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New singer and old hits prove a perfect match for Journey's sold-out Blossom show
by John Soeder -
September 07, 2008

Blossom Music Center
Sept. 6, 2008

If you closed your eyes, it was easy to picture Steve Perry up there.

Then again, you also could imagine him somewhere far away from the spotlight, bitterly cursing his fate. Who knew the machinations of that ever-turning wheel in the sky could be so cruel?

Journey's estranged singer wasn't missed when the resurgent pop-rock quintet from San Francisco headlined a sold-out concert Saturday night at Blossom Music Center. A quarter-century after their Top 40 heyday, these guys have made a remarkable comeback, with lead vocals now handled by Filipino native Arnel Pineda. Uncannily, he sounded more like Perry than Perry himself.

Pineda, 41, got the job last year, after guitarist Neil Schon came across clips of Pineda crooning old Journey songs on -- where else? -- YouTube.

At Blossom, a huge video screen flashed a live feed of Pineda, Schon, keyboardist-guitarist Jonathan Cain, bass player Ross Valory and drummer Deen Castronovo hamming it up en route to the stage for their opening number, "Never Walk Away," an uptempo declaration of purpose off their new "Revelation" album.

A couple of other new songs, "After All These Years" and "Change for the Better," were politely received. But it was "Send Her My Love," "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)," "Any Way You Want It" and other selections from the dusty soundtracks to countless high-school romances in the late 1970s and early 1980s that really got the audience going.

After Perry's departure in 1998, Journey soldiered on with other replacement singers, although none as effective as Pineda. He didn't even attempt to put his own stamp on the classic material. Instead, he eerily and effortlessly re-created Perry's over-the-top inflections and phrasing, note for note.

In the process, Pineda thoroughly enjoyed himself, too.

"I'm actually having a great time right now," he said before the band eased into "Lights," a mellow, harmony-laden holdover from the 1978 album "Infinity."

As if we didn't notice. Fan-turned-frontman Pineda exuded pinch-me-I'm-dreaming glee, exchanging high-fives with concertgoers, executing scissor kicks in mid-air and doing a euphoric jig during "Wheel in the Sky."

In the middle of the set, Journey brought out the big guns. Amid the power-ballad trifecta of "Open Arms," the immortal "Don't Stop Believin'" and "Faithfully," middle-aged women and men found themselves overcome by a sudden urge to squeeze back into yesteryear's prom dresses and rental tuxedos.

With classic-rock stalwarts Heart (whose Ann Wilson can still belt out a tune with the best of 'em) and Cheap Trick (Robin Zander, not so much) also on the bill, the nostalgia was knee-deep.

By the time Journey capped its 90-minute performance with "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'" -- perhaps not coincidentally, a song about finding comfort in the arms of another, with a "na-na-na-na-na" singalong to boot -- all that remained was a single burning question:

Steve who?

SET LIST: "Never Walk Away," "Only the Young," "Stone in Love," "Ask the Lonely," "Send Her My Love," "After All These Years," "Change for the Better," "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)," "Lights," "Open Arms," "Don't Stop Believin'," "Faithfully," "Chain Reaction," "Escape," "Wheel in the Sky," "Any Way You Want It," "Be Good to Yourself"

ENCORE: "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'"

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