If Tuesday night at the Cricket Pavilion is any indication, old school arena rock is back, and back with a vengeance.
With cars backed up on the I-10 freeway and traffic on both 83rd and 75th Avenues slowed to a crawl well after opening act Stoll Vaughn started his short set, and lines of fans waiting to buy tickets and enter the arena (where only lawn seats were still available at the box office) it was clear that both Def Leppard and Journey are suddenly back in vogue.
The two bands that only a few years ago were thought of as also-rans as alternative rock eclipsed the hair bands of the '80s, were greeteed by 20,000-plus fans crammed into the arena on a steambath of an August night.
Tucson couple Tanner Duran, 37, and Tammy Tafoya, 36, made the 100-plus mile trip to the Valley to catch the bill, which bypassed the Old Pueblo.
"I've seen both bands a bunch of times," said Duran. "But I mostly want to see Def Leppard again -- I've seen them on every one of their tours since 1983, when they opened for Billy Squier on the 'Pyromania' tour."
As the lights dimmed and the crowd roared in anticipation, the members of longtime British rockers Def Leppard (singer Joe Elliott, guitarists Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell, bassist Rick Savage and drummer Rick Allen) appeared in spotlights before tearing into "Rock Rock (Til You Drop)" from the band's American breakthrough album "Pyromania" from 1983.
They barely paused to take a breath before hammering out a slew of hits, the highlights of which included "Let's Get Rocked" (from 1992's "Adrenalize"), "Bringin' on the Heartbreak" (off 1981's "High 'n' Dry") "Foolin'" and "Photograph (which drew the biggest crowd response), both from "Pyromania" and the encore closer "Pour Some Sugar on Me" from 1988's "Hysteria."
Elliott is still the very picture of a rock frontman, stalking the stage in his black leather pants (which had to have been uncomfortable given the August heat -- the Brit asked for water to be thrown onstage from fans because "It's (expletive) hot up here too!"). The singer could still hit the high notes, and his mates rocked, like it was 1983.
Even though Journey's most famous vocalist Steve Perry is long gone and his replacement, sound-alike Steve Augeri, is recovering from throat issues and not on this tour, Jeff Scott Soto filled in admirably on vocals on many of the famous Perry-sung tunes that have reduced many a grown man to tears of shame in karaoke bars around the world.
Journey, however, has always been about the brilliant guitar work of Neal Schon (and if anything, Schon has gotten even better over the years) along with Perry's great vocals, and surprisingly, one out two wasn't bad Tuesday.
Journey's music is divided into two camps -- rockers such as "Wheel in the Sky," "Stone in Love," Anyway You Want It" and "Don't Stop Believin,'" and ballads such as "Open Arms," "Lights" and "Faithfully." All of these hits were performed spot on, with drummer Deen Castronovo taking lead vocals on the ballads and sounding remarkably like Perry himself.
Journey has enjoyed a big comeback based on their tune "Don't Stop Believin'" being adopted as an anthem by last year's World Series champs, the Chicago White Sox. It's also being used in dramatic fashion on MTV's teen reality soap "Laguna Beach," and the band clearly dug playing for a massive appreciative audience again.
The crowd was a mix of generations, from folks in their 50s to teenagers, and Tafoya, who was seeing Def Leppard for the first time, said the music transcends age gaps.
"Journey and Def Leppard take me back to my younger days," she said. "We have a 16-year-old and a 13-year-old, and now they are into this music too."