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They rocked us

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Def Leppard and Journey
Alltel Arena
Oct. 30


We fully expected to tell you that Monday’s Def Leppard concert was as powerful as expected while Journey’s syrupy ’80s stuff and the faux Steve Perry singing bored us to tears. Well, stop the presses.

Let’s start with Journey, who preceded Def Leppard in front of a crowd of 6,808 fans.

Who needs tiny, falsetto-singing Perry, much less his vocal replacement Steve Augeri? Journey has found its new front man, and that guy is Jeff Scott Soto, whose resume simply cited some earlier work with Journey guitarist Neal Schon’s side band. Soto took over the Journey singing role in July when Augeri, who has been the front man for about a decade, developed a throat infection. Word around the show also was that Perry, who went solo in the mid-1980s, has wanted back with Journey lately but the band has said no thanks.

They don’t need him. Soto, seemingly half the age of his bandmates, is an imposing figure on stage, full of energy and blessed with a voice that can cover the Perry/Augeri high notes that Journey fans know and expect. Soto looks a little like Lorenzo Lamas with longer, curlier hair, and the female fans (including a row of Def Leppard-loving girls who had created shirts that said “Pour” … “Some” … “Sugar” … “on” … “Me”) around us were going crazy. The chemistry between Schon and Soto on stage was obvious, and it lifted the rest of the band to heights we haven’t seen from Journey in decades.Drummer Deen Castronovo surprised us with the vocals on “Faithfully,” and Jonathan Cain blended Chopin-like classical piano moves into the familiar opening of “Open Arms,” which Castronovo also nailed perfectly.

Of course, this show was about going over all the hits dating to “Wheel in Sky” and “Lights” in the late 1970s, and Journey did that, driving the crowd to a frenzy, with one woman throwing a large-cup bra at Soto — and there was still one more band and a full set to see.

Def Leppard’s sound mix was cleaner than Journey’s, and its stage show had more fireworks. Both bands made use of a long video screen behind them, and both also took us back in time with band photos from much earlier tours, reminding us all of just how old we’ve become.

Def Leppard front man Joe Elliott, though he’s heftier and has trimmed back some hair from the “Pyromania” days, came close to duplicating the energy of the much younger Soto. But it was the splendid guitar work of Vivian Campbell and Phil Collen (who also joined Journey for “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’ ”) that stood out. Neither man suffered when the other took the lead, which was often. One-armed drummer Rick Allen got a much deserved ovation late in the show, and bassist Sav Savage got his time to shine with a thumping attack on the classic cover “Rock On.” Like Journey, Def Leppard hit all the high points in a career that broke big in 1983 with “Photograph.” “Rock of Ages” was extremely strong as the regular set closer, but so was a cover of T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy” off their new release, “Yeah.”

Stoll Vaughan, a lanky singer-songwriter obviously from the Dylan-Springsteen school of writing and performing, opened with a likeable but short set that included a song he performed with Journey’s Cain and bassist Ross Valory. He’s worth checking out at www.stollvaughan.com.

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