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9 innings of rock and roll with Journey, Def Leppard, and Cheap Trick at Target Field

Def Leppard's Joe Elliott, left, and Phil Collen onstage at the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand in 2015.

Def Leppard's Joe Elliott, left, and Phil Collen onstage at the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand in 2015. Kyndell Harkness/Star Tribune

The weather was gorgeous. The music was loud. The crowd was confusing. Twins jersey over a Def Leppard T-shirt? Tuxedo? Hat with motorcycle handlebars? However you choose to celebrate Cheap Trick, Def Leppard, and Journey is your business, and no one at Target Field was judging Friday night.

Cheap Trick was up to bat first, and they looked into the setting sun, pointed to the fence, and jacked a dinger into the upper deck with the classic opener “Hello There” from In Color.

Robin Zander wore his best Mad Hatter inspired top hat (a tribute to Tom Petty?) and his voice was in fine form. Rick Nielsen played a different guitar for each song, and Tom Petersson rocked his twelve string bass. The band was rounded out by Nielsen’s son, Daxx, on drums, and Robin Zander Jr. on guitar.

Cheap Trick has been America’s band since 1974, and they made it look easy. They rocked lean and hard through “You Got it Going On” from 2017, and their version of “California Man” from Heaven Tonight, for which Nielsen broke out his rectangular Rockford guitar.

“Just in case you didn’t know, we are Cheap Trick,” joked Nielsen. “If you know this one sing it. If you don’t, sing louder.” 1982’s “If You Want My Love” rang through the outfield, as the crowd elevated the chorus.

Nielsen did most of the talking between songs, kidding about Cheap Trick continuing to make records whether or not folks listen to or buy them, but for the most part it was just a hard-hitting rock and roll show from the Rockford weirdos.

For many in the audience, 1988’s “The Flame” was the high point. I am definitely not saying that many people of a certain age got to first base to the strains of this tune back in the day, but I’m not not saying it either. Basically, “The Flame” was beautiful.

Cheap Trick finished with a stacked line-up in the third inning of their set. “I Want You to Want Me” (come on, Robin, we all want you) banged Budokan style, and “Dream Police” wasn’t messing around—much rawer than the 1979 version. Nielsen screeched his vocals for the track before tossing a giant handful of guitar picks to the people up front.

“Surrender” featured some teenagers on stage for the first chorus, and ever the prankster, Nielsen threw some (KISS?) records out into the crowd at the lyrically appropriate time. They ended perfectly with “Goodnight Now,” with Nielsen dragging out one of his five-necked hydra guitars. Thanks guys, it was the end of a great show, but it wasn’t even close to time to go.

If you have never seen the word “MINNEAPOLIS” in Def Leppard font on a Jumbotron, well then, brothers and sisters, you just don’t know what you have been missing.

Leppard walked out to Target Field for the middle innings in all their Union Jack-ed glory. Throughout the performance, there were no less than six United Kingdom flags visible on and around Phil Collen (guitar), Vivian Campbell (guitar), Rick Savage (bass), Rick Allen (drums), and Joe Elliott (vocals).

Lepp opened with 1987’s “Rocket” for a crowd ready, so very ready, for them. Hysteria was obviously a huge touchstone, as the band returned to that mega album six times in their set.

“Are you ready for this?” Singer Joe Elliott asked. “Let’s go back in time to 1983… Pyromania!”

Def Leppard got the crowd fa-fa-fa-“Foolin,” before fast-forwarding to 1992’s “Let’s Get Rocked.” And oh how the crowd did just that. Booze definitely fueled the euphoria, but it isn’t an understatement to say that the crowd went bananas.

“How long have we been coming here?” Elliott mused. “Thirty eight fucking years… Well, not here in this place, but the Twin Cities. Look at you people, beautiful.”

The band worked a spacey, funky cover of David Essex’s “Rock On” into the set, but the Pyromania and Hysteria songs were what the crowd wanted, and Lep obliged. The quintessential Hysteria power balled “Love Bites” sparked some couples in the aging crowd to Straw-Ber-Rita-fueled fumblings toward second base. Lep then went back to 1981 for “Bringing on the Heartbreak” and “Switch 625” before loading up the bases for the crowd with four tracks from Pyromania/ Hysteria sweet spot.

Def Leppard has always sported a pop sheen on their rock music, and while some of the electronics are borne of necessity, at times they sound like a video game playing rock and roll.

No matter to the crowd, though, as Elliott returned to the stage in his finest Sgt. Pepper top coat after a brief drum freakout by Rick Allen. The band took everyone through a nostalgic video montage or “Hysteria” before getting everyone dancing on the bar for the sexy nonsense of “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”

After a brief pause, Lep encored with “Rock of Ages” and “Photograph,” both performed with a cam on Phil Collen’s fretboard. It was a lot of fun, and Elliott finished by promising “Thank you until next time, and there will be a next time.”

Escaping (eh, eh?) the seventh inning stretch, Journey was already winning when the familiar keyboards and chugging guitar of “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” brought everyone to their feet.

Old news at this point, but it still bears mentioning that “new” vocalist Arnel Pineda absolutely slays the Steve Perry-era Journey material. Case closed. He sounds amazing, and is in a near constant state of crowd interaction.

Pineda, Neal Schon (guitar), Ross Valory (bass), Steve Smith (drums), and Jonathan Cain (keyboards, guitar) threw themselves completely into the songs. 1983’s “Only the Young” and 81’s “Escape” were muscular and elastic, almost garage rock on the Target Field stage.

Pineda didn’t say much beyond encouraging the audience, but his singing voice and youthful enthusiasm connected to everyone from the front row to way up high in the clouds.

“It’s great to be back in the Twin Cities.” Schon observed. “Thank God for this weather!”

He went on to mention that 1978’s “Lights” was one of the first songs he wrote with prior vocalist Steve Perry. He asked an audience cell phone light show, and in a nice touch, dedicated the song to Perry.

Pineda delivered a soulful rendition of 1979’s “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’,” complete with the “na-na-n-na-nana” outro and swaying arms.

If you guessed that your parents and possibly grandparents fully made out Friday night during Escape’s “Open Arms,” you would be correct. It is not possible (or something I want to necessarily think about) to know if any couple made it to third base during this song, but smart money is on if-not-right-then-probably-when-they-got-home.

Journey pulled out 1978’s “La Do Da” out of their bag of tricks, and its blistering, metallic opening became a rallying point for Pineda as he fell to the stage, singing on his stomach and reaching out to audience members. Departure’s “Any Way You Want It” from 1980 should have brought to mind the movie Caddyshack (success!), and featured Jonathan Cain wearing a Twins jersey.

Journey blasted the crowd with a propulsive rendition of 1978’s “Wheel in the Sky” from Infinity. Backed by fiery effects and imagery, the sound was rocked up more than its studio version.

Cain told a story about “Faithfully” (did you know there was a Prince story attached to this song?) that included a traveling circus, and how it compared to life as a traveling musician. He ended up dedicating it ultimately to the fans.

Journey finished with a loving take on that song. Pineda and the band celebrated that small town girl, and the boy from South Detroit, and arms around each other, everyone ate it up, vowing through one voice to never, ever stop believin’.

Setlists

Cheap Trick

Hello There
You Got it Going On
California Man (The Move cover)
If You Want My Love
Never Had A Lot To Lose
The Summer Looks Good On You
The Flame
I Want You to Want Me
Dream Police
Surrender
Goodnight Now
 

Def Leppard

Rocket
Animal
Foolin’
When Love and Hate Collide
Let’s Get Rocked
Armageddon It
Rock On (David Essex cover)
Two Steps Behind
Man Enough
Love Bites
Bringin’ On the Heartbreak
Switch 625
Hysteria
Pour Some Sugar on Me

Encore
Rock of Ages
Photograph

Journey

Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)
Only the Young
Escape
Stone in Love
Be Good to Yourself
*guitar wankery*
Lights
Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’
*keyboard wankery*
Who’s Crying Now
Open Arms
La Do Da
*drum wankery*
Anyway You Want It
*more guitar wankery*
Liberty
*MORE guitar wankery*
Wheel in the Sky
Faithfully
Don’t Stop Believin’

The crowd: The black concert T-shirt is alive and well. The (fairly drunk) crowd contained all sorts of them, but Def Leppard had the market cornered tonight.

Overheard in the crowd: Beer vendor inspecting a can of Def Leppard-branded brew: “They’ll put their name on anything. Shit ain’t nothing but Budweiser.”

Random notebook dump: Is that fan’s Steve Perry T-shirt a form of protest? #neverforget