Heady journey to the past

Journey's (from far left) Arnel Pineda, Jonathan Cain, Ross Valory, Steve Smith and Neal Schon were brilliant on stage.
Journey's (from far left) Arnel Pineda, Jonathan Cain, Ross Valory, Steve Smith and Neal Schon were brilliant on stage.PHOTO: LAMC PRODUCTIONS

Veteran American band Journey saved the best for last with a revelatory encore



The Star Theatre

Last Friday

The bulk of the two-hour show at The Star Theatre was reserved for their best-known tunes from the 1980s - no one heading to a Journey show would expect otherwise - but the real gems appeared during the encore.

Returning to the stage after a rousing rendition of what is arguably their most popular anthem, Don't Stop Believin', the veteran American band tore into La Raza Del Sol, a little-known track from the same album, 1981's Escape.

It made you realise how much they had reined in their musical prowess when they started focusing on the romantic power ballads that endeared them to a mainstream audience. A heady mix of vivacious Latin rock and jazz with progressive undertones, it was a performance that harked back to the band's early 1970s roots.

Guitarist and founding member Neal Schon, 62, after all, spent his early years playing with Latin rock icon Santana before forming Journey in San Francisco.

Schon's adroit playing on the song - guitar licks executed with speed and finesse - was matched by the tight rhythms from keyboardist Jonathan Cain, 66, and drummer Steve Smith, 62, both long-time members.

The band's technical brilliance appeared in snatches elsewhere throughout the show in the form of guitar and drum solos.

For the most part though, it was a setlist that pandered to their adoring, mostly mature fans in the audience.

The material was mostly from Escape and its 1983 follow-up, Frontiers, the two albums that gave the band their most recognisable tunes - synth-heavy love songs such as Faithfully, Open Arms and Who's Crying Now that feature big choruses bolstered by multi-part harmonies.

Filipino singer Arnel Pineda, who was famously discovered on YouTube singing Journey cover songs, joined the band a decade ago and did a stellar job mimicking original singer Steve Perry's high notes.

The youngest member at 49, the diminutive frontman was also the biggest showman in the band as he executed multiple leaps on stage.

While he seemed to struggle with hitting the right notes in gig opener Separate Ways (Worlds Apart), he quickly found his stride by the second song, Be Good To Yourself, from 1986's Raised On Radio.

He offered little verbal interaction with the audience though, aside from the standard "Thank you Singapore, are you happy?" shout-outs.

There was more banter from Schon, fellow founding member and bassist Ross Valory, 68, and Cain, who took turns to talk about the stories behind some of their classic songs.

Lights, from 1978 album Infinity, for example, was an ode to their home city of San Francisco and one of the first songs Schon wrote with Perry.

It was heartening to hear them play the ballad, a relatively minor hit compared to their better-known Top 10 tunes. That it showed off more of their musical dexterity did not hurt either.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2017, with the headline 'Heady journey to the past'. Print Edition | Subscribe