Melissa Ruggieri is on vacation so she let AJC Radio and TV Talk blogger Rodney Ho came in to indulge in his love for the 1980s by checking out the Journey/Pat Benatar concert Saturday night, October 6:
During Journey’s high-energy set at a packed Aaron’s Lakewood Amphitheatre last night, guitarist Neal Schon pulled out a guitar solo of “The Star Spangled Banner,” channeling Jimi Hendrix, American flag on the video screens behind him.
The underlying message: Journey is as American as mom, apple pie and baseball.
Their music is a mix of brawn and vulnerability, intimate yet arena friendly, packed with positivity messages (”Don’t Stop Believin’! “Keep on Runnin’ ” “Be Good To Yourself”) and longing (”Faithfully,” “Open Arms”).
Three of the current members of Journey go back to the “Escape” days, including keyboardist and rhythm guitarist Jonathan Cain, bass player Ross Valory and lead guitarist Neal Schon. But the most intriguing aspect of the current lineup is lead singer Arnel Paneda, a Filipino plucked from YouTube in 2008 with a fairy-tale story who brings verve and powerful vocal stylings that evokes but doesn’t completely imitate Steve Perry, who sang the most iconic 1980s originals.
Paneda didn’t waste time with extraneous patter between songs. It’s all about the hits – like an 18-song rock block on a classic album-oriented rock station. The segues were tight and most of the versions very similar to the studio creations, right down to virtually identical vamps Paneda made at the end of songs like “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” and “Anyway You Want It.”
The concert itself brings back the days of extended guitar solos and lighters waving in the air. The longest non-singing stretch was when he asked the crowd to whip out their smartphones during “Lights.” And nowadays, people use iPhone apps that look like lighters rather than actual lighters. Case in point:
Here’s Journey performing ‘Open Arms’ last night:
I actually came to the concert to see Pat Benatar, who was the middle act. I was curious if the early 1980s rocker still had her vocal chops.
Fortunately, she still did.
Dressed in an Ellen Degeneres-style jacket and pant combo, her short hair cut looking very 1982, Benatar at age 59 brings ferocity and emotional depth to every one of her songs. In many ways, her tough-gal feminist mystique was a precursor to what you see today in the likes of Pink and Lady Gaga.
The classically-trained singer has worked with her husband Neil Giraldo since her early days featuring “Heartbreaker” and her top 10 hit “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” in 1980. (Dating myself, “Hit Me” was one of the first 45s I ever purchased at a Record World on Long Island.) The affection she shows him on stage is palpable. At one point, near the end of “Promises in the Dark,” as he is doing a guitar riff, she touches his cheek with her left hand.
There’s a reason she never spiraled into rock and roll cliches of drugs, booze and despair. She had a stabilizing force in her husband, who gets equal billing when the pair go on solo tours.
And when she told the crowd that her video “You Better Run” was the second video ever played on MTV after the Buggles‘ “Video Killed the Radio Star,” she noted that first video did not have any guitars. So Giraldo was the first guitarist ever on the network. Proving, she teased, that “he’s older than dirt.” (Or actually 56 years old.)
As the lead-in act to Journey, Benatar’s set was relatively brief 10 songs (including a moment in the middle of “Heartbreaker” when she breaks into a muscular version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”). But ultimately, she left us wanting more, which is a good thing.
And somehow, Benatar is one of the few women that can make a tambourine look cool.
Listen to her perform “Promises in the Dark.” Impressive: