After years of playing outside under the stars, Def Leppard and Journey brought the party inside Tuesday night to a packed Vivint Smart Home Arena.
The two major rock bands have made a killing over the years on the outdoor amphitheater/shed circuit, each delivering frequent appearances along the Wasatch Front over the past decade -- and a little beyond.
Coincidentally, Def Leppard and Journey did a first co-headlining concert trek together back in 2006 -- back when multi-package summer tours were still something of a novelty.
What's 12 years between friends?
Journey has played a variety of outside venues in Utah since the band's last indoor appearance -- which, for those keeping score at home, was in 2003 at the then-named Delta Center. In addition to a handful of dates at USANA Amphitheatre in West Valley City, the band has also hit such diverse locations as Ogden's Golden Spike Arena, Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy and Provo's own LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Tracking Def Leppard's spots in Utah is a much easier task as the British rockers pretty much set up a summer residency at USANA Amphitheatre by performing there nine of the past 11 years. The band's last indoor concert in Utah? Way back on Dec. 16, 2002, at what was then called the E Center.
Def Leppard's lead singer Joe Elliott couldn't help but look out at the completely full Vivint Arena crowd and marvel at the site -- and sight.
"We love this place a lot," Elliott said. "This is a beautiful sight. As long as you guys keep coming, we'll keep coming over and over again."
The two bands have been such frequent guests locally that fans certainly know what kind of shows they are in for. There's not really a lot of new ground being broken -- it's more an appreciation for the music that's been created and the thrill of seeing it performed live that keeps people coming back.
Def Leppard's show opening stood out as unique from past appearances. Two video monitors were positioned in front of the main stage, blocking the view from those on the main floor and those with more of a straightaway sight line. The band, however, was in plain view from fans on the front sides as an intro clip of "Excitable" played over the speakers.
The video monitors gradually rose -- eventually stopping high above the front part of the stage -- and the band launched into "Rocket." To my memory, the band has never opened with that hit off of the 1987 diamond "Hysteria" album at local appearances.
Seeing Def Leppard again in an arena actually gave me a renewed appreciation for the band's proficiency on stage. Def Leppard has always been a very active live band, with a lot of moving parts and action happening all over. Rightly or wrongly, I attribute a lot of that skill to the multiple tours the band used to do "in the round," which featured the various members in constant movement to play before all directions of the stage, and on a main drum platform in the middle.
I realized that some of that appreciation might have been muted from so many years of seeing Def Leppard at USANA Amphitheatre -- just in the sense that the view of the stage and everything on it is from a straight-ahead vantage point. Watching Tuesday's show, seated up a ways on the stage left side of the arena and actually looking down on the proceedings, it was fascinating to see the whirlwind of motion from that angle. It kind of reminded me rotating gears -- everything seemingly in systematic sync.
Despite having their primary locations, Elliott, guitarists Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell, and bassist Rick Savage all roamed the stage with abandon, switching spots in clockwork precision but with an impromptu vibe. And there was a lot of stage to work. An ego ramp extended far out into the audience, with everyone taking multiple turns out among the adoring multitude, and there were also elevated steps leading up to the drums, and platforms above and behind.
A gigantic video board behind the band showed eye-popping graphics, old footage and live shots throughout the night -- although, most of the material looked familiar from recent tours.
The band romped through its stable of must-plays, including "Animal," "Foolin'," "Let's Get Rocked," "Armageddon It," "Love Bites" and "Hysteria." The performance of "When Love and Hate Collide" was a pleasant new twist. The only newer song was "Man Enough," from the band's eponymously titled 2015 album.
It was also great to see "Two Steps Behind" back in the set. The full band performed it out on the runway, with Elliott, Collen and Campbell playing acoustic guitar, Savage electric bass and Allen maracas.
Additionally, the two-punch package of "Bringin' on the Heartbreak" into the manic instrumental "Switch 625" was typically fabulous. "Rock On," the band's 2006 cover of the David Essex classic was also a highlight and provided a spotlight for Savage's bass playing.
The band had the crowd in near pandemonium -- arms waving, yelling and screaming, singing along ... basically anything Elliott asked them to do -- for the main set-closing "Pour Some Sugar on Me" and encores of "Rock of Ages" and "Photograph."
Journey also had audience members hanging on nearly every note during its opening act. (Both bands played 90-minute, headline-worthy sets.)
Journey kicked things off with its signature opener, "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)," with Jonathan Cain's recognizable beginning keyboard riff earning immediate applause moments after the intro music ended.
Lead singer Arnel Pineda immediate took to the ramp out into the crowd, humbly bowing to all portions of the arena in between singing. I know Pineda has been fronting Journey vocally for almost 11 years now, but his story and performance is still a revelation every time he takes the stage. It's hard not to root for him -- and he is extremely fun to watch and quite animated as he jumps through the air, greets fans and photobombs selfies.
Guitarist Neal Schon is the heart and soul of Journey. Not only is he the only member who has been with the band through every incarnation and every album -- bassist Ross Valory is a close second -- but his melodic guitar virtuosity has defined the band's sound through the years and helped launch millions of radio spins.
Schon took three guitar solo interlude romps of various lengths. Still, some of his most impactful work was displayed during his in-song solos, which managed to stay true to the recognizable work he'd recorded, while also expanding on it.
One of the show's highlights featured the full band -- minus drummer Steve Smith -- out on the runway ramp during the end of "Stone in Love" as Schon stood at the very end just blowing off inspired lead lick after inspired lead lick as if it were the easiest thing in the world. How was it that former lead singer Steve Perry described this phenomenon in his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech? Ah, yes, "the magic fingers of Neal Schon's guitar." Well, those magic fingers were creating all manner of hocus pocus on this night, that's for sure.
Another one of my favorite moments of the show was Schon's rideout solo to the piano ballad "Who's Cryin' Now." That solo has always been so melodically perfect, and Schon managed to make it even better with a longer live version on Tuesday.
Journey's set, of course, was a romp through the band's hit-laden catalog, with songs such as "Only the Young," "Be Good to Yourself," "Lights," "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'," "Open Arms," and "Any Way You Want It" helping power the proceedings.
One wild card was the addition of "La Do Da," a rarely played rocker from 1977's "Infinity" album. The end of the song included a five-minute drum solo from Smith that was off the hook.
Smith, a true drum ninja, not only showed off a full array of chops, but he did so in an extremely entertaining fashion. It was amazing to watch him in closeups on the big video monitor as he kept an amazing beat alive while throwing in numerous tricks -- such as rolling a drum stick between individual fingers on one hand. It was mesmerizing.
Journey closed with the pretty unbeatable trifecta of "Wheel in the Sky," "Faithfully" and "Don't Stop Believin'."
The Journey/Def Leppard pairing was a hit in 2006 and if Tuesday's show is any indication, it remains so today. The tour has seven dates left and wraps next week in Inglewood, California.