Soul Sirkus - Corporation Sheffield - 10/05/25

Roll up Roll up! There’s a Sirkus coming to town and Neil Schon is the star attraction. This isn’t a case of the ring master and his performing seals, we are talking Jeff Scott Soto (Talisman) on lead vocals, Marco Mendoza (Whitesnake/Thin Lizzy) on bass, Virgil Donati (Planet x and Ring of Fire)on drums and Neil Schon (Journey) on lead guitar. Looks impressive on paper (but so does my fish and chips). The question is, can they re-capture the groove of their debut album release World Play, an album filled with more chops than your average butcher’s fridge? The Corporation is the venue, the ticket price is a staggering £23, it’s Tuesday night in the steel city of Sheffield.

The die hard Journey fans have turned up in considerable force as the intro for Highest Ground bellows out through the PA

Ladies and gentlemen it’s show time.

Schon takes stage left as you look at the band from the central mixing desk position, Mendoza to the right, Donati rear centre and Soto just commands all the stage. (This guy has more presence than Santa Claus). I have to say visually SoulSirkus look great, even early into the show the band and audience are up for it. New Position surpasses the album version and raises the bar event further, that corking main guitar riff keeps coming back like a boomerang, (think Burn from Deep Purple and increase the tempo a few notches) Jeff Scott Soto addresses the crowd, is in buoyant mood and has definitely let his hair down for this one. Another World adds an Egyptian flavour to the menu and brings the tempo down but not the atmosphere. Schon backs off the volume during the verses letting Mendoza hold down the main rhythm as he locks into the groove with the ace card of the evening drummer Virgil Donati (more about him later) Schon cleverly allowing space in his chord playing but he’s in full swing for the choruses and lead guitar breaks. Another impressive element during the show was the backing vocals especially Marco Mendoza. Soto held his mic close to him so they could share harmony vocals centre stage rather than restricting him to the mic stand.

Soul Goes On brings out the very best of Neil Schon, the mid tempo offering captures the essence of his guitar playing, The trade mark howl of his Les Paul reveals the style that catapulted him into a star. The intro is pretty much as it is on the album, but there’s a constant use of tone that adds a new colour to a very bluesy song, its definitely old school playing with feel and passion. Melodic clean phrases are interspersed with long bends, sustain and vibrato that make the hairs stand out on the back of your neck. Arse licking aside one could say that to play fast you need articulation and accuracy, Neil is a little slow off the starting blocks in the race to be the fastest shredder in town. Some of his lead playing becomes a blur of notes and doesn’t match his technique on the rhythm guitar. Take a song like “Alive”- cool licks during the verse and then a great melodic link into the chorus, the solo is a little fussy but leads cleverly back into the opening riff for a mouth watering middle 8 section. This is top notch song writing and the band is tight, focused but very relaxed.

For many Journey fans JSS live is going to be something new, Soto is charismatic, soulful, magnetic, funny and a blinding vocalist and front man (and wears silly hats). However, you need to be very brave to take a seat at the piano during a high energy rock concert. But Jeff informs us all that the fans have been on the internet complaining that SoulSirkus are not playing any Journey songs on the tour (rightly so). He throws together a greatest hits moment that includes Who’s Crying Now, Stay A While and Faithfully (was superbly blended with Purple Rain) He nearly went into Bohemian Rhapsody but instead hopelessly forgot how to play Don’t Stop Believing. We weren’t sure if this was part of the show? Jeff told us after the gig “I just forgot how to play it for a moment”. The audience had joined in with all the Journey snippets and were so vocal during Don’t Stop Believing that Neil Schon had to walk on stage for the little guitar break. Chants of “Neil, Neil” echoed around the venue.

Neil was full of praise for the Sheffield crowd when we spoke after the show:

“This place really rocks; when we did the middle section in London the audience fell asleep but here they joined in and were with us to the end”

Soto showed his array of talents by treating us to his version of Purple Rain. Even the whole band joined in as the one time Prince hit gets rocked out SoulSirkus style. Soto also treats us all to a ball breaking version of Stand Up and Shout, the anthem he performed in the film Rock Star

We won’t go deep into the endless individual solo moments as each member did have a spot. Schon was a surprise though, choosing his version of Voodoo Child from Jimmy Hendrix. A point worth mentioning is that Soto did play Bohemian Rhapsody, Open Arms and Is This The End from his Lost In Translation solo album live in Wolverhampton England a few days before but changed most of his solo section for Sheffield. Hats off to him for keeping it fresh, we forgive him for the lapse of just one song intro. For those who know Soto live you could say that his voice box was a little tired at times. He had flown in to the UK and received a text from Brian May inviting him to come and see Queen live, a show that saw Paul Rodgers belting out those Queen hits plus All Right Now,Wishing Well etc from his days in Free. A headline festival for SoulSirkus in Bradford was followed up by three back to back shows. By the time the dust settles on the vacant Corporation stage the band will be on their way to Europe to do it all over again, It was a well deserved standing ovation for Soul SSirkus (even if there weren’t any seats) and a pretty amazing performance by the Sheffield crowd. It takes two to tango and between them they were all stepping out in the right direction.

Three words were constantly bouncing off the walls like a squash ball all night “Who’s the drummer?” It drew more blanks than a set of dominoes; I gave my usual reply in these situations “You had better ask Mick”.Virgil Donati hails from Down Under, initially a session drummer making a name for himself in bands such as ”Loose Change” and “On The Virg”. He moved to the USA and then the word spread especially after playing with Steve Vai, Planet X and endless drum clinics. He was the main man for me tonight, a technical virtuoso; he played with metronomic precision, combining intricate phrasing with a sledge hammer kick drum that hit you in the chest like a bullet from a 44 Magnum. He was totally different off stage, very laid back and quiet but seemed to really relish being in the UK and especially playing with SoulSirkus. You are definitely going to hear more about Virgil Donati the sensation from down under. The Thunderbirds got it right he’s “FAB Virgil”.

The Bailey Brothers

Neil Schon Exclusive: “The door is open for Steve Perry to return to

We caught up with Neil Schon and he had this to say about a Steve Perry re-union.

“I’m tired of all these stories of me having an ego problem and that’s why Steve Perry isn’t with the band. The door is always open for Steve, either to do a couple of numbers with us or tour. He may as well be doing Journey. He’s not doing his solo thing, he’s semi retired .I want to do some festivals next year but I also told my people that I have put a lot of hard work into SoulSirkus so I want them out playing too. Hopefully we will be playing the UK with Journey next year but we will have to see what happens regarding Steve.”

The Sammy Hagar re-joining Van Halen saga went on longer than Steve Martin’s nose but it did happen. People can change their minds, if enough Journey fans start a campaign maybe they can persuade Steve to give it a go for old times sake. The door is now definitely open For a Perry return to the fold. When you hear the fans singing those songs so enthusiastically you hope for all concerned it comes off.

In the mean time if SoulSirkus come to a town near you, don’t miss them, Get a ring side seat and allow them to take you to Another World...