Story and Photo by Scott A. Smith
When bathed in concert spotlights, Journey is a better, more aggressive-sounding band than many people will admit.
It’s true that for years, the band excelled at making ballads an art form, but what much of the public forgets is how Journey can rock as hard as almost anyone else.
A fine example of Journey’s technical prowess and ability to dish up an almost note-perfect set took place at The Joint inside the Tulsa Hard Rock on Aug. 23 in Catoosa, Okla. The group – guitarist Neal Schon, keyboardist Jonathan Cain, bassist Ross Valory, singer Arnel Pineda and drummer Deen Castronovo – thrilled a capacity audience. A white-hot “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” boomed throughout the darkened room first, with Pineda and Schon on the visual front line. Pineda’s voice hit the song’s stratospheric notes while Cain’s moody synthesizer and Valory’s punchy bass locked in with Castronovo’s assertive drumming.
Allowing only a few seconds of silence following the end of “Separate Ways,” all five Journey members stepped up to their microphones for the start of “Any Way You Want It.” Schon’s solos were precise yet edgy, retaining the sound and feel of his six-string studio work with just enough room for flurry-fingered improvisation. Dressed in black from his sunglasses to his boots, Schon kept his fingers busy over his fret board.
Raising his eyebrows at his compatriots and the audience, Valory roamed the stage while picking bass patterns that kept the subwoofers warm. Playing in a slightly less flashy way that Schon, Valory proved himself a worthy bassist dozens of times during the concert.
Also showing strength in the spotlights were Castronovo, whose commanding percussive strikes made sure the Journey engine continued to run. Castronovo, Journey’s second-best singer behind Pineda, also provided much of the crucial backup harmonies, and Cain proved a winner by bouncing between keyboards, rhythm guitar and a few lead-vocal passages.
Pineda, now wearing a shorter, possibly salt-and-pepper hairstyle, possessed the energy of Mighty Mouse, high-fiving the audience, summoning the crowd’s over-the-head claps and springing off the drum riser. There were only three or four times where Pineda’s voice sounded a pinch strained.
For the other one hour and 58 minutes, Pineda’s vocals stood in tip-top shape.
The set included “Open Arms,” “Lights,”“Faithfully,” “Wheel in the Sky,” “Stone in Love,” “Be Good to Yourself,” “Chain Reaction,”“Escape,” “Dead or Alive,” “Send Her My Love,”“Only the Young” and encore “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’,” as well as an outstanding acoustic take of “Stay Awhile.” The upbeat “La Raza Del Sol,”described by the band that night as “Neal Schon’s mother’s favorite B-side song,” was a great deep-cuts moment.
Journey’s sound mix was impressive – and quite loud. The compressed air coming from Valory’s bass and Castronovo’s bass drums via the subwoofers could be felt in the venue’s first floor section, surely making every bassist and drummer in attendance smile.
Before Journey’s spirited appearance, Schon was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame for his contributions as a co-founder of Journey and former member of Santana.
Born at Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City, Okla., before moving to New Jersey as a child with his family, Schon appeared touched by the occasion. He spoke of his present and past collaborators. (Yes, he even gave a kind shout out to ex-Journey members Steve Perry, Steve Smith and Gregg Rolie, among others.)
“I’d like to thank everyone I have played with,” Schon said while grinning at the audience. “People like Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. Jeff Beck was actually in a very early version of Journey with us, long before Steve Perry, before things changed.”
Schon then laughed into the microphone.
“And how about Cleveland?” he asked, referring to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s on-going refusal to induct Journey as a member. “I think Journey belongs there in the Hall of Fame. Actually, we all belong in the Hall of Fame, don’t we?”