Journey in Concert 2016
Featuring the Doobie Brothers and Dave Mason
(06-02-2016) By: Karl Stern
Journey is a monster hit making machine. While they have been snubbed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since they became eligible in 2000 it seems irrelevant since you can't flip through the radio dial in 2016... or go in a store... or a mall... or anywhere music is playing without hearing one of Journey's many hits. Just try it sometime, once you are aware of it you will hear their music everywhere. I dare say that along with The Eagles, Journey is one of the most often played bands in the world.
The smooth, mellow voice of Steve Perry is one of those iconic sounds that is unmistakable. As vocalist go, he is on the top shelf with the likes of Freddie Mercury. There are very few in his class. Is there anyone who doesn't know all the words to Faithfully? That song alone is Hall of Fame worthy. It is the ballad of all ballads and no one but Steve Perry could possibly sing it... except Steve Perry hasn't been with Journey in many years.
Enter - Arnel Pineda. By now, most people know of his incredible journey (pun intended) from obscure Philippine karaoke singer to fronting one of the biggest rock and roll hit making machines in history as documented ever so well by the 2012 documentary Don't Stop Believin' - Everyman's Journey.
But cozy, feel good documentary aside, could Arnel Pineda really fill the shoes of the iconic Steve Perry live on stage, in concert, in a minor-to-medium market like Birmingham, Alabama? My wife and I decided to find out on June 2, 2016 when we saw Journey and Arnel in concert along with the Doobie Brothers and Dave Mason as opening acts.
Dave Mason was the first to take the stage and if you are wondering who Dave Mason is, so was I. I actually knew a lot of his material and I bet you do too I just didn't recognize the name. Dave Mason is a veteran musician best known individually for his 1977 hit "We Just Disagree". He was also the only person on this show in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Let that sink in for a minute.
Dave Mason was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 as a member of Traffic. Traffic was a stand out 1960's band best known (at least by me) for their song "Dear Mr. Fantasy". I now know exactly two people in Traffic (the other being Steve Winwood obviously) so I suppose I need to expand my musical horizons a little more. Mason also wrote a multi-artist hit song, best known by Joe Cocker, "Feelin' Alright"... and oh yeah, he played guitar on the Jimi Hendrix classic "All Along the Watchtower". Not a bad career.
As for his performance, Dave Mason put on a straight forward set that was sing-along friendly and fun. I would totally pay to see Dave Mason again as he completely exceeded expectations.
Following Dave Mason's unexpectedly fun set was the Doobie Brothers. I had seen the Doobie Brothers years ago at the same venue. By years ago, I mean it was sometime in the 1980's and I'm pretty sure it was a completely different band. Doobie Brothers are one of those bands like Chicago that have a giant rotating cast of members. This version, as best as I could determine, was made up of Tom Johnson (original member and vocalist on many of their most popular songs), Patrick Simmons (and early member), John McFee (talented member who joined in 1979), John Cowan (a newer member but with a rich history in other acts, most notably New Grass Revival), Bill Payne (a recent addition but founding member of Little Feat), and Ed Toth (joined the band in 2005). Of course, Michael McDonald was not with either incarnation I have seen and I'm fine with that.
The Doobie Brothers played most, if not all, of their sing-along classic rock staples including Listen to the Music, Black Water, Jesus is Just Alright With Me, and Take Me in Your Arms. I am happy to say that the band sounded great and Tom Johnson sounds the same today as he did when those songs were originally airing on the radio. The middle of the set dragged on a little with a series of later songs I wasn't familiar with but I'm not that deep into the Doobie Brothers and consider myself a casual fan at best of the band.
In 2016 you can expect most of these touring nostalgia acts to basically be incestuous cousins of one another, borrowing members from each other as needed. As I already said the Doobie Brothers are now borrowing members from Little Feat and others. Nowhere is that more applicable than with Journey.
Journey was born out of Santana with Neil Schon and long time manager Herbie Herbert and others. Journey was also not the same band you would recognize from the stadium touring hit parade of the Steve Perry years. That version of Journey came along later. Post-Journey you had Bad English with Neil Schon and Jonathan Cain. For all intents and purposes Bad English was just Journey with John Waite on lead vocals. Later on, add Deen Castronovo also from Bad English to Journey and take away Steve Perry and you have... well... a mess.
Enter Arnel Pineda as mentioned earlier... and exit Deen Castronovo who got himself in a huge heap of trouble with domestic violence issues and got fired from the band who brought in his replacement... Steve Smith. Steve Smith was the drummer from Journey on most of their hit songs. I was conflicted on this one honestly. Castronovo is a fine drummer but he is as good a vocalist as anyone. In my opinion, he could have been the front man instead of Arnel, although with hindsight being twenty-twenty I bet the band is glad they didn't do that.
So, to boil down the mess that is Journey's history to something understandable, this version of Journey is as close to the hit making version as you are going to probably ever get. Of course, it is missing Steve Perry. Steve Perry's conflicts with the band are well documented. So it's all up to you Arnel, you're our only hope.
I had seen mixed reviews for Arnel on YouTube. He sounded a little flat but I assume singing in Steve Perry's range for several days at a time would put considerable strain on your voice. Those videos did not seem representative of the actual experience live on this day. Arnel sounded fine. Perfectly Steve Perry fine. Not once did I think "that sounded off" or "that sounded bad". Not once was I taken out of the Journey experience. It sounded like Journey being Journey. Neil Schon was solid as always as was Jonathan Cain. Steve Smith is a very different drummer than Castronovo and doesn't sing and honestly I would have liked Castronovo better even though Smith has a more legitimate claim to the glory era of the band. But Castronovo had to go and I hope he gets the help he needs.
Journey put on a good, entertaining show. Lot's of crowd participation. All the big hits. Like the Doobie Brothers, their set did drag in the middle with a lot of deep cuts and newer songs. The performance of those songs were solid but they just weren't iconic hits.
At the end of the night we, and the other 10,498 people who sold out the Oak Mountain Amphitheater, left happy and that's what we paid for. Would it have been better with Steve Perry? Who knows? God only knows what Steve Perry sounds like in 2016. All I can tell you is I felt I got my money's worth and heard a ton of classic rock radio staples. It was a good night.