandiose power ballad “Love Bites.”

But it was Rick Allen, ferociously pounding the skins, who stood out among all. The incredibly talented drummer, who famously overcame the amputation of his left arm over 30 years ago, hardly rested on his laurels. He instead played at a feverish pace that whipped fans into a frenzy during the band’s MTV-saturated “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and the blistering “Rock Of Ages.”

On this night of stimulation, while both veteran acts finished the night as winners, it was clearly apparent that after the dust settled, the true victors were those fortunate enough to have witnessed it firsthand.

Journey setlist:

  1. Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)
  2. Only The Young
  3. Be Good To Yourself
  4. Stone In Love
  5. Wildest Dream
  6. Lights
  7. Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’
  8. Piano Solo (Jonathan Cain)
  9. Open Arms
  10. Escape
  11. Drum Solo (Steve Smith)
  12. La Do Da
  13. Guitar Solo (Neal Schon)
  14. Wheel In The Sky
  15. Faithfully
  16. Don’t Stop Believin’
  17. Any Way You Want It

Def Leppard setlist:

  1. Rocket
  2. Animal
  3. Foolin’
  4. When Love And Hate Collide
  5. Let’s Get Rocked
  6. Armageddon It
  7. Rock On
  8. Two Steps Behind
  9. Man Enough
  10. Love Bites
  11. Bringin’ On The Heartbreak
  12. Switch 625
  13. Hysteria
  14. Pour Some Sugar On Me
  15. Rock Of Ages
  16. Photograph

Click here for Journey/Def Leppard tour dates.

Joe Puccio

Joe Puccio is a lifelong fanatic of the three essential tools to living a fulfilling and satisfying life: professional wrestling, hard rock, and horror. He resides on Long Island, N.Y. with his wife and two kids...aka Penny the cat and Lucy the dog.