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New singer, songs keep Journey fans believin'
by Doug Fox - Daily Herald
July 11, 2008

Members of the rock band Journey jokingly refer to their cadre of hit songs as "the Dirty Dozen." Judging by fan reaction to new Journey material at a packed-to-the-hills USANA Amphitheatre performance on Friday, however, it might be time to expand that reference to, say, "the Sweet 16."

Journey hit the stage with a new lead singer and a new album -- and the band did not shy away from showcasing either. The result was a reinvigorated live performance, as the band pulsated with noticeably more stage energy than was evident in its past several tours -- which, it should be pointed out, were no ho-hum efforts in and of themselves.

New lead singer Arnel Pineda is truly a marvel. Pineda worked the stage like a man possessed -- whether he was doing split-leg jumps off the drum riser or leading the soldout crowd in massive sing-alongs, the new guy in the lineup was constantly in motion and seemingly in command of the live show.

Between vocals, Pineda often could be seen on the big screen sporting the grin of someone who might just have won the lottery -- and, indeed, that's probably exactly how he felt looking out at 20,000 fans, many of them singing the words to every song in the 1-hour, 20-minute set right back at him. That's because it wasn't too long ago that the once-homeless Pineda was playing in a covers band in the Philippines to audiences numbered in the tens before Journey guitarist Neal Schon discovered him on YouTube and knew he had found his band's new vocalist.

While I was not surprised by Pineda's vocal abilities -- which are in clear evidence on Journey's new three-disc CD/DVD package, "Revelation" -- I was a bit taken back by his amped-up stage presence. His comfort level in performing before big crowds has already improved by leaps and bounds from the in-concert DVD included in "Revelation," which was recorded in March in Las Vegas. The USANA show was only the second stop on the band's current U.S. tour, so Pineda's got great upside potential as well.

And, of course, Pineda, the 16th member of the Journey fraternity for those scoring at home, sounds uncannily like former vocalist Steve Perry -- something the band obviously desired. Audience members who closed their eyes and simply listened to the vocals Friday would be hard-pressed to notice any difference in sound from Perry's famed vocals of glory days gone by.

While Pineda was indeed the evening's true "Revelation," there were no surprises in Schon's guitar talents. The man can flat-out play -- it's no wonder he was tapped to join Carlos Santana's band at the age of 15, before splitting off with Santana keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rolie to first form Journey in 1973. Schon's in-song solos typically display an infectious melody line which escalates into a lightning-fast finger display on the fretboard -- something that translates well in a live setting.

Bassist Ross Valory is the only other original member of the band remaining -- and he is joined by keyboardist Jonathan Cain (who replaced Rolie in time for 1981's huge "Escape" album and has subsequently helped pen many of the band's biggest hits) and drummer Deen Castronovo (who signed on in 1998). As a full unit, this band is tight, confidently ripping through staples of Journey's back catalog with sizzling renditions of upbeat songs like "Stone in Love," "Ask the Lonely," "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)," "Don't Stop Believin'," "Wheel in the Sky" and "Be Good to Yourself."

The band also is still capable of delivering the occasional power ballad as well, as evidenced by "Send Her My Love" and "Open Arms." The latter song opened with Cain and Pineda doing a piano/vocal duet. Even Cain couldn't suppress a genuine moment of joy over Pineda's vocals, as he was seen on the big screen offering a clearly spontaneous smile after the new singer completed one of his lines.

Unlike some classic bands, which pay lots of lip service to a current album but then only have the confidence to put one new song -- or fewer -- into the setlist, Journey brazenly shoved in four.

And they all worked.

From the catchy opener of "Never Walk Away" to the balladry of "After All These Years," and the melodic rockers "Change for the Better" and "Wildest Dream," Journey was in familiar musical territory -- and the fans willingly came along for the ride, standing, singing and clapping along on cue as if the songs were original members of "the Dirty Dozen."

And, clearly, that's a "Revelation" worth noting.

The other feel-good discovery of the night was hearing Heart's Ann Wilson belt out her band's classic songs like she was still in her 20s. Whether being subdued ("Dog and Butterfly") or boisterous ("Barracuda") Wilson's voice was tremendous.

But it was never better than on a stripped-down version of "Alone," which featured only Wilson, her sister Nancy on acoustic guitar and keyboardist Debbie Shair. Ann Wilson sang well under a few higher notes during the first chorus, which caused me to wonder if, indeed, she could still reach them. Later in the song, though, she seemingly went to those notes and beyond in a powerful display that was in sharp contrast to the earlier restrained take on the tune. The crowd noticed and roared its approval.

Heart also stood out on the hits "Kick It Out," "Magic Man," "Straight On," "Crazy on You" and "These Dreams," the latter featuring Nancy Wilson on lead vocals.

A welcome surprise was the band's take on Led Zeppelin's "Going to California," which sounded quite good and was a great addition to Heart's hour-long set.

Cheap Trick opened the triple bill, reportedly playing 11 songs in 50 minutes, including "I Want You to Want Me," "Dream Police" and "Surrender." I say reportedly because traffic leading up to USANA Amphitheatre was more stop than go, and I -- along with thousands of others crawling toward the venue-- missed the band's set. When it takes 90 minutes to go from the I-215 exit at 4700 South to the USANA parking lot less than 5 miles away ... a different plan is needed.SClBSClBJourney

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