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Concert review: Phoenix crowd greets Journey with open arms

Journey in concert, May 18, 2014, Phoenix, AZ
Journey in concert, May 18, 2014, Phoenix, AZBecky Hansen

Journey in concert, May 18, 2014, Phoenix, AZ

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One of the wonderful attributes of music is the ability of a song to evoke memories of a certain moment an individual’s life. If you’re a fan of the group Journey, there’s a great possibility that at least one of their songs will take you back to an unforgettable moment in time. Sunday night, May 18, 2014 at the Ak-Chin Pavilion in Phoenix, there might have been over 20,000 memories being so stirred as Journey kept their faithful standing, clapping, singing and waving their arms. There might have even been some new memories formed as well.

Journey in concert, May 18, 2014, Phoenix, AZ
Journey in concert, May 18, 2014, Phoenix, AZBecky Hansen

Some may have remembered a special moment with their loved one when hearing “Open Arms.” Others might have remembered a painful breakup during “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart).” And a few might have remembered Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield’s character in “Caddyshack”) as he waited to take a golf shot, opening up his golf bag and saying, “So what? So let’s dance!” while cranking up “Any Way You Want It."

Journey was the final act of the San Francisco Fest, a night which also included performances by two other bands that hail from the Bay Area, The Steve Miller Band and Tower of Power. As receptive as the crowd was for those groups, it was Journey who the majority came to see. What they saw was a dynamic ninety five minute set which reminded the crowd of not only Journey’s hit making ability, but also that the members that comprise Journey are first class musicians as well.

It all starts with guitarist Neal Schon, the only member of Journey who has been on every album they have released. Once again he presented his guitar mastery, blazing through brief solo after solo on each song with jaw dropping speed. His work is often overlooked because Journey is thought of as a ballad band and not as a “credible,” hard rock band. Listen to most tracks off of Journey’s 2011 release “Eclipse” and those not familiar with Schon’s work might come away with a more positive attitude of Schon’s ability.

But Schon isn’t the only one at the top of his craft. Drummer Deen Castronovo showed no mercy on his drum kit with an assault that drove the Journey hits forward. He’s also a great vocalist, doing a more than admirable job on “Mother, Father.”

Keyboardist and sometimes guitarist Jonathan Cain dazzled on the piano and took advantage of his moment to shine with some nice solo work prior to playing “Open Arms.” Bass player Ross Valroy complemented Castronovo’s drumming and formed a solid rhythm section for the band.

Of course the person under the biggest microscope still remains lead singer Arnel Pineda, who will always be compared to former Journey singer, Steve Perry. After over 6 years as the front man for Journey, Pineda certainly has the vocals to carry the Journey songs and has developed a warm and exuberant stage presence, both with the band and with the audience.

The crowd embraced all that was in front of them from the beginning. They were on their feet as Schon’s guitar introduced the evening and the band broke into “Be Good To Yourself.” Pineda’s voice soared, the harmonies were tight and Schon did what he did all night, blew people away with his playing.

Although the audience was already highly amped, they brought it up a level when Cain’s synthesizer emitted the opening notes to “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart).” Both Valory and Pineda played to those in the front and in Pineda’s case, to both sides of the stage. The fire shown on the video screens at the back of the stage accurately reflected the heat being brought by the performers.

Al Czervik would have been proud as the majority of the crowd shouted out “all night,” during “Any Way You Want It.” They didn’t need any prompting to dance or to throw their arms into the air.

After the pace slowed a bit with “Send Her My Love,” and then picked up with “Only the Young,” Schon, who had long before released his inner beast, performed a Hendrix like “Star Spangled Banner.” One felt patriotic and wowed at the same time.

Although the evening’s set list contained many classic rock radio staples, the band wasn’t afraid to play two numbers, “She’s a Mystery” and “Ritual,” off their 2011 “Eclipse” album. To many, this was the first time they had heard those songs.

As comfortable and talented as Pineda is in singing the old Journey catalog, vocally the songs off of “Eclipse” are his songs and it shows. The crowd applauded Pineda’s vocals halfway through “She’s a Mystery” before Schon cut loose with the song’s second part. Had “Ritual,” received the early days MTV exposure and thirty years of play on classic rock radio, the audience would have been singing the words as loudly as if it were “Lights.”

Great singers can give a goose bump inducing moment and Pineda’s turn came during “Open Arms.” His vocals were chilling and thankfully miles above those that chose to sing-a-long with him.

Schon gave yet another lesson on virtuoso guitar playing with a long solo before the band joined in for “Wheel In the Sky.” Those seated rose again and when asked, shouted out “for tomorrow.”

In the 1980’s Cain’s “Faithfully,” would have had the audience members lighting their Bics and swaying in unison. The swaying in unison still remained, but Bics have been replaced by cell phones recording the moment. This still didn’t stop the audience from applauding mid song.

The regular set ended with the song that through play on “The Soprano’s” and “Glee,” brought new life and new fans to Journey. It’s easy to be cynical when hearing “Don’t Stop Believin’” for the billionth time, but watching a sea of 20,000 people on their feet, singing, swaying and with arms raised high, clapping along, washes any cynicism away. With that kind of audience response, Journey has to keep closing their sets with that number.

The encore, “Lovin,’ Touchin,’ Squeezin,’” was one last chance for the audience to embrace the music that had brought them there. Pineda gave out many handshakes and grabs to those close to the stage while still managing to maintain his singing ability. A chorus of “na na na na na na,” rang out from the paid vocalists on stage and those who paid to see the vocalists that comprised the crowd.

Were new Journey song memories created this night? Maybe it was the confetti raining down and the canon shot of streamers at the song’s end that people might remember from “Don’t Stop Believin.’” But maybe it was the powerful sight of seeing 20,000 people standing, singing and smiling during that song who haven’t stopped believing in the music that is Journey.

Set list: Be Good To Yourself | Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) | Any Way You Want It | Send Her My Love | Only The Young | Star Spangled Banner (Neal Schon) | Stone In Love | Mother, Father | She’s A Mystery | Lights | Jonathan Cain Piano Solo | Open Arms | Ritual | La Do Da /Anytime | Neal Schon guitar solo | Wheel In The Sky | Faithfully | Don’t Stop Believin’ | Encore: Lovin,’ Touchin,’ Squeezin’