Journey @ Bethel Woods Center for the Arts (8/30/2008)

Logo - Journey

Artist: Journey
Venue: Bethel Woods Center for the Arts (Bethel Woods, NY)
Opener: Cheap Trick & Heart
Date: 8/30/2008
Label: Columbia Records

While it’s true that I make sure to attend and review a lot of concerts that come through the Big Apple for the sake of the Metal and Hard Rock fans for the web readers at large, it is not too often that I allow myself the luxury of focusing on the Classic Rock greats that got me interested in music in the first place. It’s also rather difficult to get outside of the NYC region when one considers just how many great bands manage to roll through town on a regular basis. Despite this being the case I actually needed to do this when I realized that I had missed the chance to see the one and only Journey perform at one of my favorite outdoor venues – the PNC Bank Arts Center. The band was not only celebrating a stunning new album, but also introducing their new singer and to up the ante on this tour they were bringing Cheap Trick and Heart along as well. My only option was to head up North about 90 miles to the site of the original Woodstock Festival of 1969, the beautiful Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. I was excited about this particular Rock and Roll journey because I had never been to the venue or the Woodstock grounds ever before and considering the historic nature of the property had to admit that this was going to be a whole lot of fun. My friends and I snared a parking space about a half miles walk from the venue and all around us were folks enjoying the warm summer day by cooking, playing music and indulging in the ever present pre-game beer drinking. The grounds are beautiful and its one of those places that on a clear day seems like the perfect cure for the 9-5 weekday blues. The venue is not too far from the original site and some markers and signs have been set up to commemorate the event and sadly I had not arrived early enough to absorb this spot or the onsite museum that the Center offers its visitors. Here is how the concert went.

Cheap Trick: Although this is information that finds me dating myself a little bit, I have to inform the readers that I’ve been a fan of this band since that fateful day back in 1977 when I first purchased “Live At Budokan” on vinyl. I think it was one of the first albums that I was actually allowed to buy without a block of questions on what was I spending the parental money on. The album was nothing less than a blockbuster hit and one that propelled their career into the stratosphere back in that Rock and Roll heyday but more on this release can come when the band delivers their anniversary edition of the record later this year. However, despite my ardent support of their music I had never managed to catch them live outside of the many DVD’s and televised appearances that they would do and even while owning remastered editions of their catalog a gig had escaped me. This made my night start off with a bang and I had to admit a little jolt of electricity hit me when the band first came on the stage. To me, Cheap Trick are Road Warriors when it comes to performances. They pull out all the stops and are very visually involved with their audience as well as being top rocking musicians. Bun E. Carlos still sits behind a quaint drum set and his technique still proves inspirational as he hammers out the beginning notes of their intro while Rick Nielsen makes his way up to a microphone stand that had to be adorned with a few hundred guitar picks. He throws them out to the audience like a ninja would fling throwing stars and despite my best efforts I was not able to find one around me anywhere. Robin Zander still has the pipes and while he might not scream as loudly as he once did he had not lost an ounce of melody. The set was loaded with hit material and songs that were part of my upbringing as a young fan. Highlights for me are the expected “Surrender” and “She’s Tight” (a song that I don’t think they play live all that often). During “Surrender”, Nielsen throws out an album cover that is laden with guitar picks and one lucky fan that was jumping around managed to catch it. He was the most active of all the people in the crowd around me so I was glad that it fell into his hands as opposed to anyone else.

The whole place was singing along to the blockbuster hit “I Want You to Want Me” and now at over two decades old, the track has not lost an ounce of luster. The band would bring the mood down a little for their stellar ballad “The Flame” and during this one the place was lighters and cell phone displays but with their still being the sun’s natural light around us, the effect was not as grand as it could have been. We also got to see some of Rick’s special guitars and among them the five-necked one that still amazes me how it can even be carried much less played and one that sports the faces of the Fab Four. The beginning notes of “Dream Police” let the audience know that this part of the show was officially coming to a close but what no one expected was the band being joined by Journey’s Jonathan Cain and Deen Castronovo during it. The pair helped out with some background vocals and this just made the tune a lot more fun to see done live. This set made me want to see Cheap Trick doing a headlining set and they clearly showed everyone how it’s done with their performance this evening.

Heart: Oddly enough I never caught Heart in concert either, but during their heyday I was not into it enough to merit going and now the chance to enjoy what they were all about was here. Their music was always amazing of course and I would blast some of the more notable tracks at higher volumes when they came on the radio because Anne Wilson had one of those voices that is best enjoyed at maximum levels. They were second up this evening and while it seemed as though only Anne and Nancy remained from the original lineup of the group, they were always the core piece of the thing as long as quality musicians were on board doing their respective parts. They opened with “Wild Child” and slipped smoothly into “Magic Man” (one of my favorite tracks of theirs for many years) and clearly they were showing just how good they have remained as well. Anne’s voice cut the summer nights air like a knife and there were moments when the over all power of it would make the audience grow goose bumps. The girls both interacted with the audience and talked about what an honor it was to play up there near the legendary Woodstock, and Nancy was so moved that she even offered up one of their songs for the place. The set covered a lot of their catalog which impressed me and I couldn’t find one flaw in their set list selections. Heavy grooves like “Straight On” from their early days all the way up to the MTV staple of “These Dreams” which was sung by Nancy. I had long forgotten that she did this one and thanks to the reminder from a video on YouTube I was able to recall a little better. “Alone” was an early show-stopper and probably one of the tunes that is most associated with the group and it was also a tune that found the audience singing along at top volume which is always a good thing.

They would deliver the first of two covers by giving us The Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me” and with this one I was thinking to myself how Journey really had best be on their game tonight or risk being out played by their opener. The band that makes up Hearts other members are top notch players and feature Debbie Shair (keyboards), Ben Smith (drums), Rick Markmann (bass) and Craig Bartock (guitar). Shair was very animated from behind her keyboard rig while Bartock really made the leads sing for each and every number. The guys in the rhythm section were locked into place tight and this allowed for the others to be able to do their thing a lot easier but of course the main focus would be on the Wilson sisters who were making new fans as well as proving to their core supporters about why they were so special to them in the first place. Heart would deliver another cover with Led Zeppelin’s “Going To California” and it was also well-received since they do it justice and this killer portion of the night was completed with a resounding “Barracuda”. The set made me also feel that Heart should do some more headlining shows and I hope this happens sometime soon in the new year.

Journey: The world’s Journey fans were stunned when yet another singer was announced for the band roster as after all this new addition would be their third since Steve Perry was no longer involved. However, this state of shock would come with much more of a seal of approval once they got to hear just how good Mr. Arnel Pineda was at his craft. The singer hails from the Philippines and is a vocal dead ringer for Mr. Perry and with his presence in the band the pundits can no longer say that the signature sound they loved is gone. I was pretty much in musical bliss by the time Journey was ready to hit the stage after the rocking set from Cheap Trick and the stunning display from Heart and the excitement for their arrival with the newest member on the boards was really building up in everyone around me. They arrived to the melodies from an instrumental intro before kicking it into gear with the new track “Never Walk Away” from the recently released “Revelation” CD. This tune has that old school Journey signature to it with a pumping groove and big chorus that everyone joins in on and it was a great way for the fans to meet Mr. Pineda. Given the entire venue was rocking along with him, the singer was nothing but smiles and bright eyes that seemed loaded with wonder about his newfound success. The immediate thing that came to mind as he performed was that the vocals we heard on the new CD in both the re-recorded classics and their new material was that his voice was not studio trickery and very simply how this man sang, and boy could he deliver. You have to trust me on this, as I was also a huge Steve Perry fan and saw the band on both the “Escape” and “Frontiers” tours so many years ago. The guys jumped into a “Raised On Radio” staple with “Only The Young” and it was confirmed that he had the pipes needed to make this job work out the best for the music and as he sang his heart out, guitarist Neil Schon was all smiles as he delivered tasty riff after riff. He is one of the best guitar players that Rock has in their command and tonight he was making sure to pull out all the stops.

The setting for the show was perfect because we had a comfortable night and the music of Journey is just so accessible by any age of music fan. Their melodies are as infectious as ever and it seems as no matter how old the fan in the audience is that they all are able to sing along with the tunes. None of their material seems dated or old hat either and they have withstood the tests of time and are still great songs. That’s always great to experience especially when some of the selections tonight were two decades old. You could hear a pin drop during the bands new signature ballad “After All These Years” and it was a tune that found the couples among us holding hands or sharing a warm embrace while those of us who couldn’t just held their cell phone displays up to illuminate the setting a little more. Some surprises came right after a killer “Separate Ways (World’s Apart)” when they delivered “Feelin’ That Way” and “Anytime”. These two are from the way back years to the fans that only started listening with “Faithfully”, so I was glad to see some attention paid to the back catalog. It really must be hard for a band like Journey to decide on what to play for not only do they have a lot of songs to choose from, but they also have quite a few really good one and picking and choosing or swapping any of them can set the crowd on their ear about it. A fair amount of time was spent on the new album, and it’s a great release so that was fine, but they also focused a lot of energy on both “Escape” and “Frontiers”. Sadly I would learn that “Who’s Crying Now” which was done a couple of nights previous would not make the set list this evening. Oh well, there was plenty to fill in the gaps when it came down to it. The rhythm section of Ross Vallory and Deen Castronovo was on point as well this evening and each of them provided some welcome backup vocals to the mix. Deen is a monster drummer who I would have loved to see do a solo but that was not to be a part of tonight’s plan I am sad to say. He has a good voice as well and at one point I felt if they weren’t going to replace Jeff Soto, that perhaps Deen should come out from the drums and do it like Spock’s Beard did. For those who don’t know what I mean, their drummer became the singer and it worked out well. Of course, Journey has this well under control with Arnel up front and I see so many more big things coming from this band as they move further into the future of Rock. Keyboardist Jonathan Cain decided that remaining up on his platform for the keyboards was not what he wanted to do for the entire show and at times he would grab a guitar and come down front to play with Neil and Ross while Arnel ran around. His keyboards would later give way to a grand piano when it was time to do “Faithfully” in case you wondered.

Band banter was minimal this evening but they did acknowledge the opening bands and thanked everyone with sincere words. Among the many highlights for me were tunes like “Wheel In The Sky” and “Lights” along with “Don’t Stop Believin’”, a tune that found renewed life during the final moments of the terrible series finale of The Sopranos. “Be Good To Yourself” was almost a direction on how we should proceed into the night with our lives after the show as much as it was the first encore and right after that we found the entire place on their feet for “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’” which was sadly going to be the final tune of the night. They played almost two hours it seemed and there were nothing but smiles in the venue. The band remained onstage for a few minutes waiving to those who could only see them on the big screens and shaking hands with those who were close enough to touch them. This was a really great night without question.

My only critique if I could offer one up was at the wondering why the crowd remained seated for much of the show. My own space in the venue had some rocking going on, but perhaps since this crowd is a little bit more diverse that people chose to chill out and be entertained and only get up at particular moments. I really had trouble sitting still for this one and admit that every note from all of the bands had me moving and rocking. This is not Broadway my friends. The venue itself was fantastic and it’s a place I hope to be able to attend again in the future. According to my findings, tonight’s show was the final night of the summer season. I cannot think of a better way to close out a few months of shows than with Rock royalty such as this. My plan if I get back up this far for the sake of music reporting that I have some time to explore the grounds and see that museum. It’s open from around the spring time anyway, so maybe a road trip is in order. Make sure you get a copy of this new Journey album because it’s a three disc treat that you owe yourself.

Cheap Trick Set List:

1. Hello There
2. Big Eyes
3. Welcome To The World
4. California Man
5. If You Want My Love
6. She’s Tight
7. I Want You To Want Me
8. I Cant Take It
9. The Flame
10. Surrender
11. Goodnight
12. Dream Police – encore

Heart Set List:
1. Wild Child
2. Magic Man
3. Never
4. Straight On
5. These Dreams
6. Alone
7. Love, Reign o’er Me
8. Barracuda
9. Going To California – encore
10. Crazy On You – encore

Journey Set List:
1. Instrumental Intro
2. Never Walk Away
3. Only The Young
4. Schon solos
5. Stone In Love
6. Send Her My Love
7. Ask The Lonely
8. After All These Years
9. Change For The Better
10. Separate Ways
11. Feelin’ That Way
12. Anytime
13. Lights
14. Jonathan Cain Solo
15. Open Arms
16. Don’t Stop Believin’
17. Faithfully
18. – unknown
19. Escape
20. Wheel In The Sky
21. Anyway You Want It
22. Be Good To Yourself – encore
23. Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’ – encore

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One thought on “Journey @ Bethel Woods Center for the Arts (8/30/2008)”

  1. Hey Brother Ken – it was cool rocking with you at this show. We loved it, too, and it’s good to see Arnel at the helm – leading these guys back to the forefront of popular culture…

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