If there is one band that epitomizes the term "AOR", it has to be Journey. Their reign of the melodic rock world really began when vocalist Steve Perry joined the band in 1977, steering their sound to a more radio-friendly style. After a decade of hit singles, hit albums and sold-out tours Journey disbanded in 1987. They reformed in 1996 and released another platinum-selling album "Trial By Fire", but due to Perry's health problems, they didn't tour with it. To cut a long story short, the rest of the band wanted to tour, and replaced Perry with former Tall Stories singer Steve Augeri. With him they released two albums, a live DVD and an EP, but in 2006 it appeared that Augeri was having problems with his voice. His condition was so severe that he was replaced by Jeff Scott Soto (Talisman, Eyes, Takara etc), first on a temporary basis. Soto's status as the new lead singer of Journey was made official and permanent in late 2006, after he had completed a very successful tour co-headlining with Def Leppard.
The reports from the US tour with Leppard sounded so promising that me and Mira decided to arrange ourselves to one of their European Tour gigs. Cologne was the chosen location, partly due to the fact that I spent a couple of days there last year, and quite liked the town. Now that we had a chance to spend a few days in Cologne, we really enjoyed our time there, even though the weather wasn't necessarily favourable.
The Journey concert took place at E-Werk, a pretty cool old factory building. Our hotel was within walking distance from the venue, although it has to be said that the route included one back alley straight out of a slasher movie... thankfully there was no Freddy Krueger there, only a couple of rodents.
We arrived to E-Werk around 7:30 PM, and the venue was packed. I'm not sure whether the place was sold out at that point, but I'm sure it did sell out in the end. After hanging out with our friend (Hi Max-Jürgen!), we headed out towards the stage, as support act Lennon (Murphy) was about to start. Having only heard a couple of her songs, I didn't know what to expect, and now that I've heard her set, I still don't have a definite opinion. Sure, she had a strong voice and some of the songs sounded quite good, but the stripped-down piano/vocal arrangements didn't really leave that much of an impression. Lennon was an intense performer, but the next time I'd rather see her with a full band backing her up.
Journey took the stage with Neal Schon leading the way, peforming a cool version of Beethoven's "Für Elise". This was a nice gesture, as we were less than 50 kilometres away from Beethoven's birth place (in Bonn). "Rubicon" kicked off the actual set, and while I would have expected them to start with something more familiar, it went down quite well. Jeff Scott Soto proved that he is a showman of the highest calibre, making the photographers' work quite hard by running across the stage relentlessly.
The intensity of the show went up a couple of notches, when the familiar opening chords of "Stone In Love" were played by Schon and Jonathan Cain, now doubling as the second guitarist. Jeff Scott Soto proved for once and for all that he really is a worthy replacement for the two Steves, with spot-on vocals and excellent stage presence. He did have a couple of rough spots during the gig, a line missed here and there, but they were merely lost in the heat of the moment than actual mistakes.
I was really happy to hear "Ask The Lonely", one of my all-time favourite Journey tracks, and everyone else seemed to like it too. The "golden oldie" "Wheel In The Sky" became a big sing-along session, just ike the previous two numbers. The next special moment was "Who's Cryin' Now", sung by the drummer Deen Castronovo. Somehow one might not expect a hard-hitting, powerful drummer to be a world-class singer of ballads, with a lot of warmth in his voice. He could very well be a lead singer on his own right.
The next couple of tracks were a treat for long-time fans of the band, going back to the very early albums. I wasn't familiar with them, as I'm not a big fan of the seventies Journey material. I can understand why they have added them to the set - a bit of variety and the element of surprise.
"Edge Of The Blade" picked up the pace again, followed by a song dedicated to Steve Augeri, "Remember Me". It ended up being the only song of the set recorded after 1983, which is quite weird. he band has released several albums with some killer songs on them after '83, I can't really understand hy they were ignored. As much as I like the classic stuff from "Escape" and "Frontiers", I would have loved to hear something from the newer albums.
It was "Lights", another 70'ies track that really got the crowd singing again. Deen Castronovo took over the lead vocals for "Still They Ride" and "Open Arms", but Soto was back behind the wheel for "After The Fall". Fine performances all around.
Another dusted off oldie "La Do Da" lead us to the less thrilling part of the show, at least for me. It was followed by short solo spots for bassist Ross Valory and Castronovo and an energetic version of "Line Of Fire". Then the spotlight was on Jonathan Cain, who played a mean harmonica solo as the intro of "Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin'". The song itself was warmly recieved, and the "Na Na Na" part was easy for everyone to sing along.
After a rocking "Escape" we were treated to a fantastic finale. First a brilliant version of "Faithfully", sung by Deen Castronovo. This song is one of the greatest ballads of all time, and "Deen-o" did justice to it. That kind of a song can only be followed by something very special, and fortunately Journey still had a couple of aces in their sleeve. "Don't Stop Believin'" and "Anyway You Want It" brought the gig to a great ending, with everyone singing along in full volume.
While some people started to leave the E-Werk, most of us weren't quite done with Journey yet. There was still something missing, and that was of course "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)". Not surprisingly, the band came back and played an excellent version of this all-time AOR classic. The it was really over, no additional numbers, which was fair enough. I believe we got more than 130 minutes of Journey music anyway!
All in all it was a very good gig, and proved that Journey is as alive and kickin' as ever. Soto may not be to everyone's taste, but he has certainly re-enegized the band, and I'm looking forward to their future collaborations. Let's face it - Perry isn't coming back. Even if he did, do you really think it'd all still be as good as before? Time takes a toll on everyone of us...
The set list:
Guitar Solo (Für Elise) Encore:
Guitar Solo (Für Elise)
Report by Kimmo Toivonen,
25 March 2007