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Jukebox heroes pack Xcel Center like it's 1983
July 29, 2011

Blame it on Tony Soprano, Rachel and Finn, and the Twins bullpen.

Like the custard inside the eclair, Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" was the gooey centerpiece in Thursday's fluffy Xcel Energy Center show with fellow power-ballad heroes Foreigner and Night Ranger. Released back in 1981 -and seemingly left for dead alongside souped-up Ford Pintos and giant jean-pocket combs -the song recently resurfaced in "The Sopranos" finale, then in "Glee." Now, Target Field plays it whenever things aren't going well. So yeah, we locals have heard it a lot.

The "Believin'" revival had to be the main reason for the mass turnout at Thursday's concert in St. Paul, despite the calendar reading 2011. Despite tickets topping out at $125. Even despite the glaring absence of the original singers in two of the three groups (only Night Ranger has its same guys).

The four-hour show drew an upper-deck-filling crowd of 13,563, including 13 or 14 people under the age of 40. They all had to wait till the end to hear "Believin'." It arrived with the loudest shriek this side of a Justin Bieber concert (except in this case, men contributed). Things got downright religious from there, so much so that the confetti guns at the end could have been mistaken for people's heads blowing apart.

The concert was loaded with hug-your-neighbor moments, though.

Perhaps making up for their lack of original frontmen, Journey and Foreigner played their dinosaur tracks as if the goal was to sound exactly like the records. Journey's 80-minute set opened with the perfectly rolled thunder of "Separate Ways" and ended with the perfect one-song singalong encore, "Any Way You Want It." The mid-show highlight "Stone in Love" -with its shout-out to summer nights and guitarist Neal Schon's precise solo -was almost too perfect.

Journey's peppy new singer, Arnel Pineda, whom the band discovered in the Philippines via YouTube, truly is a wonder. As in, you wonder: How can one other human being sound so much like ex-singer Steve Perry? And how much does he get paid for being the most crucial hired-gun in classic-rock?

Foreigner's Kelly Hansen also hit most of his predecessor Lou Gramm's notes and strutted across the stage as if he's the star of the group -never mind stiff founding guitarist Mick Jones, 66. Equally stiff were the band's video backdrops of ocean sunsets (for "I've Been Waiting for a Girl Like You") and cheap, "Guitar Hero"-styled videogame graphics ("Juke Box Hero").

Props should go to Hansen for the most unintentionally funny introduction of the show: Before the mercilessly repetitious "I Want to Know What Love Is," he urged, "Sing along to this one. It's not hard."

Also easy: Can you guess if the crowd did as he said?