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Venue: Comcast Center, Mansfield, Mass. (Tuesday, Aug. 19)
They opened with “Never Walk Away,” from the recently released “Revelation.” It sure sounded like old Journey. And if you closed your eyes during Tuesday’s show, you might have thought as much.
But it wasn’t Steve Perry. The singer who fueled the band’s huge popularity went AWOL years ago, and Journey has had a tough time filling his shoes. When the series finale of “The Sopranos” practically handed the band a comeback, it still lacked a vocalist. Then guitarist Neal Schon found Perry doppelganger Arnel Pineda on YouTube, and the band has been generating more buzz than it has in 25 years.
So everybody came to check out the new guy. Here’s the thing: He doesn’t sound kinda like Steve Perry; he sounds exactly like Steve Perry. It’s uncanny; he even dresses just as badly as Perry ever did. A youthful 40, the Filipino singer jumped and raced around the stage, reaching out to touch fans as they cheered him on through more familiar songs (“Stone in Love,” “Only the Young”), and his energy seemed to genuinely invigorate the rest of the band.
The rest of the band — Schon, bassist Ross Valory, keyboardist Jonathan Cain and drummer Deen Castronovo — are old as dirt and look like hell (Valory looks like Willem Dafoe playing a ghoul), but with Pineda on board, they played like they were gunning for the Warped Tour. The more Pineda ran around, the more animated they became. Schon was breathtaking, if breathless, squealing out leads; Cain sprinted between piano and rhythm guitar so often it was easy to forget that this band was known for syrupy ballads.
It took Journey a full 45 minutes before it got to the good stuff. The band favored songs from “Revelation,” its hit hybrid double album, which sounded fine but stumped most casual fans. That wasn’t the case when they got to “Open Arms” and “Lights.” Pineda nailed “Faithfully” and “Don’t Stop Believin’,” closing the night with “Any Way You Want It.”
Pineda has breathed new life into Journey, though it might take awhile for listeners to get behind the new material. Maybe next time they’ll play “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.”
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