Hemingway once said that his aim as a writer was to express his feelings in the simplest way possible, which is the same recipe that Journey perfected en route to cementing its Hall-of-Fame resumé. Neal Schon and Co. have churned out so many commercial earworms, in fact, that critics forget just how many stellar musicians have filtered through the lineup since they first arrived on the scene back in 1973. Legends such as Gregg Rolie, Aynsley Dunbar, and Steve Smith helped them build the ideal bridge between the Santana-esque jams of the ’70s and the palatable AOR that would come to dominate the ’80s, but I could count on one hand the number of “major” music journalists willing to admit that these guys could actually play.
Why that is doesn’t matter, because Journey’s recent stop at KeyBank Center served as yet another example of how impervious they are to critical analysis. Fans showed up to belt out the songs of their youth without concern for where the band’s reputation sits among the intelligentsia. They adore “Don’t Stop Believin'” and have accepted Arnel Pineda as a singer despite the new songs he recorded with the band rarely ending up in a setlist. You could almost say that Journey is a nostalgia act by design, but, when they deliver it this well, why complain?
While Steve Perry will always be synonymous with the band’s sound, Pineda has been fronting the band longer than Perry ever did and continues to earn his spot on a nightly basis. As tremendous as his vocal performance on “Open Arms,” “Faithfully,” and “Wheel in the Sky” was, the way in which he sold the material with his physicality was equally as important. He connected with the crowd through a shared love of the catalog, so it was up to the rest of the guys to match his investment in the moment.
Neal took a few scorching solos when he wasn’t tearing it up on “Stone in Love” or “Who’s Crying Now,” Jonathan Cain won over the crowd by professing his affinity for Bills Mafia, and drummer Deen Castronovo summoned a version of “Mother, Father” that stood as the emotional apex of the evening. Opening with “Only the Young” and closing with “Any Way You Want It” was odd, but I can’t quibble too much given that “Ask the Lonely” also made an appearance.
I had a professor in college for whom beating up on Journey was a pastime, so the reality of them still being a draw 13 years after I graduated must be quite uncomfortable for him.
Putting Toto in the support slot for this stretch was a savvy move, because they’re another group whose musical prowess can sneak up on you if you’ve been swallowing Jann Wenner’s bullshit all these years. Guitarist Steve Lukather has assembled a formidable lineup that breathes new life into the classics while also reminding people why tracks such as “White Sister” and “Pamela” deserve a wider audience. Vocalist Joseph Williams sounded terrific throughout and Lukather’s solo on “Rosanna” was even tastier than the one he laid down on Toto IV.
When they were finished, I interrupted my seven-year-old son’s air guitar session to ask him what he thought. His only complaint was that Lukather’s hair didn’t look exactly the same as it did back in 1982, so, if that’s all there was for him to criticize, I’d say that Toto passed the audition.