Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary | November 25, 2012
Photography by: Charles Hope
While the road crew prepared the stage for the band, it was curious to consider how Journey would fill such a large expanse of black. Were there going to be additional musicians? Would there be some kind of theatrical performance? When the lights went down and the band entered, it quickly became clear that all that space was for the five members. Neil Schon at far stage right. Jonathan Cain at far stage left. Deen Castronovo and his large drum kit upstage center, completing a wall along with four banks of video screens that towered over the remaining width of the stage. Bassist Ross Valery and new singer Arnel Pinedo occupied downstage center; a whole lot of space to fill. And Pinedo, more than any of the other, made it his task to occupy that space.
It must be incredibly difficult for a singer to join an established band where a past singer’s voice is so indelibly etched on the band’s signature material that it is practically iconic. No matter how the new-comer proceeds, he will be constantly compared and assessed not on his ability, but on how he is or isn’t singing the songs the way they should be sung. Pineda, the young singer from the Philippines, is struggling with that problem now. The best thing about Pineda’s voice is that he sounds very much like Steve Perry. The worst thing about Pineda’s voice is that he sounds very much like Steve Perry. With a voice so similar to Perry, it was difficult for Pineda to make the songs his own in any true way. With “Any Way You Want It”, the second song out of the gate, Pineda worked hard to occupy every metre of that vast stage while singing his heart out. He gestured, he posed, he waved, he danced, he leapt, he juggled his cordless microphone, he ran back and forth, and still it didn’t seem to be enough since we still heard echoes of Perry’s tenor.
The band’s sound was clean and the harmonies pitch perfect. Pineda had their full support, knowing full well what pressure he must be feeling, but never directing him, just providing warm smiles and brotherly support, but on such a large stage, he looked at times a little lost. A smaller stage with the band members closer together may have created a physically safer environment for him. Things seemed to settle down for him when they played “City of Hope” from their recent album. Written about his hometown of Manila he was able to be himself and sing without judgment. It’s too bad for him that this was the only new song of the night.
If anyone in the audience considered this an issue, they didn’t express it. The new song was met with warm applause, but they were there to hear the hits. “Ask the Lonely”, “Faithfully”, and “Wheel in the Sky’ were reproduced with amazing precision. Cain’s keyboard playing was relaxed and fine. Original member Valery’s bass was smooth like good Scotch and anchored the bottom end easily. Schon’s guitar work was superb, though an occasion buzz during his solos, suggesting there may have been a technical issue with his wireless system. As an aside: isn’t funny that less than 20 years ago, buzzing, hiss, and general electronic noise were very common at most concerts-technology has cleaned up so much of the sound that hi-fidelity is considered a given.
A curious moment came when Schon played a solo piece that morphed in and out of “O Canada”, reminiscent of a long lost guitar hero and his rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner”. I wonder what Schon does in other countries? Regardless, he still has the chops that made him a guitar star all those years ago.
On “Be Good to Yourself”, Pineda, with security crew in tow, ran a lap of the hockey boards, slapping hands, saying hello, waving, and offering more smiles than might be humanly possible. If the audience wasn’t going to remember his voice, they were going to remember his presence.
They ended the show with “Don’t Stop Believin’”, a song so entrenched in popular culture and well known that it would have been a crime for them not to perform it. And their performance was excellent, sending chills down the spine, visually punctuated by a blast of a few hundred kilograms of confetti streaming down, leaving the audience delirious with delight.
Journey is a well-honed and dedicated band that knows how to deliver the goods and given a few more years and a few more albums of new material, Mr. Pineda should feel right at home.
A large Loverboy banner hung from the lighting truss, behind the drum kit reminding everyone present who was about to hit the stage. Modeled on their first album cover with the word Loverboy repeated numerous times in that worn letter typewriter font-white on black. A fitting statement: this is who we are and were proud. ‘We can share the night with Journey-no problem.’
Original members Paul Dean on guitar, Mike Reno on lead vocals, Matt Frenette on drums, and Doug Johnson on keys with moderate new-comer Ken ‘Spider’ Sinnaeve on bass, took to the stage with elegance and panache. Dean, Johnson, and Sinnaeve were distinguished with their silver locks while Frenette and Reno kept their revival theme alive, looking much like they did in their heyday, with a few additional kilograms of experience tagging along.
They didn’t waste any time on formalities, jumping right into “Queen of the Broken Hearts” with “Lovin’ Every Minute” close behind. Theirs was a set of hits-no apologies and no new material, which is a shame since the new tracks “No Tomorrow” and “Heartbreaker” from “Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival” could easily become new standards in their sets.
Audience participation was important and Reno kept them interested through singing parts of the chorus on nearly every song. His voice may not have the power on the high end that it once did, but he certainly maintains the passion for the songs.
“The Kid is Hot Tonight”, the first song they wrote as a band, had the unexpected guest appearance of Deen Castronovo, from Journey, replacing Frenette for a spirited rendition of the hit. After Frenette returned they slowed things down with “When It’s Over” though that tempo didn’t last for too many songs as Frenette launched into a drum solo which turned into a duet with Sinnaeve, and then into the opening thunder of “Turn Me Loose”.
And to end on a power note, they fired up “Working for the Weekend”, providing smiles to all in the building. Loverboy is truly loving every performance and enjoying the limelight once again, having fun without taking the whole scene too seriously, and isn’t that what loverboys do?