Sunday, September 28, 2008

Journey to the Shoreline Amphitheatre? Crappy. Journey at the Shoreline Amphitheatre? Priceless.

Neal Schon takes his You Tube favorite selection a bit literally. We are so lucky he didn't get Rickrolled .

Last night I went to Mountain View, CA to see the Arena Rock triple header of Cheap Trick, Heart and Journey. It's the first time we've been to the Shoreline Amphitheatre in a while and encountered the worst ever traffic to that venue in all the times we've been there. It took us 90 minutes to travel to Mountain View. After getting to the city, it took another hour to get to a place we could park. It looked like a sell out show with standing room only on the lawn. Because of the massive delay, we didn't get to see Cheap Trick. We did get to hear half of the set.

Cheap Trick's set that we heard while walking through the dusty back lot parking area: The Flame / Surrender / Goodbye Now / Dream Police (encore).

What we heard sounded great, Robin Zander's vocals held up well and the band had the same manic energy and freewheeling fun spirit as on record. I caught a glimpse of the video screen when we entered the facility during "Dream Police". After getting settled in, we found we had the best seats I've ever sat in (it was about 11th row) which was great. So we waited for Heart to start their set.
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Heart's set: Wild Child / Magic Man / Never / Straight On / These Dreams / Alone / Love Reign O'er Me / Barracuda / Going to California (encore) / Silver Wheels (encore) / Crazy on You (encore).

Keyboardist Debbie Shair started things off with a pleasant, slightly Yessy synth intro before the band joined her on stage. Once in position, Heart surprised (and they would a few more times) with a roaring version of "Wild Child" from the Brigade album. From there the band slid into "Magic Man" where lead guitarist Craig Bartock showed he had both the reserved demeanor and pinched note playing style of classic Heart sidemen Howard Leese and Roger Fisher. It seems many of the band's 80's songs have been recast to be more acoustic and organic starting with "Never". After the big synth heavy intro supported by the excellent drumming of Ben Smith, Nancy Wilson played both acoustic guitar and towards the end harmonica to soften the steely sound. The pumping "Straight On" proved how tight this band was as they got mildly funky. Nancy Wilson dedicated "These Dreams" to the memory of Bill Graham as that song was remade to feature Wilson's mandolin and Ric Markmann's stick bass. Then it was just the Wilson sisters and keyboardist Shair for "Alone".
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On recent tv programs it sounded like Ann Wilson's voice was getting a touch weaker, yet live that was entirely not the case. Wilson belted everything with the same power heard on early recordings of the band and on "Alone" she gave a bravura performance. Ann Wilson showed power and emotion to a series of applause's while Shair's keyboards and the harmony vocals supported the vocal moment of the night.

In a night of surprises, Heart tackled the Who classic "Love Reign O'er Me" much to the delight of Nancy Wilson who skipped and leaped like when Snoopy was happy in the Peanuts comic (Arnel Pineda would also do this dance later). Ann Wilson belted out the famous "Looovveeee...reign on me!" just as well as Eddie Vedder or Roger Daltry. Then they jumped straight into "Barracuda" as Rock Star inspired light effects flew all over the stage.
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With the 80's over, Nancy Wilson displays more of a youthful kid like style with her spins and jumps than when I saw them in '85. The band was clearly having fun as Nancy Wilson gave a Captain's salute to Bartock during his guitar fill on "Barracuda". After leaving and returning for an encore, Heart surprised again with a brilliant cover of my wife's favorite Led Zep song "Going to California." Nancy Wilson took center stage for a great acoustic guitar solo to lead into the final song.

"Crazy on You" was delivered with full force even with an extended bridge section that slows down to allow Ann Wilson to wail a bit more. After a big finish, Heart left to allow the stage to be reset.

Journey set list: Never Walk Away / Only The Young / Star Spangled Banner / Stone In Love / Ask The Lonely / Keep On Runnin' / After All These Years / When You Love A Woman / Change For The Better / Separate Ways / Faith In The Heartland / Jon Cain solo / Open Arms / Don't Stop Believin' / Faithfully / Wheel In The Sky / Escape / Any Way You Want It / Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin' (encore).

With the Revelation CD there was a DVD included that had Pineda's first American date as lead singer. I thought the DVD prepped me for what to expect. It really didn't.

From the get go, Journey came across as a full band again. The group interplay was visible and all members seemed to like the new guy. And in terms of energy, Pineda may be the strongest yet as he ran, jumped from a standing position, flew off the drum riser, spun all over and flipped his mic around like a baton. Even towards the end of the show, Pineda was pulling off Diamond Dave worthy leaps. And he did it with a big grin as he fist bumped and high fived anyone in range (my wife and I even got high fives).

The combination of a revitalized band playing in their home (the Bay Area) and performing in one of the heaviest populated Filipino communities in the country (again the Bay Area) meant this show was beyond sold out. I've never seen the Shoreline this full for any event. Not for Van Halen, not for Fleetwood Mac...nobody.
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Entering the stage to the strains of AC/DC's "Back in Black", the group kicked into "Never Walk Away" from the new album. Immediately Pineda established his presence despite his small stature (there seemed to be a monitor speaker placed dead center at the lip of the stage to allow him to stand and be more visible) and the group segued into a sparkling Only The Young". Neal Schon then reserved some space for himself with his guitar solo "The Star Spangled Banner". Very different from Hendrix's famed version, Schon's smooth blazing style was extremely patriotic as bassist Ross Valory held his hand over his heart and video screens showed stars and stripes.
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One of my personal faves "Ask The Lonely" came next as Pineda showed no signs of pacing himself, leaning back with his eyes closed to unleash one bracing high note after another. This made me both disappointed and relieved when he got a break as drummer Deen Castronovo took over lead vocals for the charged "Keep on Runnin". I still have a problem with two singers working the same territory (Steve Perry style wails) but since it was a fast song I didn't mind as much. Except in singing lead at a fast pace Castronovo didn't have too many drum fills to add.

Regretfully, nature called so I heard but couldn't see "After All These Years" and "When You Love A Woman". I came back midway thru the song I liked the most from the new album, "Change For The Better". Again Pineda was gettin' big air on his jumps, whether it was straight up to punctuate a cymbal crash or flying off the drum riser like Michael Jordan going for a slam dunk. The athleticism was really impressive.
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The crowd was behind the band as they launched into "Separate Ways". "Faith In The Heartland" came across well and seeing Pineda sing standing between Schon and Valory recalled the Journey of old. Seeing the audience took a seat during "Heartland", Pineda encouraged everyone to stand up for "our song", "Lights". A sea of lit cell phones swayed like a colony of fireflies in the night as Pineda sang about the "city by the Bay". Jon Cain then laid out an impressive piano solo leading into "Open Arms". Standing next to Cain, Pineda showed he had the sensitivity needed to make the song work.

In case anyone had it in their mind to slow down, Journey continued to dip into the Escape songbook for "Don't Stop Believin". Their best known anthem roused the fans to renewed frenzy as the song ended with the video image of the name "Journey" written in Sopranos style red gun font. In a recent Rolling Stone magazine article that was downplayed by the band, Pineda said the hectic touring schedule was causing him a lot of difficulty with his personal life. Fittingly, "Don't Stop Believin" was followed by the life-on-the-road power ballad "Faithfully". Pineda seemed to get a little choked up during the first part of the song, particularly the line about "love and a music man ain't always what it's supposed to be". But he remained focused to the end of the song.
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The big finish was next as "Wheel in the Sky", "Escape" and "Any Way You Want It" were scorching hot. "Escape" was the point when Pineda made it to our side of the stage where Bunny and I were able to high five and see the man up close. And it was then that I was able to put my finger, so to speak, on what makes Pineda work as a frontman for the band (in addition to his voice). He comes across as a friendly, open, energetic and talented guy, someone who can work the crowd in a way that the other band members can't. The others can wow with their playing skills but Journey's music needs a relatible person at the forefront. Pineda fits that very well. That and Cain / Schon get a lead singer who isn't going to enforce his personal vision on them for better or worse. So he sings and performs like a man possessed and gets along with the rest of the group. Outwardly, the band appears unified for the first time in a long while.
We left as the encore "Lovin, Touchin, Squeezin" played.

Some final notes to wrap up - the venue was extremely difficult to access, really disappointed with Shoreline's crowd control. The sound where we stood was missing bass except for the kick drum which hit you with force on your body. This made the singers sound higher, Nancy Wilson in especially sounded a bit chirpy as a result. The crowd itself was generally good natured and drunk. At the vendor stand, the T Shirt seller was a jerk. But the performers and seating were fantastic. It was hell to get there, but great seats and two and a half awe inspiring performances made it worthwhile.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Retire while they can. The bands should have went on in reverse order. Cheap Trick is underrated and gets the shaft opening for a Journey tribute band...

Jeannie said...

I was pleasantly surprised to see that Pineda didn't hold the notes quite so long for one of my favorite Journey songs, Separate Ways, but felt disappointed that he held the notes too long for Don't Stop Believin'. You know that bugs me when he does that. The high five made up for it though.

I really liked Pineda's energy, though he'll end up with a hip replacement if he thinks he can keep up that pace. I thought this time, Neal Schon didn't get as much focus, of which he did not seem to mind. He was his usual solid self. And I felt that Jonathan Cain was like the anchor that made the band stay in its Journey dock. They still felt like Journey, though they obviously are not the same band they once were. Ross Valory's indeed was feeling the Star Spangled Banner (as was the guy in front of me, the only one that I saw remove his hat for the anthem). And it was nice to hear Deen Castronovo sing, Keep On Runnin'.

Heart kicked ass! The Wilson sisters didn't lose a beat and Ann Wilson gave me chills with her powerful yet in control vocals on both These Dreams and Alone. I wish I got to see Lost Angel though.

And speaking of wishing to see, I wish I saw Cheap Trick. I only saw their legs on the monitor as we came in.

Mr. Mike said...

Cheap Trick is a great band, I listened to them all week to get ready for the show so it was a bummer to miss them. As far as bands retiring goes, it seems nothing can keep a band from continuing as long as there is money to be made.

Hi Bunny! Sorry they didn't play Lost Angel, had a great time with you!

Redskyy said...

It was great to read your review and compare your experience to mine. Traffic delayed me as well and I'm still disappointed to have missed Cheap Trick.

Journey's set sounded just as great, if not better, than my concert. It sounded like they came in full force, being back home in the Bay area. But I definitely agree with your assessment of Arnel Pineda. He has that energy and quality about him that truly revitalizes Journey both for the band and the fans. But I just hope he has more input for their next record.

Mr. Mike said...

Hi redskyy! Arnel Pineda's energy seems boundless on stage and hope he continues with the band. It will be interesting to see how much input he is given next time out, Steve Augeri's seemed limited during his time.

Hi steverox! Sorry, I had to remove your comment. I don't mind that you disagreed with anonymous and like that you support the band but I try to keep insults off the blog so everyone feels free to express their opinion fairly. No disresepct is intended towards you with this and I thank you for posting.

Some Kinda Wonderful said...

I'm so sorry you missed Cheap Trick. I was really looking forward to your review of them. Glad you enjoyed the rest of the show, tho. Sounds like Journey is good to go for a while longer then, eh? Wheel In the Sky is one of my absolute favorite Journey songs. Too bad about the beginning of your personal journey (so to speak) but so glad you got a good show from both Heart and Journey. Wow! A high five. Cool. :)

Mr. Mike said...

We had a great time, it was just too bad about Cheap Trick I was going to check them off my imaginary list of bands I haven't seen but really want to. Hearing but not seeing them did bring back nice memories of listening to the At Budokan record at least. Wheel in the Sky is an awesome song!

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