It was the summer of 1981, I was 17 years old, and for some reason, this moment has stayed with me all through adulthood to now. I remember it as if it was yesterday. I was in my room with my boom box blaring my Oingo Boingo “Only a Lad” cassette. One of my sister’s friends asked me who was I playing, I told her and lent her the cassette tape so she could check it out. In return, she gave me a cassette to experience – “Escape” by a band called Journey. I gave it back to her a few days later, but before then, I listened to that tape from beginning to end at least 50 times, if not more. I was hooked on the band and that album.
Fast forward to the present and I headed to the Honda Center in Anaheim to review their show with Toto. To be honest, I have been in music for several decades now and I have gravitated to more of the alternative rock sound, but I figured this would be a simple review for me. I knew the band and their music catalog (or so I thought), so I was fully prepared.
As I normally do, I surveyed the crowd before the show and I saw what I expected. Because of my familiarity with the band, I came with bias. I have always been a Steve Perry fan and it was going to take a lot to impress me. As I was preparing for the show, I wasn’t sure what the following was like for the band these days with Arnel Pineda as their lead singer (Pineda took over singing duties in 2007). Just like in Mark Wahlberg’s “Rock Star,” Pineda was part of a cover band called The Zoo when he got the call to audition. The rest is music history.
It was a warm night in Anaheim; the stage was set (metaphorically speaking of course), and the crowd was dressed to the hilt in ‘80s attire with Toto and Journey shirts galore. Sometimes at shows like this, I see over-the-top uber-fans, and I expected to find a few of them here; I was not disappointed. What I was surprised to see was the number of younger fans. There was an ample amount of the under-30 crowd rolling into Honda Center and that did surprise me a little.
As I took my seat, a gentleman sat next to me. He was a tall, distinguished older gentleman wearing a very nice blue suit. He looked at me and asked, “This is very exciting, no?” He said it in a very distinct French accent. I was polite and said, “Yes. Where are you from? I detect an accent.” He said, “My name is Maurice. I’m from Paris and I am here on business. I saw Journey was playing and I had to come.” I asked if he was a fan, and he said, “Of course! I know every word to every song. I have followed their music since I was a little boy.” As soon as he said that, the lights went down and out came Toto.
As soon as they hit the stage, I saw grown men and women in tears with their phones raised high in the air in a sign of respect for the band. Lead singer Steve Lukather opened strong to a screaming crowd to “Orphan.” It was the second song where the Honda Center crowd lost their proverbial minds as Toto went into their classic guitar riff that segued to “Hold the Line.” The crowd erupted and I saw everyone singing along, even Maurice.
The crowd became over-the-top excited as Toto played hits including “With a Little Help From My Friends” and “Rosanna” before closing with fan favorite, “Africa.” It was funny to hear the couple in front of us talk about how Toto was doing a Weezer cover, which Maurice quickly corrected them on.
After a short intermission, the main event was about to unfold. Journey took the stage. I was very impressed by the kick-ass stage set. With a brilliant light show and enormous video screen behind them, it gave everyone at Honda Center a clear look at all of the band members.
As the music began to “Only the Young,” the video panned to get a glimpse of the band. The larger-than-life band was on display for all their fans, Neal Schon on lead guitar, Jonathan Cain on guitar, Jason Derlatka on keys, Deen Castronovo on drum, and then appears Arnel Pineda.
As soon as Pineda took the stage, the crowd noise went up a notch. Given I only know Steve Perry on vocals; I was really ready to hear this kid’s vocal chops. A few seconds in, I came to the conclusion the kid could sing. He wasn’t Steve Perry and he wasn’t trying to be; perhaps that has always been the point, and it worked. The band sounded tight, and the vocals fit perfectly. As I looked around, the crowd of all ages was engaged. At that moment I got why this band was still selling out stadiums; they could still bring it!
Then it happened; a few chords that changed the entire night for me. Journey went into a song off “Escape,” a song I have heard a gajillion times; “Stone in Love.” Sure, perhaps not one of the uber-hits, but for me it was very meaningful. The second I heard the chords, I was transported back to 1981. I saw myself as a 17 year old listening to the cassette tape on my boom box in my room, and I was listening to “Stone in Love.”
I don’t know how or why it happened, but I got a little emotional and I could feel my eyes start to water. It was like a muscle reflex and I was singing out LOUD to every word of that song. I looked to my right and with his fist clenched high over his head, Maurice was singing too, and somehow he lost his French accent. We all sung in unison as we looked at each other while we sang along.
Funny how music has the power to do that. For a brief moment, everyone in my little area of Honda Center was 17 again. I have always subconsciously made fun of people that do that, but for the first time ever, I got that feeling.
If that wasn’t enough, the hit parade continued as Pineda was like the Pied-Piper leading the minions into larger-than-life songs, “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Lights,” “Who’s Crying Now,” “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’,” “Open Arms,” “Faithfully,” “Wheel in the Sky,” and they closed it out with everyone’s favorite, “Anyway You Want It.”
I always say music is the great communicator, and it has the power to change lives. Journey proved that to be true. As I left Honda Center, I looked back at the crowd and they were spent. They had used every piece of energy singing and dancing along to this legendary band. I saw fan after fan with teary eyes and for the first time I ever, I got it.
As I looked back one last time, I saw Maurice. He just raised his fist in the air again and yelled out, “Au revoir J’immie… till next time!”
I have covered a ton of shows in my lifetime, I will remember this one. Journey captured what music is all about. A means to remember, honor, celebrate and forget about life for a while.