Journey’s journey to the Rock included some seriously strained vocals

Arnel Pineda/Facebook

Since 1973, the arena rock band Journey has held steadfast and true. After Steve Perry left the band due to medical issues stalling the band from touring, it would search out new lead singers. But how do find an amazing soulful tenor with emotion to replace Perry who had set the bar extremely high? You go through three singers and the final one, Filipino singer Arnel Pineda would be the best choice to remain with the band.

Oddly enough, they found him on Youtube doing cover songs of his favorite band — Journey.

Not only did Pineda use a shoehorn to jam into those shoes to perform Journey’s biggest hits, but they would also continue to release new music with Pineda on lead vocals.

Some bands succeed with new music when they find replacement singers. Journey and Van Halen are the only ones that come to mind at the moment. I can’t think of any others off the top of my head that continued to garner success with replacement singers, however; I’m sure there are others.

Their new album “FREEDOM” sparked the new tour. At the Prudential Center in Newark, they sure brought the show to town. Originally set as Billy Idol to be the opening act, they switched things up with Toto. Idol had to back out due to medical issues.

I have never seen either Journey or Toto live, but of course had seen live performances on video. When Pineda first joined the band, I just had to go and check him out. His voice was perfect for it. He emulated Perry perfectly.

He even had his long black hair and moved like Perry to some degree. I was amazed the first time I heard him sing.

Pineda joined the band in 2007 and he is much younger than the other members of Journey. The reason I mention age is that the performance showed a little strain on his voice to me. He has grown older as well, and to sustain that voice is not an easy thing to do. I’m not even sure if Perry could still sound pitch perfect after all these years with his untouchable voice singing night after night. It is not an easy task.

I bring this to you as a vocalist myself and not just someone who wanted to see a concert of their favorite band. I’m going by what my musical ear heard. Still, the band was fabulous, tight as could possibly be to sound like studio cuts on albums.

The background vocals were pitch perfect and filled in where Pineda may have needed some assistance. When Pineda held elongated notes, they were great but he sounded a little raspier than what I had originally heard 12 years ago in live videos.

There were some notes he couldn’t hit and sometimes had to change the key to make the song work. Along with the audience participation and background vocals, I’m not sure the average ear could hear it. I’m concerned he may be burning out that beautiful voice and there are many more shows they need to complete on this tour.

The show consisted of a 19-song set list. I was a little surprised “Don’t Stop Believin’” wasn’t their encore, but then again; that would be too easy. They played it third. They played many of their amazing hits and also threw in a song or two from the new album: “The Way We Used To Be.”

The original and longest-lasting member of the band, Neal Schon, was also phenomenal.

The leads in the songs were extended a little longer, I believe, to help Pineda rest his voice. I couldn’t help seeing that Schon has come to look a lot like Bruce Springsteen. I always thought Schon was a handsome and fantastic guitarist and he didn’t disappoint.

The second-longest serving member, Jonathan Cain, on piano/keys, did a great job as well. Returning to the band, drummer Deen Castronova has got to be one of the best singing drummers out there. His voice also sounds eerily similar to Perry’s. I’m surprised he wasn’t chosen as the replacement or doesn’t do more songs. He sang “Mother, Father” and he sounded like Perry. I’ve also seen him perform “Faithfully,” and he sounded like Perry then, as well. Another sound alike was keyboardist Jason Derlatka, who sang  “Girl Can’t Help It.”

I didn’t go into this show looking to be critical of Pineda. He really did great. But since Deen and Derlatka sound so much like Perry, maybe the guys should fill in for a few more songs to save Pineda’s voice. Again, this is just my opinion as a vocalist.

The audience loved every moment of the show, but I’m very concerned for Pineda as this tour is just starting and they have a long way to go.

Meanwhile, they closed with one of my favorite tunes, “Separate Ways.”

Now, Toto hasn’t performed live in 2 ½ years, but you’d know it.

Vocalist/guitarist Steve Lukather and vocalist Joseph Williams honored Toto by playing and singing their hearts out as the opening act with a 10-song set. Of course, they performed the hits, “Rosanna” and “Africa” but “Georgy, Porgy,” “I Won’t Hold You Back” and “Home of the Brave” were great too.

“Hold the Line” and “Rosanna” are my go-to Toto tunes and Williams hit every high note. As much as I love Billy Idol, I’m glad Toto opened for Journey. It just made more sense to me since the music is somewhat in the same genre.

Idol would have brought a different flair to the show — which is not bad, just different. He would have had everyone charged and his bass thumping riffs in his songs would have pounded hearts. But the smooth transition of both bands on this night was an excellent choice.

Get your tickets to see this fantastic tour and let me know what you think.

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JoAnn Barton | Special to The Observer
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Jo-Ann Barton is a singer/songwriter and musician for the past 25+ years who contributes entertainment-related stories to The Observer. Her last CD, 'POP and CIRCUMSTANCES,' spawned a number one hit song at college radio stations throughout the United States, including Hawaii, in 2001. She is the host of the Applause Radio Show, a platform JoAnn brings to an ever-growing audience tuning into listen to their favorite celebrities.