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Concert review: Journey and the Doobie Brothers are a San Francisco treat
by Scott Mervis - Pittsburgh Post Gazette
July 25, 2016

Having faltered early on as a jazz-rock fusion band, Journey hit on a formula in the late '70s of elegant power ballads that get people's arms waving.

Thirty years later, it's still working like a charm.

The band headlined the San Francisco Fest 2016 Tour Saturday at the First Niagara Pavilion before 12,500 with Bay Area buds The Doobie Brothers, just three days after Dead & Company proudly represented that city's psychedelic scene there.

San Fran also being famous for traffic (work with me here), they brought along famed British rocker Dave Mason, who launched his career in the '60s in the band of that name. In a seven-song set of FM staples, Mason did four songs from Traffic, including two, a guitar-driven 'Low Spark of High Heeled Boys' and 'Rock and Roll Stew,' from the era after he left the group. 'Dear Mr. Fantasy' (which will also be sung by its original singer Steve Winwood at the venue Sunday) featured Patrick Simmons from the Doobies and then Mason got double-bass action on 'Feelin' Alright' by adding Journey's Ross Valery. He gave props on that to the late Joe Cocker, who 'took my old song and made it a classic.'

With his voice and guitar chops very much intact at 70, Mason did his 1977 acoustic hit 'We Just Disagree,' a song that speaks poignantly to today's world ('that's as sensitive as I'm gonna get,' he said) and, having played on the session with Jimi Hendrix, he closed with a stormy 'All Along the Watchtower' (also played by the Dead the other night). That's it for those connections. I promise.

On this same day in 1978 (I saw the poster on Facebook yesterday) the Doobie Brothers headlined The Mississippi River Jam with Journey and Van Halen both in the undercard. The Doobies were one of the biggest bands on the planet at the time, having evolved from a hit-making boogie-rock outfit into an even bigger, smoother hit-maker with the addition of the soulful Michael McDonald in 1976.

He went solo in 1982, so the only song in the set from his tenure was the essential 'Takin' it to the Streets,' sung by Simmons with bassist John Cowan soaring on the high chorus. McDonald, incidentally, is replaced now by another famed keyboardist, the great Bill Payne, of Little Feat, who had his moments as well.

The Doobie Brothers, led by Simmons and Tom Johnston, revealed themselves as a vocal harmony powerhouse, opening the 70-minute set with 'Jesus Is Just Alright,' the first of nine of the 11 songs from 'Best of the Doobies' (if you're young and don't have it, go stream it). As usual with the Doobies, there were a lot of biker shirts in the crowd, worn by folks who came for songs like 'Rockin' Down the Highway' and 'Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While).'

To keep making it complete greatest hits set, the Doobies placed four less familiar songs in the creamy middle of the set, including the 'Clear as the Driven Snow,' a heavy jam from 1973, and the country-bluegrass ramble 'Spirit.'

Everyone and their daughter was singing along to 'Black Water' -- how could you not? -- followed by 'Long Train Runnin',' during which Marc Russo killed my '70s nostalgia buzz by blowing sax all over it, making it sound like the SNL band version of the song. Fortunately, he backed off on and let the guitars chug and churn for the jubilant climax of 'China Grove,' 'Without You' and 'Listen to the Music.' Verdict: The Doobies still rule.

Journey has an impressive high-pitched, one-two punch from guitar shredder Neal Schon and vocal siren Arnel Pineda, a YouTube talent from the Philippines now in his 10th year with Journey. He is the band's sixth singer and the third since Steve Perry, the voice on all the hits, departed in 1998. At 48, Pineda looks like a kid in a boy band and stays in constant motion, criss-crossing the stage without missing a vocal beat.

The rest of Journey goes way back, with founding members Schon and Valory, drummer Steve Smith (1978-) and keyboardist Jonathan Cain (1980-), so these guys are a locked-in-tight unit. Journey turned SF Fest into a more slick, modern-looking rock show with bright screens, flashing lights and booming sound.

Schon, injecting every song with muscle and a fiery solo, provided extra guitar pyrotechnics on a clean, patriotic 'Star Spangled Banner,' played to images of the flag and fireworks, and he souped up 'Stone in Love' to make it sound almost like AC/DC.

They mixed such forceful rockers as 'Separate Ways (Worlds Apart),' 'Any Way You Want It' and 'Wheel in the Sky' with the big arm-swaying faves like 'Lights' (with cellphones all lit up), 'Open Arms' and 'Who's Crying Now.' Saying of musicians 'We all pay the price for the road life we live,' Schon also dedicated an emotional 'Faithfully' to the troops.

'Don't Stop Believin',' the 1981 song that re-sparked Journey after Tony Soprano played it on the jukebox in 2007, was the jubilant sing-along you would expect, complete with Pineda in a Sidney Crosby jersey. And no one went home until they got to join him on the 'na na na na na's' of 'Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin',' ending with another furious Journey jam.

Scott Mervis:; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg Journey Set List

Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)

Be Good to Yourself

Only the Young

The Star-Spangled Banner

Stone in Love

Any Way You Want It


Open Arms

Who's Crying Now


La Do Da

Wheel in the Sky


Don't Stop Believin'


Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'

Doobie Brothers Set List

Jesus Is Just Alright

Rockin' Down the Highway

Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)

Another Park, Another Sunday

Sweet Maxine

Eyes of Silver


Clear as the Driven Snow

Takin' It to the Streets

The Doctor

Black Water

Long Train Runnin'

China Grove


Without You

Listen to the Music

Dave Mason Set List

Only You Know and I Know

Rock and Roll Stew

The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys

We Just Disagree

Dear Mr. Fantasy

Feelin' Alright

All Along the Watchtower

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