Styx / Foreigner / Journey - MEN Arena - 08/06/2011

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Styx / Foreigner / Journey - MEN Arena - 08/06/2011

Postby Rockingbear » Sat Jun 11, 2011 8:32 pm

I could not quite believe it when the AOR Tour was first announced, the opportunity to see arguably the three greatest bands of this genre in one evening. This music has always been popular, however, has gained a whole new set of fans in recent years mainly from one song, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”. As a result tonight’s audience was not your archetypal rock crowd, instead made up of a higher proportion of middle age ladies, fans from the seventies and early eighties and a few of us die-hard rock fans! To be perfectly honest, I was happy that the MEN was near to full capacity for all three bands, no matter whether or not it was with regular concert goers or even first timers for whom I suspect there were quite a few.

Styx opened with “The Grand Illusion”, well so I am lead to believe as despite setting off early we did not arrive at the venue until just gone 7.00pm and subsequently missed the opening of their set. “Too Much Time On My Hands” was playing as we were being shown to our seats. We entered the arena right at the back and at the very top so had the steep descent to the floor and then could hardly believe our luck when we were shown to just left of the stage and only thirteen rows back!

The sound was pretty good with all instruments and vocals being very clear and well balanced. The band did not seem to mind the early start time and were having real fun on stage especially Lawrence Gowan with his rotating keyboard and the pocket-size battleship that is Tommy Shaw. These two vied for centre stage all through the set but were more than happy to share it with their fellow band members and were especially respectful of the original members, guitarist James “J.Y.” Young and bassist Chuck Panozzo. Chuck, due to health reasons only plays live on a few tracks but it is a refreshing touch that he is able to do so after first playing with Styx over forty years ago! When Chuck was not on stage bass duties were taking over by the awesome Ricky Phillips who also assisted with the amazing harmony vocals; together with drummer Todd Sucherman they laid down one tight rhythm section.

The first of many power ballads performed during the evening came in the way of “Lady” sung by Gowan and went down well with the very large crowd that had made the effort to get to their seats early.

Tommy Shaw took lead vocals on the next two tracks “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)” and “Blue Collar Man” before handing over to JY for the full on attack of “Miss America”. Styx were already going down a storm by this stage when Gowan began the keyboard intro to, arguably the song of the whole evening, “Come Sail Away”. To many life-long Styx fans it would have seemed a virtual impossibility to ever replace Dennis DeYoung but Gowan delivered a breathtaking performance as if he had written the song himself. This was one of those hairs standing on the back of your neck moments. Initially everyone was sat down which was excellent news for wife, Carol, as she had an uninterrupted view to the stage, however, a well deserved standing ovation followed the climax of “Come Sail Away” put pay to the latter for the rest of the evening.

Before the band had time to leave the stage Tommy Shaw asked the crowd if they wanted to hear one more. To be honest the crowd would have been happy with half a dozen or more but had to settle for a thunderous rendition of “Renegade”. Styx left the stage to the approval of the masses knowing that they had delivered an exemplary performance and set the bar very high for Foreigner and Journey.

Foreigner had the unenviable task of following an almost faultless, if not short, set by Styx. The crowd gave them a tremendous reception, however, the first couple of tracks suffered from a poor sound: Mick Jones guitar being too high in the mix and Kelly Hansen’s vocals too low. Though “Double Vision” and “Head Games” are great stalwarts of the Foreigner back catalogue I personally think they would have been better played mid-set.

The computer back-drops, especially the strobe lighting might have been more effective from the back of the arena, however, from our vantage point, they did not add to the band’s excellent performance.

The intro’ to “Cold Of Ice” is one of the most recognisable in rock and kicked both the band and the crowd into overdrive. At this juncture the sound seemed to improve and Kelly’s flawless vocals could at last be heard.

Most of the band then left the stage and just left Mick Jones on keyboards and Kelly Hansen on vocals for a note-perfect rendition of, one of my all-time favourite ballads, “Waiting For A Girl Like You”. The latter really showcased what an exceptional singer that Kelly Hansen is, especially live.

“Feels Like The First Time” kept up the now intense energy generated by both the band and audience alike. Jeff Pilson on bass was running round like a madman possessed like he’d never left Dokken!

“Urgent” was probably my favourite track of the whole evening featuring, a fantastic saxophone solo from the multi-talented Thom Gimbel. Judging by the crowd applause and cheering at the end of the song I was not alone in my view of this song.

The pace was then reduced, but not to any detriment, with an incredible version of “I Want To Know What Love Is” accompanied by a 10,000 plus backing choir! This song certainly went down with myriad of housewives in the audience!

“Hot Blooded” brought the set to a stirring climax before the band returned for a well deserved encore with the extended version of “Juke Box Hero”. A second year art student obviously made the cheesy video that played throughout this song (I say second year as he had obviously improved from his first year’s attempt of Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water”…think of the most obvious thing and you’re there).

To sum up, an hour of almost perfection only marred by some initial sound problems and dodgy lighting (though the latter may have been more affective from the back of the auditorium). If you could only pick nine Foreigner songs for them to play then these would probably have been the ones but maybe a different running order. Styx had laid down the gauntlet and Foreigner duly picked it up and ran with it. Stunning performance!

Journey hit the stage with a wall of sound that from our vantage point was for the most part very good. Unlike Foreigner, Journey certainly hit the ground running, opening with the classic “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” and quickly followed up with “Only The Young” (from the film “Vision Quest”) and the first of five new songs in the form of “Edge Of The Moment”. The latter is currently my favourite off the new album “Eclipse”; judging by the crowd reaction there were not too many familiar with the new material. Fair play to Journey who decided not to simply rest on the laurels and wheel out the standard greatest hits package but promote the new album.

“Ask The Lonely” certainly kept up the hard hitting pace and got the crowd back on track before the band took it down a notch or two with the epic “Send Her My Love” from “Frontiers”.

The stage back-drop was over two dozen large TV screens with computer graphics that, unlike Foreigner, certainly enhanced the band’s performance. This was exemplified at the beginning of another new song “Resonate” but again it only received polite applause from a crowd that had obviously come to hear the classics.

A brief guitar solo, that in a way was almost pointless as Neal Schon was soloing like his life depended on it throughout the whole show, preceded “Stone In Love”. At was at this point that I came to the conclusion, that no matter how well Arnel Pineda can take off the mighty Steve Perry in the studio, he cannot hold a candle to him in the live arena. Throughout the whole evening’s performance, I found all too often, that Arnel was screaming out the words and not singing them in the soulful manner that they deserved to be delivered.

I was also disappointed that Deen Castronova did not sing this evening other than backing vocals especially as I have since read they played “Mother, Father” the previous evening. Deen is a real powerhouse of a drummer and beat the living crap out of his kit all night!

“City Of Hope” also from the new album “Eclipse” faired as well as the previous two new tracks and Arnel’s shortcomings (pardon the pun) were there for all to hear on “Lights” where he really struggled in certain sections of the song.

Now before you think that I do not like Arnel Pineda, let me say that replacing Steve Perry my favourite singer of all-time, is virtually an impossible task. Mr. Perry, himself, certainly does not have the same vocal range as he did in the early eighties. Most of us would sell a family member to have Arnel’s talent and front one of the all-time great rock bands. The beautiful opening to “Tantra” featuring just Jonathan Cain on keyboards and Arnel on vocals highlighted what an excellent voice he actually possesses. The song starts with a Broadway/West End musical style before Neal Schon kicks in with his guitar and develops into a monster power ballad.

Jonathan Cain played a beautiful keyboard solo before the beginning of the classic “Open Arms”. Again, I was praying for Steve Perry to walk out on stage but at least Arnel gives it a better effort than the woeful version by Mariah Carey!

The final new song to be aired was “Chain Of Love” and despite being one of the heavier numbers from the new album received quite a good reaction from the crowd.

“Wheel In The Sky” had the audience in full voice once again.

“Be Good To Yourself” saw Arnel serenading the front row of the audience and he seemed particularly keen on a one, Tony Marshall! This is the third time that I have seen Journey fronted by Arnel Pineda and he certainly seems more at home than he did on the previous occasions but he still only knows how to work the front part of the crowd; I felt for the poor soles at the back of the arena. I am looking forward to hearing Steve Augeri, at Firefest, later in the year, to see how he handles the Journey classics, however, for me if Steve Perry is no longer a viable option then I would have preferred that Journey stick with the excellent Jeff Scott Soto.

“Lovin’ Toucin’ Squeezin’” was one of Arnel’s finest moments where if you closed your eyes, for a few seconds, you could imagine that the mighty Steve Perry was back fronting the band.

The close of the show was a real treat with the majestic power ballad “Faithfully” preceding crowd favourite “Don’t Stop Believin’”. At this juncture, Arnel could have taken a break as there were over ten thousand people taking lead vocals. I make no apologies for saying that I absolutely love this song that encapsulates everything that Melodic Rock and AOR is all about. Judging by the audience reaction this is the one song that they had all come to see!

Journey briefly departed before returning for a deserved encore and a rip-roaring run through of “Any Way You Want It”. The band left to tumultuous applause with the instrumental “Venus” (closing track from “Eclipse”) playing in the background.

So that was it, four hours of pure AOR Heaven of which I enjoyed every minute. There will always be things to moan and rock fans are some of the worst for criticising their own genre, however, tonight we were all privileged to have witnessed such a wonderful, amazing value for money, show. Judging from this evening’s crowd reaction and reviews from other shows AOR is not going away anytime soon!
Ol' 78
Posts: 58
Joined: Sun Feb 20, 2011 1:58 am
Location: Sheffield, UK

Postby Real rock fan » Sat Jun 11, 2011 11:23 pm

Really nice review, went to Birmingham on sunday evening, all three were really good with Styx the highlight for me.

Agreed on Arnels vocals too, he`s very good but screams to much at times and is arguably the best out there for singing older Journey songs albeit not as good.
Real rock fan
Ol' 78
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Joined: Tue Mar 27, 2007 4:11 am

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