Nobody cruises around in Chevettes or feathers their hair anymore, but Friday night’s concert at Target Field proved many Minnesotans still haven’t given up the rock anthems that accompanied those bygone activities of early-’80s American youth.
Journey and Def Leppard came to town on a co-headlining tour crammed with the most Top 40 rock hits ever played in one night at the Minneapolis ballpark. If you owned a radio between 1980 and 1990 and didn’t damage your brain with too much aerosol hair spray, you would have recognized three-fourths of the songs performed.
That familiarity bred a nearly sold-out crowd of about 40,000 fans, mostly 40 and up in age. They arrived under cool summer weather that perfectly complemented the concert’s breezy, windows-down, lighters-up tone.
Sadly, only about half the audience showed up in time for opening act Cheap Trick. Unlike the headliners, the Illinois rockers spiked their 45-minute set with a killer new song, “Summer Looks Good on You.” Also unlike the headliners, they showed up with a singer, Robin Zander, with nearly as much power and range in his voice as he had 30-plus years ago, proven in the fiery classics “Dream Police” and “Surrender.”
Taking the middle slot Friday — they alternate headlining duties from city to city, maybe based on local groupie status — Def Leppard’s members still very much looked the part of ’80s rock stars.
Beefcakey guitarist Phil Collen came out shirtless with wraparound sunglasses. Bassist Rick Savage wore a pink “Miami Vice”-like blazer. And frontman Joe Elliott coolly strutted out onto the thrust stage in opening tune “Rocket” and whipped around his healthy mane of blonde hair.
Alas, Elliott’s vocals didn’t sound as natural as his hair looked. He hoarsely worked through other hits early in the band’s 90-minute set such as “Animal” and “Foolin’,” but whenever the songs’ big, ultra-polished choruses came around, the vocals somehow sounded bigger than ever.
Of course, Elliott and the band got ample singing help from the crowd. After a boring middle segment that included the 2015 dud “Man Enough” and a cover of David Essex’s “Rock On,” the British vets finished with a stream of hits, including an encore of “Rock of Ages” and “Photograph.”
“There will be a next time!” Elliott yelled at the end.
Journey bought itself a whole lot of “next times” when it found current singer Arnel Pineda on YouTube from the Philippines in 2007. Pineda has since outlasted hitmaker singer Steve Perry’s tenure in the band, but his primary selling point 11 years later is still how much he sings just like Perry did back in the day.
Guitarist Neal Schon raised the nostalgia level for Perry when he introduced the 1977 back seat make-out anthem “Lights.”
“This is the second song I ever wrote with Steve Perry,” Schon said. “It’s dedicated to him and our city by the bay.”
Journey’s big issue Friday wasn’t how imitational Pineda sounded, but rather how poorly the entire operation sounded. The acoustics were not problematic during Def Leppard, but turned muddy throughout the headlining set.
The night’s rockiest tunes, such as “Escape,” “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’ ” and “Wheel in the Sky,” especially fell flat in the mix. Conversely, Jonathan Cain’s mellow, Yanni-like solo piano segment came through clearly.
The show’s key moments still rose above the sonic din, though. “Stone in Love” — with its refrain of “Those summer nights are calling” — was a home run in the ballpark setting. Obviously, so was the wait-for-it finale of “Don’t Stop Believin’,” a song played at just about every ballgame there. But rarely does the crowd sing it so literally.