After nearly three-hours of rocking and rolling, the crowd is chanting "Nah, Nah, Nah-Nah, Nah" over and over again as the final strains of "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'" are played as the Chicago skyline hangs in the background. Voices swell, hands are raised and the band is about to bring the show full circle with a rousing finale to an evening showcasing a 30-year retrospective. As the band takes their bows, they stand their united hand-in-hand. The triumph is even sweeter as the band have just completed their third straight three-hour marathon in as many nights. The show was a inspirational victory, even with moments that lagged. This is a band many consider a joke; however, they stretched themselves as far as they could go and exceeded everyone's expectations, including mine. As the near sold out crowd roars, my friend Mark, who made a last minute trip from Michigan to catch the show...turns to me and says "How can Steve Perry not miss this?". That was the question I and the remainder of the audience were thinking as well...however, tonight was not about focusing on the past, but bridging a gap between the past and the future.
I am on the outside looking in
To a place where I will be
Let me give you what you need from me
Conventional wisdom would tell you that Journey sucks; they haven't had a hit single in close to a decade, the voice who gave them their biggest hits has not performed live with the band in 18-years and most people write off Journey as a has-been band who should consider themselves lucky to play the state fair circuit. However, say what you want, but they have more bite to their bark than the dozens of other bands from the late 70’s and 80’s who are regulated to state fairs. Let me state right here and now, I'm not a die-hard Journey fan. I admire their capability to keep the train rolling in the absence of Steve Perry. I love their “Greatest Hits" album, enjoy their box set "Time" and have a few miscellaneous albums here and there but never had a need to witness the band live, until this year. When I heard that the band was planning an all encompassing set covering their 30-year history, I was intrigued. With the great support of Amanda Cagan, I made my way to a new downtown Chicago stage to catch Journey. It's a venue off the lakefront which holds a little shy of 10,000 people. As fans entered the venue, the new Journey cd, "Generations”, was given away in a Prince-like fashion. Not only is Journey venturing into the past but they are also forging ahead with new vital music that they believe in so much, they are giving it away to each attendee. It makes perfect business sense to do this as this form of distribution puts new music into the hands of those who may otherwise not seek it out.
A little after 8pm, with the sun shining down on the city, the band made their way to the stage and immediately began running through numbers from the first three Journey albums. These were the instrumental rock and jazz infused albums Neal Schon and Gregg Rolie put together when they left Santana in the early 70's. To put into perspective how momentous this set list is you must understand that just a few years back Journey was performing a 80-minute set full of hits and nothing more. There's nothing wrong with a rock-hard 80-minute set; however, I feel that any act that has at least five albums is cheating their fans by performing a minute less than 120-minutes. The new Journey shows is clocking in at just shy of 3-hours, a triumphant set encompassing their entire history that would showcase at least one song sung by each of the five members of the band (although no songs were aired from 1996's "Trial By Fire", 2001's underestimated "Arrival" and the recent "Red 13" EP). Opening the set with “People & Places / Kahoutek" the band worked their way through the first 30-minutes with material from their early albums. The early Journey had virtually nothing in common with the latter day Journey when Steve Perry joined them on "Infinity" in 1978. Going into the show I was wondering how the crowd would respond to this material and to my astonishment, they were attentive while the die-hards relished the once in a lifetime moment seeing “Of A Lifetime”, “I’m Gonna Leave You”, “Nickel & Dime” and “Mystery Mountain” which had not been played for the better part of 27-years.
As the set progressed and material from "Infinity" started to be performed, this is where the show found its wings. My moment of clarity came during "Patiently", the first song that Steve Perry and Neal Schon ever wrote together. While its co-writer was nowhere to be found, drummer Deen Castronovo stepped up to the plate and single handedly stole the show. Much was made of how much Steve Augeri sounded like Steve Perry when he joined Journey back in late 1997. However, Castronovo blew expectations out of the water as he was hitting most of the high notes throughout the remainder of the evening as he complimented Augeri's voice and in some cases, hit the notes Augeri struggled with. As the first set wound down and the 70's portion of the show came to a close, Steve Augeri joined his band mates on stage. “Where Were You”, “Feeling That Way”, and “Anytime” which were aired probably for the first time in a quarter of a century. The main set came to a close with "Anyway You Want It" gearing the crowd up for the greatest hits set of the 80's that would follow after a brief intermission.
After a 25-minute intermission the band came back firing with "Be Good to Yourself". Now, wile the second set was full of many high moments including classic sing-a-longs, the set itself was inconsistent. With that being said, I can not express my deep veneration for what the band was doing here, but I felt a little more structure to the set would take this show to unmatchable levels. On the opening night of the tour, the band performed eight songs off "Generations" which did not go over well with the crowd. By the time the band made their way to Chicago, the “Generations” songs had been reduced to three. The album's lead-off track, "Faith In The Heartland" is a inspiring classic rocker that Journey fans embraced. However, "Every Generation", with lead vocals by keyboardist Jonathan Cain, did not fare as well. I believe the album to be a challenging work of art and I admire the band for performing it live, however, I wished they had paced the newer material a bit better throughout the show.
No artist, including Bruce Springsteen, can flawlessly pace a three-hour show. However, when I saw Journey they were still working through the pacing of the show. The biggest issues appeared to occur during the second set. The band would perform a few greatest hits and then there would be a solo or a new number from "Generations". The end result was a lot of irritation in the audience as they would be geared up for a few songs only to have the band lose them on the next song or solo. One thing that band should contemplate is performing some of the "Generations" material during the initial set. It would be interesting to see both sides of the spectrum as the new songs are performed alongside their oldest material. I know the band wants to let the new material shine and get noticed, which would be better suited by performing it alongside other material not as well known as the 80's mega hits. I understand their need for chronological sequencing, but the show would benefit from a better sequencing of the material off of “Generations”.
One other aspect that should be cut down, or once again added to the first set, are the solos. Neal Schon is one of the most underrated musicians in the world today. Here is a man who was recruited for Santana's band when he was 15-years-old. Shortly thereafter he started Journey. Throughout the Journey years and even after the lights went out, Neal Schon has always created music. Whether it be playing on a solo album for a friend or construct another band like Hardline, Bad English, Planet Us or Soul Sirkus- Neal always has his hand in something. If Journey never makes it into the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame, Neal should be in there if for no other reason than for his continual dedication and contributions to the world of music. He is not someone who rests on his laurels and past glories, but an artist who is always creating innovative music and striving forward because he needs to, crafting music is his oxygen. With all of that being said, Neal has two extended guitar solos during the show. One is of the "Star Spangled Banner" and the other was of Jimi Hendrix’s "Voodoo Chile". Both of these were performed during the second set and while the solos were performed to near perfection, they disoriented the crowd just as the band was gaining momentum. One of these solos should be moved to the first set alongside the extended jams that were the basis for the first three Journey albums.
I commend Journey for performing the material off an album no one has heard and for challenging their audience with rarities. However, the first set should be extended and free flowing, while the second set should get to the heart of the matter and be focused on the classic hits with a few of the stronger "Generations" songs thrown in for good measure. “Faith In The Heartland” and ”Out of Harms Way” were received well by the crowd, so these two should stay in the set while the rest of the new material should be moved to the first set. With some tightening up, the band could be setting a precedent for other acts to follow. I wish other bands would go this route with their concerts as it would reassure the informal fans with the hits and placate the die-hards with the deep album cuts. If they play their cards right, they could win over a few of those casual fans and make them into die-hard fans, for future generations to come. If those indifferent fans are never exposed to contemporary material or long forgotten album tracks, then they stand no chance of ever seeking them out. However, every once in a while a forgotten classic, like "Patiently", comes to the forefront and glistens brighter than "Open Arms". It made me dig out my Journey box set and I bet you the next time a number of people (who witnessed this show) walk into a record store- they'll seek out "Infinity".
As the show continued, the band nailed the enormous hits the fans had paid to see; a thriving "Only The Young", the somber "Faithfully", the dynamic "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)", the beguiling "Escape", the piercing "Wheel In The Sky" and the two prevalent sing-a longs -"Open Arms" and "Don't Stop Belivin'" were divine. These two numbers demonstrate why Journey’s songs are so rooted in the American consciousness. The catchy, ‘butterflies in the stomach’ songs are so infectious that close to 10,000 fans forked over $50 to hear these songs, sung by someone who did not originally record them. This is virtually unheralded in the annals of rock history. Sure bands switch singers from time to time, but how many can draw close to 10,000 people and charge $50 for it? This is unheralded. It just goes to show that there is a agonizing yearning to see these songs live, no matter who the vocalist is.
Journey may be nothing more than a rock band that thrives on creating escapism and they may never warrant critical respect, but at the end of the day, none of it matters when there is a sea of people singing every word to every song back to you. It's does not matter who's in the band, nor what they look like or where they are playing, as the strength lies in their material and the songs that people can relate to. It's escapism at it's best. For their 30th Anniversary Journey are taking challenges other bands would only dream about. I am a big believer that if you challenge your audience, the advantages will always outweigh the disadvantages. There were moments that fell flat during the 3-hour show, however, the positives far outweighed the negatives as I would rather see a band fall on their face taking a risk than consistently playing a perfect 80-minute set that does not provoke me. Love them or hate them, Journey is anything but a joke as they are faithfully challenging their audience and taking them to a higher place in the process.