Most of you will recall that I have a soft spot for the band Journey, whose album Escape I adored insensibly when I was thirteen, and whose general Album Oriented Rock stylings are my musical equivalent to comfort food. I saw the band on the Raised on Radio tour back in high school, but since that time haven’t felt much of a need to see them in concert, in part because Steve Perry, their singer through their “classic” era, is no longer part of the band.

But this year the band offered up something nearly as good: Steve Smith, who was the drummer for the band during most of its classic era (but who was not on the kit for the Raised on Radio tour), was returning to tour with the band after more than 30 years. I’m a drummer (I have still have the trap set I got as a teenager in the basement) and I love Smith’s sound on the Journey albums. To have a chance to see him do his thing with these songs live was too much of a temptation. I got tickets.

And how was watching Steve Smith hit the skins on this tour? Very different than what I expected! Journey’s drum sound is massive, but Smith, who primarily plays jazz when he’s not thumping out rock hits, is not a hugely demonstrative drummer. His movements are precise and deceptively economical considering the amount of noise he makes. I understand of course that wild arm swinging does not necessarily correlate to big sound with drums, and that good miking and sound mixing can make even small drum hits sound as big as the sound guy wants them to be. But it still really was counter to my expectation. When I play a Journey song on drums, my arms are swinging everywhere. But then, I’m maybe 1/100th the drummer Steve Smith is. He is genuinely phenomenal.

(And, these days, has an unsettling resemblance to Ben Kingsley. Gandhi on the drums, everyone!)

The rest of the concert was perfectly good, and utterly unsurprising, which is in itself utterly unsurprising. The rest of the current iteration of the band (keyboardist Jonathan Cain, bassist Ross Valory, guitarist Neal Schon, and vocalist Arnel Pineda) have pretty much played the same set list, with minor variations, for a decade (and Cain, Valory and Schon, all classic-era members, for an additional decade before that). It’s difficult to imagine they all couldn’t do their standard show in their sleep. The band played the hits — nothing before Infinity, nothing after Raised on Radio — and the only song that could have been called a deep cut was “La Do Da” from Infinity, which mostly served as a scaffold for a Smith drum solo.

And that’s fine! Journey at this point understands its place in the universe as (charitably) the A-list of legacy bands, or (uncharitably) as its own best cover band. It’s here to give the people what they want, which is the track list of Journey’s Greatest Hits, give or take one or two bits. I mean, I would have been fine with more deep cuts, a track or two from Trial By Fire, and even the band’s first single with Arnel Pineda, the perfectly Journey-ish “Never Walk Away.” But if the band did too much of that for too long, they wouldn’t be playing music sheds that seat 20,000 people in their fifth decade of being a band. When you can make 20,000 middle-aged people deliriously happy for 90 minutes, you let me know. I’m not gonna fault them for that, or for knowing what side their bread is buttered on. At this point if you go into a Journey concert expecting anything other than a comforting nostalgia wallow, that’s really on you, not them.

I do have quibbles. One, Neal Schon surely does love his guitar solos, of which there could have been at least three fewer (and the ones that remained, better structured). Two, the sound quality of the concert was meh; Pineda suffered from bad miking at the start (it seemed to improve as it went along) but overall things were a smidge muddy. Three — well, no actually there is no three, just those two. I have no quibbles about Pineda, the sole performer on the stage who was not a member of the band’s classic era. He knows his role — to be the best damn Steve Perry he can be — and after close to a decade, no one holds it against him, if they ever did. I mean, everyone gets it, Perry doesn’t want the gig, so, fine. Here’s Pineda, with a fantastic set of pipes, delivering the goods and looking like he’s having a ball doing it. Good for him. Good for the fans.

Also on the bill: Dave Mason, who seemed pleasantly happy to be the warm-up act, and the Doobie Brothers — with two founding Doobies! — who I enjoyed as much as I expected to, so that’s good.

In all, a perfectly lovely date night for me and the missus with thousands of other people who also graduated high school in the 80s. A+++, would recommend.

35 Comments on “ERMAHGERD IT’S JERBY”

  1. Their record company kept pushing them really hard when I was doing college radio. It was pretty freeform so I suppose they probably got the occasional spin, but mostly we only played bands from England or Athens, Georgia. So mostly we enjoyed laughing at all the Journey merch they kept sending us. One year, for our end of the year banquet, we did a whole (not-for-broadcast) bit about Journey, including a fake interview, for which I borrowed some helium from the physics lab to make sure we got that proper Steve Perry sound.

  2. Ah, yes, Journey. I’ve been a fan since the 80’s. “Frontiers” was the album for me, though I do love “Escape”, as well. Never was much for Perry- or most rock tenors, actually, but damn, did I love that music! And, as a piano torturer (I can’t in good faith say I play the instrument), I was major jealous of Jonathan Cain’s massive electronic rig and the Whale! Then, in the early 2000s, out came “Arrival.” Instant love. And I found a Journey fan group that was quite close to the band. And, yes, I became “that” fan- went to every show that was in (sort of) reasonable driving distance of home. Splurged for the close up seats and meet-and-greet packages. Went to CA twice with that fan group for what were essentially private cons with the band. Was there at the unveiling of their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Have pictures, autographs, personalized memeorabilia, etc. The trouble with that sort of thing is that you get too close, start to know too much. The internal crap was astonishing. Well, perhaps not, but the way they treated Steve Augeri (who is easily one of the nicest men on the planet) and his successor, Jeff Scott Soto, left a really bad taste in my mouth. I did go to two concerts when Arnel joined the band, but I gotta say, I do not like what he does with Journey. So, while I still dearly love the music- I just did an all-day Journey fest here at home this week- I had to break up with the band. It’s kinda too bad, but it is what it is.

    I’m glad you had a good time. Smitty is the bomb. Have seen him multiple times with his jazz group.

  3. What you said… Journey has been comfort food for me for more decades than I care to admit. (I’m also a wannabe drummer. *G*) And Pineda is a great Steve Perry replacement. Saw a heartwarming documentary a while back about how the band found him, and it amused the heck of me that he was young enough to be the band’s collective grandson. Good for him! A nice, happy success story in a world full of doom and gloom.

  4. I’m glad to know that Steve Smith is touring with the band again. For whatever reason, I was more upset about him not being with them than I was about Steve Perry. Smith is a terrific drummer.

  5. I watched what I think was a documentary on how Arnel was chosen to leave journey and it was a fantastic story. And I graduated high school in 1979 so I too am a middle-aged Journey fan.

  6. @Geoff Hart – that documentary may have been “Don’t Stop Believin’,” which I saw on Netflix a while ago. I’m not a tremendous Journey fan, but I think the film was pretty good, and Arnel can sure sing like mad. I think most people who like Journey would also like the documentary.

  7. I knew little about Arnel Pineda until I saw this exact show in May. That guy is good! The drummer is AWESOME! His big solo just blew me away for its intensity, variety, effortlessness, and length.

    My two nits with them right now: First and superficially: don’t you think Neal Schon has had enough plastic surgery that he now looks like an iron-pumping Joker from Batman? He’s is still one of the top guitarists working, and proves it.

    Secondly, that Steve Perry-ish voice that Arnel Pineda has – or actually HAS to have. I realized during the show that Journey’s entire sound is anchored by THAT voice. Any other voice trying to do their material – no matter how good they are – just fizzles, even in my imagination. Pineda does a great job and has more energy than a lot of people, running around the stage, jumping and dancing. But he knows also how to work the crowd! He lets the audience sing a significant portion of the songs, but always from in the lead. He’s joyous, and you can tell he loves his gig!

    I understand that after this tour he is leaving the group to be with his wife and kids more. If that’s true, props to him. But what will the band do? They need him or – now – that Arnel Pineda voice, because he has earned it.

  8. Glad you enjoyed the show. By the time I was aware of Journey Steve Perry already had split so I’ve never gotten the opportunity to see original Journey live. But having listened to the albums over and over I can say that Pinela is a fantastic replacement and had I not known he wasn’t the original singer the only thing that would have tipped me off is the obvious age gap.

    It makes me really glad that Tony Iommi has made the effort to get together the two amazing Black Sabbath lineups for concerts (Dio-era right before he died, then more recently Ozzy), as that’s given me the opportunity to see both of those. It gave me that awesome Black Sabbath experience even though I was born a few decades too late.

  9. I get what you mean about a small kit sounding huge. Mutemath’s Darren King only has the basics–a snare, a few toms, and maybe a few cymbals, but damn if he doesn’t make himself sound like a force of nature!

  10. I get it, but Journey was too late to interest me…by a couple of decades. The groups/singers we still go to see are older, as in Neil Young, Steely Dan, John Fogerty, Bob Seger, Jimmy Buffett, Bonnie Raitt, Santana, Earth, Wind & Fire, Dion (still rocking at 77!), Boz Scaggs, Emmylou Harris, and (tonight) George Thorogood & The Delaware Destroyers.

    And keep off my lawn!

  11. We caught Asia at a summer festival several years ago. They were still trying to grow musically and played tracks from recent albums. But the they were billed in the promos as an ’80s prog band, and the crowd seemed irritated, They didn’t get around to playing the songs that everyone was there to hear until the encore. What was expected, was the sort of thing you got with Journey. I felt kind of bad for wanting a band to freeze itself in the past, but the concert promotion pretty much implied that was what we would be getting.

  12. Sounds like you had an unsurprisingly good time! ;)

    During the two years of our engagement prior to getting married, my husband’s and my favorite song was “Open Arms”, which we had played as our First Dance at our wedding in 1984. We felt it wasn’t appropriate to play IN the wedding, since the first line is “Lying beside you, here in the dark”. (We went with the Eddie Rabbitt/Crystal Gayle duet “You and I” though, with a soloist and a flute.)

  13. The last time I saw Journey was at a Day on the Green at Oakland Coliseum in 1979 or 1980. It was during the transition from Gregg Rollie to Steve Perry. I really preferred the Gregg Rollie version so the only Journey albums I have are Journey, Look into the Future, and Next. I still think of Steve Perry as the “new guy.” I don’t remember exactly who else was on the bill. I think Molly Hatchet, The Outlaws, maybe Cheap Trick, and Black Sabbath. I’ve never been a metal fan, even when I was a dumb teenager, so we went to the concourse and had lunch during Black Sabbath.

    I do remember that Journey’s sounds was head-and-shoulders better than any of the other bands. Instead of a bunch of stacks of speaker cabinets, they just rolled out a big rack of amp heads.

  14. I understand where you’re coming from. My personal fave is Yes, which I’ve loved for over forty years. Go to a show now, and the guitarist Steve Howe might be the only member from the original recording (as on their big hit “Roundabout”), but I don’t care. I’ve heard it said that perhaps these kind of “legacy bands” could go on forever with even newer members. After all, the Count Basie Orchestra and Glenn Miller Orchestra still tour.

  15. I am also a drummer. Was privileged to see Smith with his band several years back in a small club. Sat no more than 10 ft. away. Amazing.

  16. The only time I saw Journey was just before their very first album came out. Like SSteve, I saw them at a “Day on the Green” in Oakland, but in 1975. (Opening for Tower of Power and Jeff Beck, IIRC.) Their style was very different at the time, as you’ll know if you’ve heard that first album. Not a fan of the album, but live, they were outstanding! Aynsley Dunbar was the drummer then, and I was a huge fan of his work with Zappa. And, of course, I was a fan of Schon and Rolie from their work with Santana.

    I can’t claim to be a big Journey fan in general, but on that one afternoon, they gave me a great deal of pleasure! Glad to hear they still put on a fun show, even if it’s completely different from what I saw. :)

  17. I’m not a Journey fan, but my husband and I saw the documentary on Pineda. Great story. And, yes, Pineda is a *phenomenal* Steve Perry. Almost made me a fan. Glad you had a great time.

  18. I actually saw Journey with Foreigner when I was in high school about 15 years ago, just after Pineda took over as lead singer. I actually went with my parents – I thought both bands were fun and my parents were willing to pay! Around the same time, my boyfriend now husband saw Foreigner at a different concert with his parents. He described it as “when hair bands go bald.”

  19. Journey was such a kick for me back in the day. I was introduced to them with Steve Perry doing the vocals so the people who were going on about how Steve ‘ruined’ the band made no sense to me. Magnificent group.

    People are talking about Earth Wind and Fire, a super group with a big sound but how about Chicago in those days (or a bit earlier)? I swear, nobody did rock and roll with horns as well.

  20. What a great lineup. I hope the venue did it justice. I was in college in the 70s and the Doobie Brothers were pretty popular. That being said, that concert xtifr referenced with Tower of Power and Jeff Beck must have been insanely good.

  21. Also on the “old [1] rock bands with awesome drummers” front:

    I’ve always loved the Ventures’ performance of “Wipeout” since it first came out, but didn’t realize until recently that the percussion was two drummers playing so tight that you couldn’t tell it wasn’t just one. Watch the video.

    [1] And we’re talking “they were oldies when Journey debuted” old. Also, it seems, the all-time world’s most popular instrumental rock band. Who knew?

  22. Only knew Journey in their prime through the miracle of Mtv via the pirated signal from our 12 foot C- band satellite dish. Our local radio had a strict no distorted guitar before 10 PM policy stated or otherwise. You do what you have to when you live in the Maritimes. I hope they played Separate Ways as it is so choice. Nostalgia rocks.

  23. Ross Valory … Enjoy his sound (bass guitar player here) Pinela is a fine stand in for Perry, especially as Perry has no interest in returning. My favorite bands are Queen, Moody Blues, Herman’s Hermits, and Van Halen – at least before they messed over Mark Anthony. At least Mark seems to be doing a or better with his new band…. And bass players and drummers have to work closely together to drive the music forward!

  24. Jeff M.: I am more of your vintage, but Journey is at most only a couple years (hitwise) later than George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers.

    I liked Journey’s music well enough, but it was wallpaper for me for many years; in spite of the video for “Oh, Sherrie” being my absolute favorite video, it never occurred to me that Mr. Perry was also in Journey (and had a line in “We Are the World”). (My obsessive rock and roll fan days ended in the mid-to-late ’70s.) Around the time I realized I wasn’t hearing even the Journey standards, a fellow blogger posted a static Journey video, and, well, it was off to the races.

    Mary Alice Kropp: Someday, someone (not me) will, I hope, do a scholarly biography/dissertation on Journey that will either corroborate or explain your experience. Let’s just say I have fallen across some interesting websites.

    Somewhere I have the bookmark for Steve Perry’s website, to which he posts maybe about once a year.

    Seebs: Oh, that is wonderful. Recalls Freddie and the Dreamers in being more visual than aural.

  25. My wife and I had a similar experience seeing Blondie a month or so ago. Pure nostalgia is fun sometimes.

  26. Saw Crosby, Stills and Nash last year with my college-aged son – they did a great mix of older hits and new material. They were still in great voice.

  27. “Escape” came out in the summer after my sophomore year. I had just gotten my driver’s license and that album was all over DC101, WAVA, and Q107. Probably made occasional appearances on WHFS, too. Seems like someone always had it on their car stereo outside the old McLean bowling alley. Side A is a perfect early 80’s album side.