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Journey delivered a short but crowd-pleasing set at the New Orleans Arena
by Keith Spera - The Times-Picayune
September 13, 2011

The only rock band to fill the New Orleans Arena twice in two years is Journey. Journey's enduring popularity, despite a lead singer shuffle that has finally stabilized with Filipino-born Arnel Pineda, defies pop music convention. At this point, they should be working the casino circuit.

Journey frontman Arnel Pineda sported a Drew Brees jersey during the band's Saturday concert at the New Orleans Arena. Instead, they still draw upwards of 12,000 people a night in arenas. If Steve Perry, the voice behind the band's best known songs, were to come out of retirement - about as likely as an original Beatles reunion - Journey could headline stadiums.

Even though English is not his first language, Pineda's high tenor is eerily similar to Perry's. To fans who came of age in the 1980s, when Journey was omnipresent on rock and pop radio, the anthems and ballads are so deeply ingrained that it seemingly matters little who actually sings them.

To walk into the New Orleans Arena on Saturday night was to attend a mass '80s high school reunion. This impression was driven home when a woman seated five rows behind me introduced herself prior to Journey's set. She was Brother Martin High School's homecoming queen in the fall of 1984 - my senior year. I hadn't seen her since, well, 1984. And yet there she was, at Journey. Journey got to work immediately with "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)." The song suits the aggressive attack of drummer Deen Castronovo, a Journey regular since 1998. Three members remain from the band's '80s heyday: Founding guitarist Neal Schon, original bassist Ross Valory - whose contributions were largely inaudible in a sound mix that favored the high end - and keyboardist Jonathan Cain, who joined for the band's landmark 1981 release "Escape."

In 2009 at the New Orleans Arena, Journey appeared on a completely unadorned stage, without so much as a simple video screen. This time around, an array of small and larger screens flashed album covers and additional footage. Not including any sort of video montage acknowledgment of the band's history and the former members who helped build its legacy felt like a missed opportunity.

Pineda's English is limited. Thus, it fell to Cain to fill in much of the between-song banter. He saluted the Who Dat Nation and veteran concert promoter Don Fox, whose Beaver Productions promoted Saturday's show. Later, Pineda turned up in a Drew Brees jersey, and distributed Mardi Gras beads.

The recent "Eclipse" is the first Journey album to feature writing contributions from Pineda. The mid-tempo "City of Hope" sounded like a descendant of "Separate Ways." Some fans down front sang "City of Hope" with gusto, as screens displayed footage of the musicians mingling with residents of Pineda's native Philippines.

But for the vast majority in attendance, it was all about the classics.

Of these, the most unexpected was "La Do Da," a cut from 1978's "Infinity" that also appeared on the '81 concert album "Captured." Cain contributed second guitar to "Stone in Love" while the underrated Schon stepped up front to smoke the solo. Schon also shredded in the new "Edge of the Moment."

"Faithfully" and "Open Arms" supplied slow-dance nostalgia. "Lights" inspired singing and swaying along even up in the cheap seats. Cain goosed "Wheel in the Sky" with a harmonica solo as Pineda sprinted around the arena floor and Castronovo thundered. "Any Way You Want It" was, as usual, a hoot. "Don't Stop Believin," reportedly the top-selling "catalog" song of all time on iTunes, and a final, confetti-drenched "Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin" closed off the night.

By my count, Journey's set encompassed 15 songs spread over 80 minutes. Given the band's deep backlog of material, that felt too short. The meatier, more satisfying 2009 show was closer to 20 songs.

On that tour, Night Ranger was the lone opening act. This time around, the bill included both Night Ranger and the current incarnation of Foreigner. Journey apparently shortened its set to accommodate this third act on the bill.

Whether that trade-off was worth it is open to debate. Legalities and commercial considerations aside, I believe that if a group of musicians is going to tour under a legacy band name, at least some of those musicians should have been involved in the creation of the music for which the band is best known. Otherwise, they are essentially a tribute band that happens to have rights to the name.

The only remaining original member of Foreigner is founding guitarist Mick Jones. Unfortunately, he has missed multiple dates on the current tour, including New Orleans, reportedly due to illness. Night Ranger's Joel Hoekstra - himself a latter-day replacement in that band - filled in for Jones.

At least one group of fans who purchased premium VIP tickets to a pre-show "meet and greet" photo op with Foreigner was disappointed that Jones was not on hand. As they should have been.

One person who unquestionably got his money's worth and more on Saturday was 12-year-old Connor Finney. On the current tour, Schon has occasionally given away the hand-decorated Paul Reed Smith guitar he deploys during "Any Way You Want It." Finney, an aspiring guitarist who attended Saturday's show with his mother, happened to make his way to the front barricade just as Schon was searching for a worthy recipient. He spotted Finney and signaled a security guard; Finney was subsequently brought onstage, where Schon presented him with the guitar.

It was a generous gesture on Schon's part. Next time around, here's hoping Journey is just as generous with the set list.

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