CONCERT REVIEW: JOURNEY & TOTO Take Denver On A Trip Down Rock N’ Roll History (April 11th, 2022)

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Monday night at Denver’s Ball Arena felt like taking a big step back in time…and it felt good to me and nearly 20,000 others in attendance. The double bill of Toto and Journey was a smart pairing—two enduring arena rock bands that are both led by masterful, seasoned guitar players, feature a lineup with some unfamiliar faces, and sport a set-list packed with irresistible sing-along anthems, well known catchy rockers and beloved, and soaring ballads.

The nearly sold-out arena was packed to the rafters with nostalgic concertgoers who mostly left their masks behind to bask in the glory of a big night out like they relished in the years before COVID changed our sense of normal. They came to hear the hits from two radio friendly classic rock stalwarts…and they got them in spades. Each band came armed with a winning formula that frankly set them up for an easy win with the eager crowd…as long as they didn’t screw it up.

Toto took the stage first, and opened with an energetic rendition of “Orphan,” a surprising choice for leading off, as it was probably mostly unfamiliar to the crowd, being that it comes from their 2015 release, “Toto XIV.” The song, as well as that record, are strong in substance, but far more obscure than most of their catalog. By 2015, radio wasn’t interested in new music from Toto, though a clan of the faithful fans still were. As a result, it was received by the crowd warmly but without immediate embracing. I was photographing from the soundboard in the back of the arena, and people stayed glue in their seats for this tune, which gave me an unobstructed view to shoot over their heads. It didn’t last long.
Toto
As soon as keyboardist Dominic Xavier hit the instantly familiar opening piano pattern of “Hold the Line,” everyone leapt to their feet, started dancing and singing. This radio staple classic was and always will be an instant crowd pleaser for Toto, and obviously raised the level of excitement for the crowd. Next up the band dialed it back and pulled out one of their bigger ballads, “I’ll Be Over You.” Steve Lukather, who is now really the only original member from Toto, took the lead vocal with confidence, and his solo soared, making couples swoon over this radio hit. Sporting jet black hair, a black leather jacket and black fingernail polish, Lukather defied the stereotype of a guy in his mid 60s, playing with fire and a sense of gratitude to once again be playing to packed arenas. His long-running journeyman on lead vocals, Joseph Williams, sported a more happified wardrobe, but he too seemed to be grateful for this opportunity to play to a big crowd, and his vocals were strong and sure.

The drum chair of this new lineup was filled by Snarky Puppy’s Robert “Sput” Searight. That role requires filling the formidable shoes of previous skins legends Jeff Porcaro and Simon Phillips, but “Sput” propelled the band forward with swagger and urgency, and his kit sounded particularly clean, tight and bright. After a rocking version of “White Sister,” Lukather credited Dominique Xavier with the new arrangement of “Georgy Porgy,” that was fresh and fun, giving backup vocalists Warren Ham and Steve Maggiora a chance to really shine.
Toto
Then it was full-on ballad time, as Luke launched into the slow and cinematic “I Won’t Hold You Back,” which brought out the sparkling phone flashlights in mass, giving an updated version of a classic rock arena with bic lighters held high. Couples squeezed each other and swayed. The calm was cut by a rocking rendition of “Home of the Brave,” that whipped up the energy level as it built in the instrumental section driven by Luke.

My least favorite moment of the set was the Beatles cover, “With a Little Help from My Friends.” Given the time limitations imposed on an opening act, I would have much rather heard an original track like “Pamela,” “Straight for the Heart” or “Alone”, but it resonated with the crowd, who seemed to know the song better than most of the set.

Toto saved their hardest one-two punch for the end, pairing “Rosanna” with “Africa.” The former got everyone up on their feet, singing the catchy chorus and the latter was extended with an extended call and repeat section led by Williams that had everyone singing. Joseph Williams sounded solid and the band was tight. Despite the fact that most of the soul of the previous Toto lineups (Jeff, Mike and Steve Porcaro) are no longer alive or with the band, Luke’s new crew made a convincing case that the show can and still must go on.

Toto Set-list:

Orphan / Hold the Line / I’ll Be Over You / White Sister / Georgy Porgy / I Won’t Hold You Back / Home of the Brave / With a Little Help from My Friends (The Beatles cover) / Rosanna / Africa

Toto Photo Gallery (Images by Alan Cox):

While Toto was well received, there was no mistake from the first notes of the opener that the crowd was here first and foremost to see Journey. As they launched into “Only the Young,” the crowd jumped to its feet and threw their hands in the air in celebration of hearing those oh so-familiar songs they grew up with.

Like Toto, Journey has never been a critic’s darling, but they cracked a code for listeners in crafting blue-collar melodic anthems and ballads that captivated both the guys and the girls. And while the departure of Steve Perry was insufferable for some die-hard fans, the band has managed to overcome numerous obstacles, line-up changes and train wrecks in their personal lives because of two important factors. One, is the songs. They’re lodged in people’s brains, and the tunes are part of the soundtrack of many people’s lives. And two, is Arnel Pineda, who has somehow managed to step into the shoes of an absolutely iconic singer, perform an incredibly difficult catalog night after night, and still bring a charismatic youthful energy and vibrancy to the stage that is undeniable.

Journey

Photo by Mark Matson

There are still some who say, “No Perry, No Journey.” But the undeniable truth is that Steve Perry can no longer sing the songs of Journey the way Arnel can. And while there’s been some talk in the past that Arnel was struggling from road fatigue (not unlike Steve Augeri, who was let go because of vocal strains), his performance in the oxygen-thin mile high stadium absolutely accentuated that he truly is an amazing discovery. Quite honestly, he’s mostly the reason Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain can keep their Journey going and playing to packed houses.

Journey

Photo by Mark Matson

That’s not to diminish the roles and merits of Schon and Cain, who remain the dynamic duo of building working class songs that people can’t forget. While the mix of Schon’s playing was underwhelming at times, Journey is clearly still his stage to shine upon, and to throw his frenetic but melodic playing front and center. Many of his singable solos are essential components of the songs, and he commandingly captivated the audience throughout the night. His wide mouthed grin seemed to suggest he thought they were having a pretty good night as a band—and they were.

The iconic hit, “Don’t Stop Believing,” was front loaded in the set, coming earlier than the all too expected encore (of which there wasn’t one). Journey has plenty of other songs to cap off the night with a bang, and “Any Way You Want It” served the purpose well.

The band broke into an extended jam on the tail end of “Send Her My Love” that was incendiary and a welcome bit of instrumental prowess. I was very disappointed, however, to discover that they had been playing “Escape” on this tour, but dropped it in exchange for “City of Hope.” This to me was like trading a diamond for pretty stone, and I regret not being able to hear Schon’s memorable solo from that track live.

Journey

Photo by Mark Matson

Schon did, however, play a solid extended solo in “Who’s Crying Now” that helped me get over the unexpected set change. Arnel whipped up the crowd to sing “Woah oo woah oo woah oo whoa” in tandem to Schon’s spot and it played well to a very vocal crowd.

Drummer Deen Castronovo took the spotlight and lead vocal of “Mother, Father” delivering a stunning performance while managing to pound the drums without it interfering with his singing delivery. Deen was out of Journey for a number of years, but his return is welcome with his powerful, precise hits, and he left no doubt that his vocal abilities are also top notch.

After the rollicking blues number, “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’,” everyone left the stage for Jonathan Cain to perform a piano solo that was laced with more classical elements. His red grand piano has been a signature visual of the Journey live show, and as he segued into the opening bars of “Open Arms,” the crowd erupted. Girls pulled their guys closer. And while I can honestly say I’ve never loved that song, Arnel Pineda absolutely killed it on that song. Strong, soaring and note for note on the money. It was a remarkable vocal performance that any “No Perry No Journey” fan with an open mind would concede was great.

Journey

Photo by Mark Matson

Cain introduced “Faithfully” with a reference to the sacrifices made of the military, which garnered respectful applause, and Arnel again demonstrated his abilities with an audacious display of control and range.

Journey had a couple new faces in their lineup, namely bass player Todd Jensen and keyboard/vocalist b, who was given the lead vocal duties for “Girl Can’t Help It,” which came off as the saggiest part of the set. Jason’s voice was competent, but his stage presence was lacking for a lead vocalist, and it seemed like an unnecessary choice when the pipes of Deen and Arnel were available.

Neal Schon then took a guitar solo that meandered a bit between control and chaos, that fired up some fans more when it devolved into the opening of “Wheel in the Sky,” which featured another crowd sing-along chorus that resonated with long time fans. Growing late into the evening, Journey ended with a hit-triplet of “Separate Ways,” “Be Good to Yourself” and “Any Way You Want It.”

It was a night of polished performances by two veteran bands who lack a lot of original members but can still bring solid execution of songs that have stood the test of time. It was, for those in attendance, exactly the way they wanted it. And it’s a tour worth seeing if it rolls into your town.

Journey Set-list:

Only the Young / Stone in Love / Don’t Stop Believin’ / Lights / Send Her My Love / Ask the Lonely / City of Hope / Who’s Crying Now / Mother, Father (Deen Castronovo on lead vocals) /       Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’ / Jonathan Cain Piano Solo / Open Arms / Faithfully / Girl Can’t Help It (Jason Derlatka on lead vocals) / Neal Schon Guitar Solo / Wheel in the Sky / Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) / Be Good to Yourself / Any Way You Want It

Journey Photo Gallery (Images by Mark Matson):

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