Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Journey/Foreigner/Night Ranger concert review

photo by Alex Solca
My review originally appeared at

Classic rock fans definitely got a bang for their buck when Journey, Foreigner and Night Ranger teamed up to do an energetic show at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre on Saturday night.

Even with a top tier price at $135, the concert still sold out. Demand was so high that many people sought tickets. I witnessed one desperate guy who inadvertently bought counterfeits off Craigslist and couldn’t even snag lawn seats from the box office.   

Over the past few years, veteran Bay Area band Journey (pictured, above) has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, due in large part to the continued staying power of 1981 top 10 single “Don’t Stop Believin’”. Prominently featured in the season finale of TV’s “The Sopranos,” “Glee,” the hit Broadway sensation “Rock of Ages” and elsewhere, it is the top selling catalog track in iTunes history, having moved over 4 million downloads.

2008’s Revelation, their first studio effort with Arnel Pineda – the Filipino singer discovered by guitarist Neal Schon on YouTube – was certified platinum and spawned a pair of top 20 Adult Contemporary radio singles. Eclipse, released in May, is a loosely-based concept album about belief and enlightenment, with more aggressive guitar sounds and expansive solos. Schon has compared its sonic scope to Frontiers.

In Irvine, Journey – anchored by drummer and Westminister native Deen Castronovo - launched their fantastic 100-minute headlining set with a fierce “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart).” Several dozen square panels behind the stage projected album covers, filmed clips and dazzling images throughout. Paired with lasers, the visuals were quite a sight.

Pineda was agile and a total ball of energy onstage - jumping, pogoing and doing flying leaps at every opportunity. He boasts an amazingly elastic vocal range that not only matches best known Journey singer Steve Perry, but often surpasses it. The front man also appears more poised and confident than in early tours with the group.

Schon is among hard rock’s most influential axemen and watching his fast-fingered fretwork live, it’s easy to see why. New tunes like the swelling “City of Hope” - inspired by a band trip to Pineda’s former home in Manila - and the ominous “Edge of the Moment,” featuring a squealing dual guitar effect, plus that indelible melodic end solo on “Who’s Crying Now?,” were prime examples of Schon’s continued instrumental prowess. 

The plaintive “Lights” found fans swaying, singing along loudly and holding their cell phones aloft; “Wheel in the Sky” featured a bluesy harmonica coda by Jonathan Cain and supple group backing vocals. Whether it was tasteful grand piano flourishes (the classical-style intro to “Open Arms,” “Send Her My Love,” “Faithfully”), florid keyboards or synths, principal co-songwriter Cain is frequently the glue that holds the songs together.   

Following the uplifting, rich vocals of “Be Good to Yourself” and a buoyant “Believin’”, confetti shot over the crowd and Journey quickly rocked hard on closer “Anyway You Want It.” Earlier, on insanely catchy riff rocker “Stone in Love,” Pineda sang “those summer nights are calling.” Great weather, sound and a mostly well-behaved crowd (Pineda acknowledged the always pervasive pot smoke at Verizon rock shows) all converged to make this a perfect evening.

Those who immediately dismiss Foreigner in 2011 because guitarist/songwriter Mick Jones is only original member left  should see the sextet live. The current lineup that solidified in '05 does an exceptional job at replicating the band’s late 1970s and ‘80s pop/album oriented rock radio hits.

Jones definitely made the right decision in recruiting lanky lead vocalist Kelly Hansen, whose timbre has just enough grit to resemble original singer Lou Gramm, but also brings to mind a young Steven Tyler.

2009’s highly satisfying Can’t Slow Down, their first studio album together, was co-produced by Jones, Aerosmith collaborator Marti Frederiksen and Mick Ronson. Like Journey’s Revelation, it was initially available exclusively at WalMart in one of those bargain-conscious three-disc packages.    

Although two of the newer tracks were top 20 at AC radio, none made it into 65-minute O.C. performance. Instead, it was crowd pleasers all the way, which worked to the band’s advantage. Everything went down a storm.

Opening with “Double Vision,” Jones and Thom Gimbel’s guitars blazed a sharp trail and Hansen came racing out to the stage, twirling the mike stand. He vamped at the end “Head Games” and Jones played an extended solo.

Enthusiastic drummer Marc Schulman did his part to keep the crowd revved up during the dramatic “Cold as Ice,” as the singer made the first of several forays deep into the orchestra section.

“I’m from Hermosa Beach, so I know a lot of what goes down here [in O.C.] has to do with nubile young women,” teased Hansen, before hard charging rocker “Dirty White Boy.” Images of James Dean, Marlon Brando and Elvis Presley simultaneously flashed on the backdrop screens.

A haunting “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” prefaced by a stripped-down intro and featuring tandem icy synths and keyboards from Jones and Michael Bluestein, was among the set standouts.

Others included Hansen’s soulful vocals on a spirited, extended “Urgent,” where Gimbel wildly blared the sax, the needling guitars on “Hot Blooded” and “Juke Box Hero,” where the group pulled out all the stops and Hansen worked up a sweat darting around while cool videogame-type animation was projected behind them.

Due to box office problems, I missed most of Night Ranger’s set. But the hard rock band, which has a new album (Somewhere in California) in stores, was just as spirited as when I saw them last September at the venue.

All three electric guitarists took turns standing on the amps. Meanwhile, leader Jack Blades was grinning ear to ear as they plowed through “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me,” the anthemic “(You Can Still) Rock in America” and power ballad “Sister Christian,” sung by drummer Kelly Keagy.


The package tour returns to SoCal, at the Hollywood Bowl, on Oct. 11. Tickets are $25-$175.

Setlist: Journey, Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, Irvine, July 23, 2011

Main set: Separate Ways/Ask the Lonely/City of Hope/Only the Young/Send Her My Love/Who’s Crying Now/Stone in Love/Edge of the Moment/Lights/Wheel in the Sky/Chain of Love/Open Arms/Escape/Faithfully/Be Good to Yourself/Don’t Stop Believing

Encore: Anyway You Want It


ed b said...

sounds like a great show. wanted to see the triple bill at jones beach in jones beach in long island but was not able to make the show.

newwavegeo said...

If you don't mind driving a bit, Journey and Foreigner are heading back to NY to play Syracuse 8/30, while Journey is doing Atlantic City a few days later.