Friday Night: Journey at The Woodlands
Journey's enduring popularity might seem a little improbable at first, but it's not that hard to figure out.
Core members Neil Schon, the former Santana guitarist, and bassist Ross Valory founded the band all the way back in 1973, and picked up keyboardist Jonathan Cain a couple of years later. That makes drummer Deen Castronovo a relative newcomer at more than ten years in.
These guys all belong to a class of musicians who value flawless technique above anything else, almost like symphony players, and write songs explicitly to showcase their virtuosity. Then, once they reach a certain level of success, they're able to afford top-of-the-line equipment, which makes them sound that much better.
Journey's great secret was hitting on pop-psychology lyrics that might border on cliché, but when paired with music arranged so impeccably and triumphantly, become transcendent themeselves. This is the group that once had a big hit with little more than the words "Any way you want it, that's the way you need it." But it took a great vocalist to pull it off, which they once had in Steve Perry.
Their man now, "new" singer Arnel Pineda, is no spring chicken himself. The Manila native is actually 44, and had a long career in Asia before Schon noticed him on YouTube in early 2007, which led to Pineda joining the band late that year. It's the kind of improbable and heartwarming scenario that could only happen in a Journey song.
But he looks 20 years younger, and never stops moving onstage - high-fiving the crowd up front, leaping off Castronovo's drum riser, running around so much he had to change T-shirts a few times, including into a timely maroon Texas Aggies SEC number. He's just as energetic on Twitter at @arnelpineda, which is kind of cute.
Vocally, he is up to the task, which he proved Friday the second he started to belt out the climax of "Faithfully." Journey is the rare band where, in the term "power ballad," the word power is as important (if not moreso) than the word ballad. He had no trouble whatsoever leading the ubiquitous singalongs and wavealongs, the main reason folks go to a show like Journey in the first place.
Journey actually does have a recent album, last year's Eclipse, but didn't work up any of its songs for this tour. But they did include one from their first album with Pineda, "Never Walk Away," was folded into Friday's opening barrage that also included "Any Way You Want It," "Only the Young" and "Ask the Lonely." It fit so seamlessly you'd never guess it was not even five years old yet.