Journey @ Fiddler's Green AmphitheatreBy Jason Blevins | July 14th, 2008 | 390 comments
New lead singer Arnel Pineda (right) made Journey fans proud at Fiddler’s Green on Wednesday. Photos by Erick Lopez.
Arnel Pineda had some big shoes to fill Wednesday. And by the end of his second-ever American concert as the new crooner for Journey, most of the 18,000 crammed into Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre had forgotten Steve Perry.
With perfect pitch, power and amazing resonance, Pineda floored a crowd that probably arrived ready to pine for Perry. A few months ago Pineda was a somewhat popular performer in Manila, singing an occasional Journey cover in a local band. By Wednesday night, he was an American rock star with a swooning crowd hanging on his perfectly tenored voice.
Opening with a fresh cut off Journey’s new three-disc “Revelations” release — “Never Walk Away” — Pineda showed he could carry an even higher pitch than Perry’s trademark wail. The 40-year-old, who speaks halting English, merges a Freddie Mercury smoothness with a David Lee Roth rocker style to create his own version of Perry.
Donning leather pants and shoulder-length locks a la Perry circa 1980, Pineda chattered nervously after the first song, even admitting his anxiety before diving into a rousing “Only the Young.” Neal Schon, the founding member of the 33-year-old band who discovered Pineda while searching YouTube for a potential singer, worked through a technical glitch in the first few tunes to reach an exploding “Stone In Love.”
Schon, sporting a leather vest and looking more than a little like James Caan’s Sonny Corleone, is a gifted guitarist with powerful riffs that helped define the emerging genre of arena rock in the early ’70s. And still today, Schon’s signature Gibson can cull melodies from within the deepest jams. Wednesday night’s midset jam on the 12-string mandolin was soulful and complex, coaxing the entire amphitheater into a gentle sway.
By the end of “Separate Ways,” all comparisons between Perry and Pineda were lost. Holding the highest notes for much longer than Perry ever could, Pineda had eclipsed the former Journey frontman in both talent and enthusiasm. He stalked the stage, belting out notes that beat back the wind, his black tresses flying, his every move cast on giant screens dwarfing the stage. It was near impossible to miss this thought: God freaking bless America. Where else can one go from Philippine nightclub singer to full-fledged U.S. rock idol virtually overnight? Eat your heart out Marky Mark, Arnel Pineda is the real Rock Star.
Even if you are of the mindset that Journey isn’t Journey without Perry, go see one of the band’s next 54 shows between now and October 10. You won’t be disappointed. The new kid seemed to draw the band’s veterans — Deen Castronovo on drums, Ross Valory on bass and Jonathan Cain on keys — into a happier place. They looked proud of their new addition and played with energy. (Granted, this was show No. 1 with another 54 to go in the next three months.)
Sprinkling several new tracks into a 20-song, hour-45 concert that went well past Fiddler’s lame 10:30 p.m. quiet time, the five-member Journey wore out a mostly graying crowd. New songs like “Change For The Better,” “Where Did I Lose Your Love” and a dedicated-to-the-fans “After All These Years” were eagerly embraced, probably because they didn’t stray too far from Journey’s tried-and-true strategy of marrying Schon’s licks with a soaring voice.
But nothing rivaled the crowd’s wave-your-cell-phone love for the hits. “Who’s Crying Now,” “Open Arms,” “Wheel In The Sky” and “Faithfully” kept the boomers grooving and Pineda — displaying obvious confidence in his range — urged the crowd to sing along, clumsily twirling the mic stand toward the audience.
With abundant awkward dancing and a light show that splashed onto glassy cubicle farms that flank the venue, it was sometimes easy to snicker. But the earnestness of the musicians on stage ended smarmy thoughts. The recent emergence of ’80s rock as something much more than cheesy nostalgia is floating the boats of more than a few Journey-era acts. Cheap Trick and Heart are part of Journey’s ambitious 55-show summer tour, which will likely sell out each stop.
It’s not a looking-back type tour, with an album’s worth of new music in the rotation and a new singer dashing any yearning for the Perry days. (Although the Wilson sisters of Heart did mostly dust off their oldy-but-goodies, and not very well either.)
The double-barreled encore started with “Don’t Stop Believin’,” which has enjoyed newfound vibrancy as the score of the epicly elusive final scene in “The Sopranos.” The final, piercing “Anyway You Want It” left the crowd ragged, hoarse and sated; looking like they got it exactly how they wanted it.
Regular Reverb contributor Jason Blevins is a reporter for The Denver Post.
See more of Reverb contributor Erick Lopez’s photography.