There might be an inherent nostalgia in a concert featuring Tower of Power, Journey, and the Steve Miller Band; the heydays are well in the past, the casual fan familiar only with the monster hits. That’s fine — it’d be tough to sell it otherwise — but what gets lost in all of that is the craftsmanship. Sure, the hits were made years ago, but these groups have persisted for a reason.
And that reason is that all three are composed of excellent musicians. Due to an alarming number of accidents on the I-95, I missed Tower of Power’s set, and for that I apologize. Surely the complete experience of the show was to capture all three together, given that they all germinated in the same Bay Area scene.
Steve Miller is 71 years old, and it's a credit to him that he brings tons of energy to his playing, and his vocals, though a bit aged, have the necessary animation and inflection that his songs need. Sometimes it’s easy to forget the sheer amount of hits he's penned that have permeated popular culture.
For a concert showcase like this, the sure bet is that the set list will favor the audience. And Miller did not disappoint in that, even if he remained a fixture at his microphone stand – a forgivable point; the man’s schedule and age should allow for a chair too if he so damned pleases.
One of the strengths of his band is Joseph Wooten on keys, himself from a distinguished musical family that features Roy and Victor Wooten of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones fame. Miller is an excellent guitarist, and his set allowed his talents fly (see what I did there?) while respecting the contributions of his band. “The Joker,” “Fly Like an Eagle,” and “Rock’n Me” fired out in succession, and the crowd responded in earnest before he closed out his part of the night with “Jet Airliner.” That old hippie ethos of “love, peace and happiness… take care of each other” was fitting given the Bay Area reunion feel of the tour.
Coheadliner Journey took the stage shortly after. While its set proved to be generated to please the crowd, I’ve now had the pleasure of interviewing Deen Castronovo and Jonathan Cain and know that the band enjoys catering to its fans while being fully aware that the hit-making days are behind it. This does not detract from the performances, but it was indicative that in comparison to past shows in South Florida, last night’s had a little more heaviness and muscularity while retaining the pop balladry the band is known for.
Singer Arnel Pineda was almost unrecognizable with his stylized Mohawk and excruciatingly hip clothing – if he had thrown a hoodie on, he could’ve been dressing up as Justin Bieber. Regardless, Pineda’s energy and chutzpah as the man hired to replace, and to a certain degree emulate, Steve Perry belied his 47 years of age as he jumped, whirled, and entertained the crowd. While I first thought his vocals were suffering from his onstage antics, it was more than likely a combination of microphone technique and Neal Schon’s aggressive ax-wielding. While Schon is undoubtedly a dynamo, he does tend to be a little loud and louder than the rest of the band.
Drummer Castronovo and bassist Ross Valory helmed the rhythm with precision and a bit of flair, compliments of Castronovo’s powerhouse drumming. His versatility on the kit has been an asset to the band since he joined, and his vocals on “Mother, Father” were spot-on. Keyboardist and rhythm guitarist Jonathan Cain explained to me last week that this tour’s keyboard solo, a live highlight, would be a medley of their ballads and that “if people throw stuff at me, I'll stop. But you know, let's see what happens.” Nothing was thrown, and the Coral Sky crowd was appreciative.
It’s not a Journey show without “Open Arms,” “Lights,” “Faithfully,” and “Don’t Stop Believin’,” which the band performed with aplomb and gusto before closing out with an extended sing-along version of “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’” to a happy crowd. Hell, there was even a lighter or two flicked on for good measure in a vast sea of cell phones capturing the band.
Do tours like this cash in on past success? Sure. But as long as the bands perform their songs with respect for their fans, it’s OK. Doubly so if they perform them with an energy that indicates they, as musicians, are still excited to play them live. Both bands did just that.