Journey w/ Cheap Trick and Heart – [Live]

Thursday, 09 October 2008

If you’re regular reader of Ground Control I know what you’re probably thinking. “What the hell was Raymond Ahner, the guy who covers all those punk and metal shows, doing at a concert like this?” Well, let me ask you a question. If you were given the chance to photograph three legendary bands, have a few beers, and take in live versions of "Dream Police," "Magic Man" and "Wheel In The Sky" on a warm Autumn evening, wouldn't you seize the opportunity? Of course you would! Besides, the opening band on this tour have been heroes of mine since the day I bought Live at Budokon on 8-track well over 25 years ago, and as is always the case, I was pretty excited to see them live again.

While the mullets and muscle shirts were still making their way into the venue, Cheap Trick hit the stage and proceeded to deliver one of the most entertaining sets I have witnessed this year, and as I was up in front of the stage taking pictures of the band I don't think the smile ever left my face. As the band went through hit after hit including "Oh Claire," "If You Want My Love," "California Man" and "The Flame," it was pretty hard to believe the average age of these four guys is almost 58 years old. Robin Zander hasn't lost his pipes, while drummer Bun E. Carlos and bassist Tom Petersson are still one of the best rhythm sections in rock history. As for guitar legend Rick Nielsen, the guy is a total nut on stage. While constantly throwing guitar picks into the crowd (and at me and my camera), running from one end of the stage to the other, and switching guitars at least a half a dozen times, he still managed to show what an incredible guitar player he is. And although the band’s "looseness" may have mistakenly made their performance seem just a bit sloppy, Cheap Trick are one of the only bands around that can pull off sounding so good while having so much fun on stage. They were non-stop good times and full of energy, and I'll take that any day. Of course no Cheap Trick set would be complete without the "mega-hits" and the band delivered with "I Want You To Want Me," "Surrender," and the perfect song to end their far-too-brief time on stage, "Goodnight." And although they then exited the stage, I thought to myself there was no way they were not coming back to play "Dream Police,” and they did not disappoint. Journey's Jonathan Cain, Ross Valory and Deen Castronovo even joined in on the fun. Cheap Trick were the PERFECT band to open this show, and if you have never seen them live, you need to go see them, because you are missing out on something special.

When I first learned that Heart did not allow professional photographers, I gotta admit I was pretty disappointed. I have been a huge fan of theirs for over 25 years, and to finally photograph Ann and Nancy Wilson after all these years would have been pretty damn cool. But as I made my way to my seat—which was only ten rows from the stage, and almost dead center—just as the band walked out on stage, I got over it, and was content (and pretty excited) to finally witness them live.

All I can really say about Heart's performance tonight is that from the opening note of "Wild Child," to the last beat of "Crazy On You," the band quite simply floored me. Ann Wilson sounded phenomenal, and belted out classics from four decades like she was thirty years old again. I was really quite pleasantly surprised by just how good she still sounds. As for her sister Nancy, her stage presence was very reminiscent of one Jimmy Page, from her slightly smug demeanor to the way she slung her guitar. She is an incredible guitarist, and totally owned the stage without being overbearing. And speaking of guitarists, the band’s other guitar player, Craig Bartock, was a bad ass himself, and traded riffs with Nancy quite nicely. Although every song got a roaring response from the crowd, it was "Never," "These Dreams" (with Nancy on Mandolin), and "Alone"—all hits from the 1980s, that surprisingly got the loudest reaction. Not that I don't like these songs, because I do, but I was more stoked to hear "Magic Man," "Barracuda" and my all-time favorite Heart song, "Straight On." Covers of The Who's "Love, Reign o'er Me" and Zeppelin's “Going To California" (again with Nancy on Mandolin) were also nice touches to the set list. And as the band wrapped up their set I thought to myself that I was so glad that I finally got the chance to see them live, but as with Cheap Trick, their time on stage was not nearly enough for me. Hopefully they will be retuning to the Bay Area soon.

While waiting patiently in the photo pit as the road crew put the finishing touches on the stage, I turned around to take a long look at the twelve thousand or so fans in front of me and couldn't help but feel the electricity in the air. These people were ready for a rock show, weekday be damned. What amazed me more than anything else however, was that there seemed to be two different generations of fans, the old ones (like myself) and the younger ones (the kids of the older ones) who probably weren't even born when I bought my copy of the Escape album way back in 1981. It was pretty cool to see, and gave me total flashbacks to being that age and at a huge show like this. I also couldn't help but notice the strong contingency of Filipinos in the audience, many who were holding up signs and waving the flag of their country, all in support of Arnel Pineda, the new vocalist for the band. I had heard of some of buzz about him, but did not expect to see such a following. It was a very nice show of support, and showed just how big of a fan base Journey still has.

Finally making their way on stage and immediately launching into "Never Walk Away," it was pretty obvious what all the hype surrounding Pineda was about. The guy sounds exactly like Steve Perry, while at the same time delivering the songs that Perry made famous with his own unique style. "Stone In Love," "Ask The Lonely" and "Separate Ways" all sounded totally undated with Pineda at the helm. He was nothing short of a total entertainer, and as he ran around the stage, jumped up in the air and even rode on the shoulders of a security guard at one point, he had the entire crowd in his clutches and hanging onto his every word. As for the rest of the band, guitarist Neal Schon seemed to be having a blast up on stage and was effortlessly belting out lick after lick on his sunburst Les Paul. I was pretty blown away, and I guess it just never really sunk in that he is a pretty incredible guitarist. And while we're on the subject of talent, I also never realized that Jonathan Cain was such a multi-instrument bad ass. Watching him go from piano/keyboards to guitar to harmonica, I was thoroughly impressed. Bassist Ross Valory delivered his signature thick and heavy bass licks, while drummer Deen Castronovo kept the beat flawlessly, and even delivered the vocals during "Keep On Running." Both Valory and Castronovo are pretty amazing musicians in their own right, and it was nice to see both of them making their presence known and not taking a back seat to the rest of the band, as is often the case with the rhythm section. As good as Journey were as a whole however, the evening belonged to Pineda. As he continued to amaze the crowd with spectacular renditions of both "Lights" and "Open Arms" it seemed that everyone person in the venue hand their glowing cell phones (I'm old enough to remember when it was lighters) up in the air and were swaying in unison to the music. And as Cain broke into the opening notes of "Don't Stop Believin'" on his piano, the place exploded, and rightfully so. I think that moment was the high point of everyone’s evening thus far, including mine.

As the show drew to a close with "Faithfully” and "Faith In The Heartland," and the encore of “Lovin, Touchin, Squeezin,” I walked out of the venue with a new level of respect for both Journey and Heart, while not losing an ounce of respect I have always had for Cheap Trick. In today's world of touring "nostalgia" acts it was so nice to see three bands that have been around for so long and still sound so good. Not only are three bands still incredibly talented, but all their songs have all with held the test of time, and still sound pretty damn good after all these years. What more could you ask for?


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