Def Leppard & Journey Bring Rock 'n' Roll Revelry to New York's Madison Square Garden

Ross Halfin
Def Leppard

Def Leppard is 40 years deep into their career -- and, even more unbelievably, three decades have passed since they released their landmark Hysteria album, which topped the Billboard 200 and spawned the megahits “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and “Love Bites.” And when it comes to hitting the road, the British rock band has yet to slow down. They’ve been consistently touring since their debut album, On Through the Night, was released in 1980, barely skipping a year to take a breather.    

And this year is no exception: In May, the band began a months-long co-headlining tour with Journey, whom they went out with once before back in 2006. On this trek, the groups rotate who closes the show each night -- and, thankfully, luck of the draw had Def Leppard going on last at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night.     

Journey made a good opening act, but they just don’t have the headlining prowess as Def Leppard. A contributing factor could be the absence of original singer Steve Perry, who exited the band in 1998. For the past 10 years, Filipino frontman Arnel Pineda -- who was discovered after uploading Journey cover songs to YouTube -- has been on vocal duty, doing his best Perry impression. If you close your eyes, he sounds a lot like the former lead singer, whose smooth, soaring voice made songs like “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Open Arms” classics. But his hyper stage antics don’t quite jell with the mellow mood of the rest of the musicians, which include founding members Neal Schon on guitar and Ross Valory on bass.       

Still, it was fun to hear ’80s anthems like “Any Way You Want It,” “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” and “Faithfully” performed live in an arena. Of course, the highlight of the 90-minute set was the show-stopping, confetti-filled rendition of “Don’t Stop Believin’,” which gained new life since its 1981 release after being prominently featured in the series finale of The Sopranos in 2007 and in the series premiere of Glee two years later.        

But the main attraction of the night was Def Leppard, who came out swinging with “Rocket” and performed nothing but the hits during their 90-minute set that kept the crowd on its feet. In a welcome nod to ’80s excess, there were giant video screens, elaborate lights and lasers, and even some eye-catching outfits (bassist Rick Savage almost stole the show by wearing a pastel pink tuxedo with sequined accessories while drummer Rick Allen sported a bedazzled British flag shirt).

Age has not slowed these guys down one bit -- they worked the stage like the pros that they are -- but time has made singer Joe Elliott and his fellow bandmates’ vocals a bit grizzled. However, a few rejiggered high notes here and there -- most notably on “Let’s Get Rocked” and “Armageddon It” -- didn’t deter from the raise-your-glass revelry of the night, and Elliott’s raspier voice actually added some charm to their cover of David Essex’s “Rock On.”   

    

While their rafter-rattling equivalent to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” is the cheeky “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” the band aptly ended the night with some popular pre-Hysteria fare (“Rock of Ages” and “Photograph”). So if it’s deep cuts you’re looking for, you’ll have to look elsewhere -- Def Leppard has nicely settled into the proverbial sweet spot of delivering nothing but the hits, and for most of us, that equals a rockin’ good time.