Journey tribute opens River Rock season

Riccardo Curzi may be biased, but he believes Journey’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year was long overdue.

“People labeled them as commercial music,” he said during a telephone interview from Toronto. “They were doing music they were feeling from within. Why should they be criticized for being successful? They were a phenomenon. We believe they are one of the most fundamental bands in American history, so why not put them in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?”

Curzi has been playing the role of Journey lead singer Steve Perry in the tribute band Absolute Journey since it started in 2014, and the Canadian act will open the 2017 River Rock at the Amp series at Warren Community Amphitheatre.

Perry was the lead singer from 1978 to 1987, the band’s most commercially successful period, and during the 1995-97 reunion. He’s the main voice on arena rock favorites like “Don’t Stop Believin'” and “Any Way You Want It” and power ballads like “Open Arms” and “Faithfully.”

Absolute Journey — Jeff Salem, drums; Tristan Avakian, guitar; Peter Tong, keyboard; Kevin “Toad” Saulnier, bass; and Curzi — is devoted to presenting the look and sound of Steve Perry-era Journey.

“Journey’s got a really great lead singer now in Arnel Pineda, but a lot still want to see that classic Journey and we’re trying our best to recreate that,” Curzi said. “Soundwise and visually and show-wise, it recalls the old lineup.”

Curzi has the hair and the clothes of ’80s-era Steve Perry, and he’s worked hard to develop the voice.

“It’s not just very controlled, high-pitched signing, it’s also very emotional and expressive,” he said. “It takes a lot of work, building the stamina for that … I saw Steve Perry as a very interesting vocal challenge. Back in the day, a lot of singers wanted to wow the audience with range and sometimes the were overdoing it. Steve Perry had a more tasteful way of mixing it all together with dynamics.”

The group formed because it saw a void in the Canadian market for a Journey tribute act, and its popularity has expanded in the United States. The attention surrounding Journey’s induction into the Rock Hall only has helped.

“This year we saw an increase in bookings, that’s for sure,” Curzi said. “We’ve even started working with companies like Disney, and that comes of the publicity with Journey being inducted for sure. We’re still doing longtime clients, but the scope is going wider.”

Absolute Journey’s scope is widening as well. The band is working on creating a Def Leppard tribute act that will be called Absolute Leppard.

“There are very few bands doing Def Leppard in the United States,” he said. “The demand is not getting filled. The market doesn’t offer an upscale version of Def Leppard, so we came up with this idea. It’s appeal is a little younger.”

In addition to Perry, another singer that Curzi lists as a “master” who inspired him is Soundgarden / Audioslave vocalist Chris Cornell. His death last week was an emotional blow.

“I’ve been singing his music since I was 16,” he said. “He was really, really big in my vocal background. His death hit even more than when Prince died. What was really great about him was he had this fierce power and way of expressing himself.”

While many of his fellow grunge artists had a “life sucks” attitude and succumbed to it, Curzi said, Cornell came across more as a warrior fighting that attitude.

“He was a soul warrior. His voice was an old soul. I’ll miss him quite a lot.”

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