Concert review and photos: Journey and Def Leppard bury Atlanta in hits

The bands were joined by The Pretenders at SunTrust Park

(This review was originally posted at 1:35 a.m. July 2, 2018)

If the value of a concert were measured in hits, good luck finding a more worthwhile combination than Journey, Def Leppard and The Pretenders.

The veteran trifecta stormed SunTrust Park on Sunday – mere hours after the Zac Brown Band used the same stage for a homecoming celebration – and, scattered rain aside, delivered a glittering trove of some of rock’s most recognizable anthems.

The Pretenders, still fronted by ageless cool cat Chrissie Hynde, are opening a handful of dates for Def Leppard and Journey, co-headliners who rotate 90-minute slots each show. Sunday’s concert launched the second leg of the bands’ shared itinerary following a two-week break -- scheduling that benefited Atlanta fans, who received rested voices and eager performers when this crew hit the stage.

»OUR GALLERY: See all of our photos from the show

Here are some observations:

In her pink and black jacket and thigh-high boots, Hynde looked at least a decade younger than her 66 years and cranked out a 45-minute set that proved her endurance is equally as notable. Lean and focused, she peered out under her fringe of now-blonde bangs, rolling from the gritty “Gotta Wait” to the vulnerable “Kid,” her right arm pumping her guitar and her voice honeyed.

It’s too bad that so many fans were likely stuck in barely crawling lines to enter the stadium (my wait time was 37 minutes) because the band played to a crowd that should have been bigger - and was, by the time they finished. 

Fellow original member Martin Chambers pounded away behind his Plexiglas cage, swinging from the deliberate thump of “My City Was Gone” to the fun and flirty “Don’t Get Me Wrong” with ease. As a guy who has shared a stage with Hynde for 40 years, he knew exactly what she was thinking when her harmonica failed during “Middle of the Road” and she angrily tossed it toward his drum riser. Pity that harmonica.

In addition to looking fabulous, Hynde was note-perfect throughout, soaring on the power ballad “I’ll Stand By You” and imbuing the gorgeous “Back on the Chain Gang” with distinctive vibrato. Few can match her effortless cool. 

Journey hit the stage to Jonathan Cain’s chiming keyboard for “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” and never allowed the adrenaline to drop during their 17-song set. 

While some will refuse to see this version of the band as authentic because it’s missing Steve Perry, consider the rest of the pedigree: Neal Schon, one of the most gifted guitarists still playing, is an original member. Bassist Ross Valory, aside from a 10-year lapse, is also an original member. Masterful drummer Steve Smith has been in and out of the lineup since 1978. And Cain, the guy responsible for writing “Faithfully,” has perched behind his bank of keyboards since 1980. And then there is Perry’s replacement, Arnel Pineda, who has been with the band for 11 years and deserves nothing but praise for a voice that ascends as beautifully as Perry’s once did and a stage presence that is both affable and animated.

Numerous highlights from their set include a vigorous run through the underrated “Be Good to Yourself,” which featured a technically precise, yet still big, fun solo from a smiling Schon, looking rock-star ready in his omnipresent shades and black vest. Before playing the Bay City valentine “Lights,” Schon mentioned it was one of the first songs he ever wrote with Perry, whose name elicited a cheer from the nearly sold-out crowd.

The barroom singalongs were many – “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’,” the swoony-as-ever “Open Arms” and the band’s most beloved ballad, “Faithfully.”

The combined appeal of Journey and Def Leppard spanned generations, as teens documented themselves singing along to every word of “Any Way You Want It” and those who grew up in the “Wheel in the Sky” era lofted a beer in tribute. But it was especially gratifying that Journey went old school with spotlight solos: Cain teased the crowd with snippets of “Send Her My Love” and “Who’s Crying Now” during his; Smith awed with his double bass drum, double snare drum exhibition, which also included some clever sticksmanship; and Schon seesawed from melodic to gritty, his guitar always ready to sing.

Yes, “Don’t Stop Believin’” was every bit as exhilarating as you would hope – a unifying battle cry and necessary uplift of spirit.

The band that closes the show is inevitably going to feel more like a traditional headliner – it’s dark, the lighting and video screens (two flanking the stage, three stretched across the top and one massive backdrop behind) are more prominent, the audience is at peak alcohol lubrication – and that held true for Def Leppard.

A wall of TVs, a dizzying spray of lights and the sinewy bass line and shuffle beat of “Rocket” introduced their set, which included one new-ish song (“Man Enough”) amid their 16-song set that was otherwise packed with fist-pumpers and melodic ballads.

Singer Joe Elliott sounded refreshed – and a well-placed echo effect on “Rocket” and “Animal” added to the fullness – while the rest of the band nailed every batch of harmonies. Guitarist Phil Collen, biceps bulging under his red vest, tossed out riffs casually as he strolled the stage and occasionally met with his partner in six strings, Vivian Campbell (always a relief to see him looking well), on the opposite side of the stage. Drummer Rick Allen – sporting a set of Union Jack-emblazoned headphones – maintained a relentless beat from his raised riser, while Rick Savage showcased his own glistening chest under a pink jacket sans shirt and muscular bass work on the intro to their cover of David Essex’s “Rock On.”

From the haunting “Foolin’” to the caffeinated “Let’s Get Rocked” to lighters-up ballads “When Love and Hate Collide” and “Love Bites,” Elliott sounded stronger than he has on recent visits to Atlanta. He was also fully aware of his surroundings, telling the crowd that “Ed Roland of Collective Soul says hi!”

A few songs into the set, Elliott wandered down the catwalk and was pelted with a pair of women’s underwear, which he held up with one finger and joked that it reminded him of watching Tom Jones in the ‘60s. At the time, he wondered what it must feel like to be such an object of desire. Funny how 40 years into a career, the band that crafted the ultimate strip club anthem (“Pour Some Sugar On Me”) is still finding out.

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