Iconic band continues to fill stadiums on tour for its 50th anniversary

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In the opening seconds of Journey’s 50th anniversary show at the Saddledome on Thursday, there was a brief moment when guitarist Neal Schon was alone in the spotlight.

It didn’t last long. Schon played a few notes of a slow intro before the rest of the band joined in and singer Arnel Pineda jumped on stage to sing the set opener Only the Young. But it was a fitting tribute since Schon is the only Journey member to have been in the band for all 50 years and one of only two, the other being keyboardist Jonathan Cain, who was there during the band’s heyday led by Steve Perry in the 1980s.

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Not that it really mattered. On Thursday night, the band delivered a jukebox set that found them faithfully playing hit after hit, most of it sung by Pineda in an eerily accurate facsimile of Perry’s thunderous howl. Now, 16 years into his tenure with the classic rock group, the vocalist has been imitating Steve Perry for longer than Steve Perry sang in Journey. All of which lent a pleasant familiarity to the procedure. Tight musicianship, minimal chatter between songs, and relatively simple stage and lighting design created an enjoyable show in an old-school stadium. The biggest, and perhaps only, surprise of the night was that the band sneaked in Don’t Stop Believin’, arguably their most famous song, so early in their set.

Before long, the crowd was gently swaying to the familiar tunes of Lights, Send Her My Love and Who’s Crying Now.

Like his predecessor, Pineda is at his best when delivering soaring versions of Perry-era weepy ballads like Open Arms and Faithfully. Since Schon and Cain were the longest-serving members, both were also given time to show off their virtuosity. That included a beautifully played piano solo by Cain, although he seemed to have a lot more fun when he played one hell of a boogie-woogie outro to Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’. Schon, a busy but melodic hard rock musician, also had two opportunities to show off his skills, including a crowd-pleasing rendition of our national anthem. But he really shined on two of the darker tracks: a searing, riff-heavy version of 1981’s Dead or Alive and a searing version of the surprisingly fast and heavy 2022 single Let It Rain.

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That was the only song the band played from their new album, Freedom. It may be called the Freedom tour, but it’s actually the “no surprises” tour.

In that sense, Journey couldn’t have found a more appropriate opener than Toto, a band of session musicians who found great success on radio in the early 1980s with radio hits like Africa and Rosanna. The familiar crisp guitar lines and angelic choir-like harmonies on openers Girl Goodbye and Hold The Line set a nostalgic tone from the start. As with the headliners, Toto only features one original member as a touring unit, guitarist Steve Lukather. But the band’s harmonies were comfortably handled by the backing band and tambourine player Joseph Williams, who sang with the band in the 1980s and rejoined in the early 2000s.

The audience had to sit through some mid-serious ballads and a cruise band cover of The Beatles, I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends, before being rewarded with endless takes and sing-alongs. Rosana and Africa.

It’s interesting to wonder why Journey is still filling stadiums today instead of hitting the oldies circuit with REO Speedwagon, Styx, Loverboy, Kansas and other groups that rock critics used to dismissively dismiss as faceless corporate rockers. Journey certainly received a boost when its songs were used in the television series Glee and after Don’t Stop Believin’ was used to soundtrack Tony Soprano’s ambiguous fate in the 2007 finale of The Sopranos.

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But it may simply be due to the large number of visits they had over the years. Even for those of us old enough to remember the band’s dominance on rock radio, it’s easy to forget how many radio hooks Journey created… Which is all that matters for bands that trade in nostalgia, including those that They do it in full stadiums. Neither Journey nor his aforementioned “faceless” brothers had outsized personalities. While Steve Perry had a somewhat distinctive voice and his disappearing act in the 1990s made him an enigma, he was no Freddie Mercury. Hell, it wasn’t even Meat Loaf. In fact, both drummer Deen Castronovo and keyboardist Jason Derlatka were able to reasonably duplicate Perry’s excessively elastic emotion on Thursday night when they sang on Mother, Father and Girl Can’t Help it, respectively. It’s the song, not the singer. Judging by the enthusiastic response and nearly sold-out numbers at the Saddledome, fans will be pleased as long as Journey continues to pump out their hits.

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