Judging by the response of the massive 72,000 in attendance for their RodeoHouston debut on Thursday, March 10, there are plenty of fans that haven’t stopped believing in classic rock act Journey.
If the goal of RodeoHouston event organizers is to appeal to the widest segment as possible, the classic rock act checked all the boxes. On the concourse before the show, guys and gals decked out in cowboy gear mingled with diehard rock ‘n rollers, trimmed beards mixing with shaved heads and goatees, crisp plaid shirts next to leather jackets.
A review of the group that started in San Francisco wouldn't be complete without talking about the current lead singer, Arnel Pineda, who stepped into the shoes most notably worn by the legendary Steve Perry who left the group in 1987. Searching for a new frontman after Perry's replacement Steve Augeri came down with a throat infection, lead guitarist Neal Schon — the only original member of the band when it started in 1973 — found Pineda singing Journey cover songs with his band in The Philippines via YouTube in 2007, and invited him to join the band.
In other words, Journey quite literally had to go to the ends of the earth to find someone who could match Perry's range. That's absolutely bonkers. But if one closed their eyes throughout the night's performance, one would be hard pressed to know the difference between Perry and Pineda, the latter with the same raspy, soaring pipes that endeared Perry to millions.
Coming out to the 1973 Led Zeppelin song, "D'yer Mak'er," the proceedings kicked off with Schon blasting through a rousing rendition of "Star Spangled Banner" that got the crowd primed, akin to Jimi Hendrix’s famed Woodstock performance all the way down to the left-handed guitar.
With the decibels up, the entire band kicked into "Stone in Love" from the 1981 chart-topping album, Escape, transporting NRG in a time machine to 40 years ago when Journey filled stadiums of this size on the regular. The group was extremely comfortable in front of a huge crowd with always active Pineda using the entire star-shaped stage, including the star points that raised him high into the air several times throughout the concert.
Whereas some debut acts don't know how to take advantage of the sprawling set, Journey showcased their rock and roll lifer pedigree. "Only the Young," most notably used in the 1985 Matthew Modine wrestling movie, Vision Quest, indulged in the nostalgia, ending with an extended guitar jam, a great rendition of the album, Frontiers.
No surprise here to say that "Don’t Stop Believin'", another track from Escape, drew the biggest response of the night, turning NRG Stadium into one giant karaoke bar for thousands while Pineda nailed the extreme high notes with gusto. The indelible tune has aged like fine wine and might be even more popular today than it was when it hit No. 4 on the charts back in 1981.
Then it was back to 1978 for "Lights," which drew the cellphone flashlights from pockets, images of San Francisco playing on the giant video screen behind the band.
"Dead or Alive" featured a nice spotlight on the baby grand piano by longtime member Jonathan Cain, sounding like the training montage to countless '80s sports movies. Once again, it was a great vocal turn by Pineda, showcasing his high energy, the song ending with a prog-rock bassline and extended drum flourish finish that the crowd lapped up.
"We paid the price for life on the road," Cain said, introducing the next song. "It made me think of those who are paying the price for the life they are living, those who are here competing in the rodeo. Cowboys and cowgirls, this goes out to you."
The Rock and Rock Hall of Famers then dipped into their bread and butter with "Faithfully," the cellphone flashlights back for a faithful rendition of the Frontiers radio hit.
Yet another hit, “Separate Ways" followed with a big scream from the crowd as the unmistakable keyboard riff rang out. Like "Don't Stop Believin'," the song has aged well, even if the parody-prone video hasn't (see the recent New Kids On The Block video for proof). The hits kept coming with the 1978 jam "Wheel in the Sky," complete with its recognizable harmonized chorus.
It produced yet another singalong from the adoring fans throughout the cavernous stadium. Another extended jam led by Schon brought the heat with shades of hair metal, a drum solo finish drawing huge applause. The youngest song of the set, the 1986 jam "Be Good to Yourself" was next, taken from the band's last top ten album, the aptly named Raised on Radio.
Schon truly impressed here with his fretwork, basically serving as a clinic for the veteran guitar player. The short, but amazingly executed set ended at just over an hour with 1980 hit single "Any Way You Want It," Pineda indulging in a call-and-response with the still-full stands.
While many rock fans might consider Journey uncool, the band did all they could to dispel that notion on Thursday night, putting on an electrifying performance that had the crowd on their feet for most of the show. They smartly stuck with the hits and the RodeoHouston faithful were thankful for it.
"Houston, we'll be friends forever," Pineda exclaimed, the band taking a bow. The feeling was mutual.
“Star Spangled Banner”
“Stone in Love”
“Only the Young”
“Don’t Stop Believing”
“Dead or Alive”
“Wheel In the Sky”
“Be Good to Yourself”
“Any Way You Want It”