Journey / Photo: Clayton Taylor Photography
We knew the name before the first note of the sold-out show was played. We knew what would happen, and we knew to save some of our vocal chords for the finale.
We’re talking about “Don’t Stop Believin’,” the power ballad of all power ballads, the engine that motivates an entire legion of fans and perhaps the band itself.
Because, what else better summarizes the Journey live experience, a relatively modest onstage production with outsized results? Any search for answers takes us right back to where we started – “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
Few songs have enjoyed a second (or third or fourth) trip through the spotlight as strongly or pervasively as the band’s 1981 hit. It charted upon its release, then resurfaced on the charts in the last decade courtesy of prominent roles in several pop culture staples almost simultaneously. The song closed out the final episode of “The Sopranos,” found new, younger fans via the TV musical series “Glee” and also served as the finale for the Broadway-turned-big screen musical “Rock of Ages.” We’re not talking about a song here, we’re talking about a cultural phenomenon.
Next at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion
Who: Kenny Chesney’s “Spread the Love” tour
When: 7:30 p.m. June 2
Where: Arkansas Music Pavilion, Rogers
Cost: Starting at $60
Tickets: Call 479-443-5600 or visit arkansasmusicpavilion.com for information.
For better or worse, the AMP has a decade-long history of bringing classic rock acts to Northwest Arkansas. But recent larger-scale productions from artists such as Chicago or the Steve Miller Band did not match the reaction to Journey. Those shows in particular were well attended. But they certainly weren’t sold out weeks in advance like Journey was. And they don’t often fill arenas, like Journey did a few nights ago in Kansas City, Missouri.
“Don’t Stop Believin'” is also the tale of the band’s new frontman, Arnel Pineda. The pint-sized dynamo performed in a classic rock cover band in his native Philippines until members of Journey found a clip of him on YouTube and whisked him away for audition, then an international tour. That kind of rags to riches tale rarely happens, especially so swiftly, but it can if you keep believing. (Sorry for that one.)
Pineda is the spark plug for Journey, whirling around on the stage, jumping in the air and changing costumes. The remaining members of Journey are surprisingly intact from their 1980s heyday. The current band is basically everyone you heard in 1981 minus vocalist Steve Perry. Pineda is a pretty good facsimile of Perry, vocally speaking. Of particular note from the band is Neal Schon, founding guitarist and songwriter. His guitar tone, generated primarily from a black Les Paul, has to be one of the cleanest and most pure sounds in rock ‘n’ roll.
Tom Johnston / Photo: Clayton Taylor Photography
I could go through the setlist line by line, but that’s not what you came to this review to read. It’s not what the crowd came to the AMP to see, either. They came to hear the monster hits, particularly “Don’t Stop Believin.'” The difference between the reactions to lesser known songs and radio hits such as “Don’t Stop Believin'” and “Lights” was tremendous. The crowd obliged during album cuts. They sang their heart out on the big hits.
Speaking of hits, The Doobie Brothers shared the bill with Journey for a tour packaged called “San Francisco Fest.” The Doobies were second on the bill, but really functioned more as co-headliners. They played for nearly as long as Journey, and they played roughly the same number of songs.
There’s quite a bit of the core group of The Doobie Brothers still active, too, particularly guitarists Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons. Johnston, by the way, has one of the best mustaches in rock ‘n’ roll, which means he has one of the best mustaches in the world. He led the band both vocally and on guitar, but often turned over the microphone to another member, like Simmons, who had the floor for one of the night’s highlights, the backwoods stomper of a song called “Black Water.” Bass player John Cowan, a notable vocalist in his own right, also took over more than once, including on the band’s Michael McDonald-era song “Takin’ it to the Streets.” A brief aside: McDonald, now 30 years removed from his tenure in The Doobie Brothers, will perform at the AMP later this summer. Funny how those things work.
The Doobies likewise had a pronounced disconnect between their album cuts and hits. The crowd was not in the mood to humor a band for playing something that wasn’t on the radio three times a day, particularly nearing bedtime on a work night. This was, despite Journey’s recent re-entry into popular culture, very much a classic-rock aged crowd. But those in attendance didn’t stop believing, not once, that they’d hear the song or two they came to hear.
And on that promise, the bands delivered note for note.
A note about the opener
British songwriter Dave Mason got invited along for the “San Francisco Fest” tour because he lives in California now, I guess. But geography and tour-packaging gimmicks have no relationship to his guitar playing. Mason helped found psychedelic rockers Traffic and later had a country-esque solo hit with “We Just Disagree.” He’s morphed into an grumpy grandfather kind of blues musician and I have to say I like it. He played “We Just Disagree” and his other big hit, “Feelin’ Alright,” later made even more popular by Joe Cocker.