Concert Reviews

Journey Played the Hits and Some Deep Cuts at Gexa Energy Pavilion

Journey With Steve Miller Band and Tower of Power Gexa Energy Pavilion, Dallas Sunday, May 25, 2014

There's something about hearing songs like "Lights," "Only the Young" and "Don't Stop Believin'" that never truly gets old, no matter how many times you hear them or how old you are. The audience at Gexa Energy Pavilion on Sunday night got to relish their proverbial (and real) pie and ice cream as (the mostly real) Journey came to play their hits on this flag-waving weekend. Call these tunes timeless, but it would be a little more apropos to say the songs have long out-lived the cynical corporate rock tag from the '70s and '80s.

Before that sweet classic rock release, however, it had looked like the celebrations would have to contend with the weather. But no amount of scattered showers on Sunday afternoon could stop concertgoers at the old Starplex from filling the place up all the way to the top of the lawn. The rain let up by the time Tower of Power came on a little before 7:00 and never poured down again. The long-running jazz-fusion group, with its five-part horn section, did their best to rally the gathering crowd.

That led to Steve Miller and his five-piece backing band. Miller, a former local who went to St. Mark's and Woodrow Wilson High School, had the audience by the palm of his hand. With 17 songs (including an encore), you could have mistaken Miller as the headliner. Rolling through the big hits like "Abracadabra," "Space Cowboy" and "The Joker," Miller still sounded in fine shape. His brief solo acoustic set in the middle was a nice touch, and his encore of "Fly Like an Eagle" elevated the crowd.

Journey took stage at 9:30 and wasted no time getting to the big hits in the set. Without a new album to promote, they wisely stuck to their biggest hits of their career. Slight divergences from that path gave the crowd a chance to rest and sit down. Playing two songs from 2011's Eclipse, the electric charge came back to the crowd when another instantly-familiar tune started.

Lead vocalist Arnel Pineda continued to show why he's a worthy frontman for this band. He ran all over the stage, engaged the audience with smiles and arm movements, and still nailed the indelible tenor of original singer Steve Perry's voice. Backed by the always entertaining Deen Castronovo (behind a small fortress of drums), guitarist Neal Schon, keyboardist/guitarist Jonathan Cain, and bassist Ross Valory kept the eternal flame that is Journey going.

Not every big hit was played, but Jonathan Cain did make a decent effort to at least play recognizable bits from songs like "When You Love A Woman," "Who's Cryin' Now?" and "After All These Years" during his extended solo spotlight. Neal Schon had not one, but two solo bits. First he played "The Star-Spangled Banner" and later did some noodling prior to "Wheel in the Sky." Neal loves to play his guitar, especially high up on the fretboard.

Castronovo took center stage on lead vocals during "Mother, Father," a tune that is far from easy to sing and seemingly Herculean to sing and play drums for at the same time. Castronovo has done this live for years and his enthusiasm behind the kit certainly gives plenty for his bandmates to work off of.

Kudos to the band for honoring the history of the band from 1978's Infinity on. Featuring pictures of the various line-ups over the years on the big screen TVs behind them, Schon even briefly acknowledged Steve Perry and their songwriting partnership when introducing "Lights."

More kudos: the band even took time out to play "La Do Da" and "Anytime," singles from Infinity that you're probably not going to ever hear on a terrestrial radio station's playlist chained to focus groups and call-out research.

As the audience swayed to the finally "Na-na-na-na" chorus of "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'" the band called it a night after 90 minutes, leaving few to complain about the show they just saw. Unfortunately, the still-awful traffic congestion to get out of Gexa's parking lot awaited. But the spirit of a great show can overcome a frustrating post-show traffic jam, right?

Personal bias: My fandom of Journey goes like this: been a fan for over 30 years, will talk your ear off about the many, many, many merits of the records the band cut after Steve Perry left the band, and routinely air-drum and air-guitar to tunes like "Don't Stop Believin'" and "Open Arms."

Journey's set list: "Be Good to Yourself" "Separate Ways" "Any Way You Want It" "Only the Young" "The Star-Spangled Banner" "Stone In Love" "Mother, Father" "She's a Mystery" "Lights" Piano Solo "Open Arms" "Ritual" "La Do Da" "Anytime" Guitar solo "Wheel in the Sky" "Faithfully" "Don't Stop Believin'" "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin"

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Eric Grubbs is a Dallas-based writer who has published two books, Post: A Look at the Influence of Post-Hardcore 1985-2007 and When We Were the Kids. His writing has been featured in Punk Planet, Popdose, Fort Worth Weekly, The Dentonite and LA Weekly. He supports Manchester City and will never root for Manchester United.
Contact: Eric Grubbs