Hard Rock Live, Hollywood
June 28, 2013
In the past, some of my colleagues have pigeonholed the long-running American rock and roll act, Journey as a bit of esoteric Americana in the realm of kabuki karaoke theatrics. I did not grow up with Journey as a household name. Far from it. Aside from their monster hits in the '80s, I'm part of the cadre of fans that associates the band with The Sopranos.
But given the public nature of the internet, and the fact that these words of mine can be tracked and minced, I'll come clean. Leading up to the kick-off of their second leg of their three year tour, I had the pleasure of interviewing their drummer, Deen Castronovo, and the overall impression that I got was that these guys are, in the end, true musicians who believe in their craft.
Journey might not be churning out the million dollar singles anymore. That's OK. This is a band that understands their fan base, a band that will cater to their demands but is unafraid to throw in a few curveballs when needed. I must reiterate the obvious, if I wasn't a fan before seeing them perform at Hard Rock Live this Friday, I am now. Solidly so.
I will not even entertain the idea that there is a problem with Arnel Pineda singing in Journey. Steve Perry had his moment in the sun. Did he set a high bar for those who followed? Indeed! But that's not the point; Perry was not Journey's original singer, that was Santana's wingman Greg Rollie back in '73. Do I understand America's love affair with Perry?
Of course, I do!
A handsome and talented man he was and is! I'm only spouting this now, because even after all these years, Arnel is still questioned. Yes, he is not Steve Perry, but his vocal range is excellent, his rags to riches YouTube story aside. Arnel stepped in and there is no denying him. Opening with "Separate Ways," it became apparent that we were all in the Arnel show. All toothy smiles and energetic posturing throughout the stage; high-fiving fans in the front row and posing for photographs; a born leader.
He did not wear the signature leopard-print sleeveless tee, but, good grief, if he did he not earn his keep by sweating through an energetic set! The point is that Arnel might recreate a lot of the signature Journey tunes fans are accustomed to, but he brings his own to them in a refreshing and joyous manner.
Deen spoke of clichés in our interview, but after witnessing the band gelling live, the notions of absurdity are cast aside. Does Neal Schon have a burgeoning cult of personality? When all cameras are on him, one might be inclined to think so, but it is not so! As the only continuous member since inception, he has earned his right in the spotlight. It helps that he is also a pretty righteous guitar player.
Not only is he the only continuous member since inception, he was also the only band member who performed the entire evening; one could say he further callused his fingertips so that the other guys could catch a breather. Schon treated the crowd to a rocking rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" that could've been interpreted as Van Halen's "Eruption" meets Jimi Hendrix.
The band clearly pandered to the fans on this first night of two shows, following the opener with the one-two punch of "Anyway You Want It" and "Who's Crying Now" before easing it with "Only the Young." Which brings me to my one and only point of contention; again, I am not a longtime fan, I'm "newerish" so I was kind of expecting them to play their latest single "City of Hope" which they did not do. It's a shame that can only be corrected on the road. It's a straight rocker showcasing Arnel's natural range, Castronovo's hard-edged drumming and the all-knowing rhythm section of unsung heroes Ross Valory and keyboardist Jonathan Cain.
Speaking of Cain... Did that mother come down from the keys turret and hold down on the rhythm guitar? Yes, he did! He even threw down a harmonica piece during "Wheel in the Sky" that was, simply put, awesome.
I'm bordering on "musical journalist" gibberish, so here's a set list created to the best of my hand-clapping abilities, noting of course, that the band dedicated "Don't Stop Believin'" to the late, great James Gandolfini:
"Any Way You Want It"
"Who's Crying Now?"
"Only the Young"
"Stone In Love"
"Wheel in the Sky"
"Don't Stop Believin'"
"Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin'"
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