Neal Schon & Michaele Salahi/ Associated Press
Which is more responsible for reinvigorating Journey: the resurgent popularity of the song “Don’t Stop Believin’” or new singer Arnel Pineda?
The renewed success of the song, due to its appearances on “Glee,” in various movies and at sporting events, has focused attention on Journey once again. But Pineda’s performance Saturday at the sold-out State Fair grandstand is what made the evening so memorable. Not only does he replicate original lead singer Steve Perry’s voice, intonation and phrasing but he’s got off the charts energy compared to Perry’s statue-like presence.
With his mullet chopped off, the Prince-sized Pineda, who joined in 2008, looks 15 years younger than his age (he’ll turn 45 on Wednesday). But he’s nearly 15 years younger than the rest of the geezers in Journey, and they benefited from his boundless energy. Plus the little guy in the AC/DC T-shirt could flat out sing, with a soaring, powerful voice that, if you closed your eyes, you were transported back to the mid-1980s. On “Faithfully,” he sounded almost operatic.
The concert reminded all 13,127 fans that Journey defined a strain of radio-friendly rock with poppy choruses that critics dubbed corporate rock.
Journey founding guitarist Neal Schon still peeled off those high, chiming solos that characterized that era. Even though he’s ostensibly the bandleader, the curly-haired guitarist -- who looks strikingly like Bruce Springsteen circa 1984 in many ways -- let Pineda have the spotlight. Only once or twice did Schon step onto the runway extending from the stage to show off his chops, including an unnecessary instrumental version of “The Star Spangled Banner.” During “Separate Ways,” he stood on the main stage and faced the wings, making eye contact with what appeared to be his gal pal, Michaele Salahi.
Listening to the 100-minute set, you realized how many hits Journey had that you’d forgotten. “Any Way You Want It” came early, “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’” was the finale. Yes, “Don’t Stop Believin’” was in there, third from the last, complete with confetti and streamers.
Opening the three-band 1980s bill were Loverboy and Pat Benatar. The guys in Loverboy look their age (late 50s) but still sounded tight. Lead singer Mike Reno, complete with oversized headband and sleeveless shirt, didn’t hit all his high notes but still delivered the hits, including “Working for the Weekend,” with Canadian rock oomph.
Benatar’s voice is still full of remarkable power, with a little rasp adding character. It’s too bad that her guitar-playing husband of 30 years and cowriter, Neil Giraldo, needs to talk and hog his share of the spotlight. He should learn from the night’s other guitar hero Neal about letting the singer be the star. Because even though the 59-year-old Benatar said, at one point, “we need to sit down cuz we’re old,” she still came across like a true star.