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Big vocalists battle at Journey-Heart concert

August 21, 2009 - Andy Gray
The Journey/Heart double bill that played to a sold out crowd Thursday at the Covelli Centre in Youngstown could be billed as the Dueling Voices Tour.

Both bands’ catalogs are filled with songs dominated by soaring, anthemic vocals, the kind that ``American Idol’’ wannabes and arena rock fans find irresistible. But it’s been 30 years since some of those songs were recorded. Can both bands still deliver the vocal fireworks?

Heart met the challenge first with a 75-minute, 13-song set. There were a couple times Ann Wilson played it safe rather than going for the full-throated wail, but not too many. She was most impressive singing “What About Love” and “Alone” back to back, and the latter was stripped down with just her sister Nancy’s acoustic guitar and Debbie Shair’s keyboard accompanying her. Ann’s voice was front and center with nothing to obscure it, and she didn’t disappoint. Even she seemed impressed at the end of “Alone” as she gave a little celebratory fist pump and smiled to someone at the side of the stage.

Nancy called her sister, “The real thing. There’s no digital technology involved up here, folks.”

Nancy took a couple lead vocals on “Back to Avalon” and “These Dreams,” but she spent most of the night playing guitar goddess, switching between electric and acoustic as she laid down those made-for-Guitar-Hero licks on show opener “Baracuda” as well as radio favorites “Kick It Out,” “Crazy on You” and “Magic Man.”

The sisters didn’t limit themselves to their own repertoire, including The Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me” and Led Zeppelin’s “Goin’ to California” in the set. The Who cover was the only time Ann Wilson’s voice paled. She had no trouble with the high notes, but the lower vocals in the verse didn’t have enough power and got lost in the mix.

Heart still is a great live act. Most bands probably wouldn’t want to follow them. Journey didn’t seem to have any qualms about following Heart in this vocal battle. Then again, they had a ringer.

The guy hitting the high notes for Journey today isn’t Steve Perry, the man who recorded “Open Arms,” “Faithfully,” “Any Way You Want It” and plenty of others. Instead it’s his vocal doppelganger – a singer from the Philippines named Arnel Pineda – performing with core members Neal Schon, Ross Valory and Jonathan Cain and drummer Deen Castronovo (who joined about a decade ago).

It’s freakish how well Pineda is able to duplicate Perry’s original vocals, and at times it seems like he is forced to be nothing more than a gifted mimic rather than bringing anything original to the material. But the truth is, Pineda probably sounds more like 1980s-era Steve Perry than Perry himself does these days. Folks paying up to $90 to see Journey want to hear those songs they rocked out to or fell in love to the same way they remember them. This lineup does that.

Over an hour and 45 minutes, Journey played a lot of those songs and built room into the arrangements for plenty of instrumental showcases, from Schon’s face-contorting guitar solos to Cain’s shifts between electronic keyboards and a baby grand piano. The duo even got a little bit country as Schon jammed on electric mandolin while Cain played harmonica.

The tiny Pineda kept the energy level high as he ran around the stage and jumped on the monitors. The crowd was enthusiastic, although there was a bit of confusion when Pineda tried to get a call-and-response going during “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Pineda would yell, “Don’t Stop” and hold out the microphone toward the crowd, but the fans didn’t seem to know whether they were supposed to repeat what he said or finish the title.

There was no trouble when it came time for the audience to provide the “Na na na na na nas” on the encore of “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.”


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