There was a time, not too long ago, when we were ashamed to admit that we liked Journey, scheduled to play the Pearl on August 28 and 29. I know this because I lived through it.
That “Journey who?” era began around 1986, when the band released Raised on Radio—their second-to-last album to still feature the gifted Steve Perry on lead vocals —and it continued well into the early 2000s, up to the point that the band’s 1981 hit “Don’t Stop Believin’” inexplicably acquired hipster cred and became a hit all over again. (“Don’t Stop Believin’” is one of the most downloaded songs in history; more than five million users have bought it through iTunes and the like.) Until that happened, if we had any love for Journey, we kept it secreted away behind a passion for the Pixies, a regard for Radiohead. I personally buried my copy of Frontiers in the garden and wondered if I’d ever again crank up “Rubicon” in a judgment-free environment.
But that’s over. Like Hall & Oates before them, Journey has ventured beyond judgment, beyond obsolescence. There’s a generation of kids who loves Journey without equivocation— even the saccharine “Girl Can’t Help It” and the embarrassing video for “Separate Ways.” They don’t know that the band was ever passé, even among its diehards. And this generational ignorance has enabled what, to my mind, is a massive act of consumer fraud.
I’m talking about the band’s choice of a new lead singer after Perry resigned in 1998, citing band interference in his personal affairs. (Reportedly, he needed hip replacement surgery but was reluctant to get it, and some members of the band tried to force him into a decision so they could go on tour.) Perry’s is not an easy voice to replace; his instrument is equally adept at hard rock and rhythm and blues, and no less a personage than Bob Dylan once told him (after performing with him on the “We Are The World” benefit single), “Man, you got a great set of pipes.” Yet Journey proved all too adept at performing the task.
The similarities between the singing voices of Perry and current Journey lead singer Arnel Pineda are enough as to border on the uncanny—and when the band’s continuing members saw Pineda in a series of YouTube videos, performing covers of their songs, they hired him to provide what keyboardist Jonathan Cain in an interview with a San Francisco radio station, flatly declared “the future of our franchise.”
I don’t have anything personal against Pineda. My problem with him is institutional, and it’s becoming more common: established bands, faced with the loss of the lead singer who gave them their success, going out and finding someone who sounds exactly like him. Pineda and Journey are at the head of a fraternity that includes Foreigner (who has replaced Lou Gramm with a number of singers, most recently Kelly Hansen) and Yes (who has replaced Jon Anderson with the similarly-named Jon Davison).
Pineda has performed with Journey since 2008, which is longer than I’ve written for Vegas Seven. That means, for all intents and purposes, he’s the lead singer of Journey, full stop. But I can’t accept that—not because he’s not good at what he does or because Journey is not fully within their rights to do whatever the hell they want, but because they’re pretending that one of the band’s creative forces could simply be replaced by someone who sounds like him and has nearly the same haircut. To a new-generation Journey fan, there has been no break in continuity—if he sounds like the original guy and kind of looks like him from a distance, he must be the same guy.
But what we’re talking about here is a Journey cover band— the world’s best, sure, but not the same band we grew up with (and then concealed in shame). This isn’t like Sammy Hagar stepping in front of Van Halen, or Ben Affleck taking over as Batman. Those are artists putting their own imprimatur on a role previously held by another artist, for good or ill. Hiring a new kind of vocalist for Journey could have made an artistic statement as well as a commercial one. (Imagine if the group had hired a female vocalist – one who could sing Perry’s parts without slavishly imitating them.) Doing some online shopping for a guy who sounds like the guy you lost is cynical at best, duplicitous at worst. And it’s a mean way of putting one over on the fans that weren’t around to love and reject Journey the first time.
So, I guess I’m what trying to say is that I won’t be at Journey’s concerts this week. I’ve stopped believing. But I’m now able to stand before you proudly and say: You ought to listen to Journey’s late 1970s-1980s output, the stuff they did with Steve Perry. It’s very good. It’s almost as good as the mid-career releases of the Pixies and Radiohead, both of which still have their original vocalists … for now, anyway.