The call was made at 12:30 a.m. Friday morning July 15: “You’re in, man. Two tickets and a photo pass for JOURNEY tonight!!” Wait, wait, wait…lemme back up a second. My close friend and one of my FAVORITE people in this music business, Tom George, messaged me around 9:30 the night before telling me there was a slight chance I’d be covering the BB&T Pavilion gig in Camden, NJ (Philly area), and to sit tight.
Now usually in this situation it almost always falls through, so I didn’t get my hopes up. Plus I had tickets to see my NY Mets beat on the Phillies that night anyway, so whatever. But when the phone rang, and it was Tom on the other end my heart soared.
JOURNEY has long been one of my favorite bands since I could barely walk. Their music has meant so much to me over the years, and to get to write about one of their concerts while trusted staff photographer Mike Sievila took pictures was more than a dream come true. The whole next day at work was a blur, as I couldn’t even concentrate. The Warehouse Supervisor Edwin even said to me around 3 p.m., “I can’t even talk to you right now, you’re in full-on JOURNEY mode!” which was 100% true. He was a great sport about it, though, because he knows how much they mean to me.
I rocketed home to change into my JOURNEY concert tee from the 2012 Dallas show, make a sandwich for the road, then GO! After some serious traffic I finally arrived in Camden.
I hadn’t been there since 2005, but this arena has been the place for so many great shows and memories that it just felt like home. After a brief text exchange, the backstage gate opened, and there was Richie, JOURNEY’S Head of Security. “Damian, here you go, buddy. Enjoy the show, man” is what he said as he handed me what was essentially the Wonka Golden Ticket (s). He’s a great guy, and a class act, and the band is lucky to have him. I sincerely hope I get to work with him again.
Mike finally arrived, as he was coming from a long way out (plus I sprung this on him last minute), and we went inside. But we weren’t given lawn seats like you’d normally expect for reviews. No, try FIFTH row aisle seats!!
The band was gonna be 30 feet from me, ARE YOU KIDDING ME WITH THIS?!?!? After chatting with a very nice couple who were mistakenly in our seats it was time. The lights went down, the stage lit up, and JOURNEY came to address the faithful. The familiar sounds of Jonathan Cain’s keyboards opened up “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” and, as Philadelphia 76ers TV announcer Marc Zumoff says, “We are runnin’ tonight!”
The band was in terrific form, guitarist Neal Schon hitting all his notes with a vengeance, while vocalist Arnel Pineda (THE best singer this band has ever had, btw) ran around like a madman, singing his ass off and smiling while doing it! The man loves entertaining the crowd and it shows, and we the fans appreciate that.
Ross Valory, VASTLY underrated as a bassist, brought the low end and then some, and the return of Steve “Machine Gun” Smith on drums was like a dream. The best drummers rarely have to move more than their wrists; that’s how Smith was. Hitting thunderous drum patterns while seeming to not even break a sweat…truly remarkable.
Up next was “Be Good To Yourself”, long one of my favorites in the JOURNEY catalog, and I was singing top of my lungs (this is par for the course at JOURNEY shows, FYI). And when Neal hit those end solos I could feel it in my toes! Then “Only the Young” happened. I started crying as soon as they played the first notes. For those of you who don’t know, my lifelong friend M-ROD died on June 23, 2016.
And this song reminds me of him so much, and will forever be my testament to him. A nice lady behind me put her hand on my shoulder as if to say, “It’s okay. You can let go here…” and it really helped. This will ALWAYS be a favorite, and it now has even more meaning.
Right before the kickass chords of “Stone In Love” had us all screaming again, Neal did a guitar solo that incorporated our National Anthem. As a U.S. Army veteran I stood at attention and saluted as any of us would do. Then the band wailed away on one of their greatest songs. If you tell me that this isn’t one of THE coolest rock riffs of all time I will call you a liar and probably hit you over the head with the first object I can find.
“Any Way You Want It” had us jumping up and down (well, me anyway) as Arnel sang the shit out of this one. Schon addressed the crowd to introduce “Lights” which is an ode to their San Francisco hometown, but never more fitting than on the Camden waterfront.
Since it is the 35th anniversary of the landmark Escape album, it was time for a trio of classics in “Open Arms”, “Who’s Crying Now” and the title track. Seriously, if the first two don’t tug at your heartstrings and the latter doesn’t make you wanna drive THROUGH something you’re dead inside. “La Do Da” was a personal favorite from this setlist because I saw them do it four years ago and I knew Arnel would nail it from start to finish…AGAIN. And I was right there with him singing (or, trying to) every note, because I love it! This gave way to a Steve Smith drum solo where again, he made it look effortless.
Oh, and then, in case you weren’t ready, they decided to do “Dead Or Alive”, one of the rockingest numbers in their catalog!
My hair was blown back and I was rocking in my seat, much to the amazement of those around me. Oh yeah, once again I was THE biggest JOURNEY fan in my section. Schon then did a guitar solo, reminding us that he IS one of the best axemen in the world before strumming the familiar intro to “Wheel In the Sky.” The rest of the band couldn’t wait to get in on this; I could see them all just looking for the count, ready to go.
Cain then introduced “Faithfully” talking about the price the bands pay being on the road away from loved ones, but also mentioning how our Armed Forces men and women have to be without theirs, too. Many prayers go out to all those who are defending our country and can’t be with their families right now.
The song was done beautifully, and I screamed my heart out, but that screaming was NOTHING compared to what I did during regular set closer “Don’t Stop Believin’”.
This song is the ultimate “get-up, get pumped’ anthem for whatever you have to tackle in life. When you hear that intro, you’re READY to go, and on this night we all sang till our voices gave out. The band left the stage, and some people foolishly left at that point. There was a couple in front of me, and as they left, the guy goes, “YOU should’ve been up there, dude! You’re the biggest JOURNEY fan I’ve ever seen!” Flattering, but I’m not even 1/10th the singer Arnel is. I just love to sing at concerts.
For the encore we were treated to “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’”, one of my all-time favorites, and it made me cry once again. The memories I have attached to this one are the stuff of legend and mine and mine alone.
The “Na Na Na-Na-Na-Na” hook is priceless, and when it came to it, Arnel incited a sing-along for the ages. My voice was all but gone, but I sang my ass off anyway. When it was over I was totally spent. As you SHOULD be after a rock ‘n’ roll show.
JOURNEY reminded me, and everyone else, just how the big boys do it. The show was un-fucking-believable from start to finish, and Ross, Steve, Neal, Jonathan, and Arnel gave it their all from the first note to the last. This band always has been, and always will be the soundtrack to our lives. The songs are timeless, and they will forever remind us of first dates, first kisses, and time spent with loved ones, whether they are still with us or not.
I am so grateful to Tom George for setting this up, because he KNEW how much I wanted/needed to be there. This was one of the greatest shows I have ever seen, and I am so thankful that I got to witness it live and in-person with tears streaming down my face.
LIVE WORDS: THE MAESTRO
LIVE IMAGES: MIKE SIEVILA PHOTOGRAPHY