Only The Young? No Way! Schon and Journey Show Charlotte How It Is Done!
Neal Schon (Journey)
Do you remember what peaked your interest in music? I know I do, and it is firmly implanted in my memory. It was 1981, and I found a cassette that my mom owned. I wasn’t into music at that point, but I liked the futuristic artwork on the cover and decided to drop the cassette into the machine to see how it sounded.
There were a lot of iconic records released in 1981, so what album was it you might ask? John Lennon’s Double Fantasy? No. Bella Donna from Stevie Nicks? No. High Infidelity by REO Speedwagon? Nope. The one record in 1981 that really spurred on my longtime love of music was Journey’s Escape.
As soon as I pushed play, I was immediately hooked. Whomever had listened to it before me had stopped play at the end of “Don’t Stop Believing”. As the tape creaked and squeaked, the gears turned forward and “Stone In Love” came on. Neal Schon’s clean, reverb laden riffs drew me into the love for the guitar sound that I have today. As the breaks came in the song, Schon scorched the the solos, then they take the volume down, a quick slap on Schon’s tremolo brings the sound back up and my volume knob followed suit. Those driving riffs and blazing solos by Neal and the musicianship of the rest of the guys opened my eyes to a whole new world, I asked myself who is this guy? Schon began playing guitar at age 5 and picked it up very quickly. So fast that he started playing with Santana as a teenager before forming what would later become the band we all now know as Journey in 1973.
The rest of Escape is good enough to be a greatest hits record for most other bands out there, but Escape was just a taste of what Journey had already accomplished and what they would continue doing in the future. When I heard the guys were coming to town, I have to say I was very excited. I have seen most of the bands that I followed as a young kid, but I had never seen Journey or the guy who started my own journey into music, Neal Schon.
As we made our way down to the floor, it was evident that there was a full house at the Spectrum Center to see Journey. People filled in the seats from the floor to the rafters awaiting the classic band and their catalog of hit after hit. As I cleared the tunnel and made my way into the crowd, the open stage was prepped and ready for the bad to take their places. That familiar keyboard sound lit up the arena, followed by my man’s string scraping sounds as they opened with “Separate Ways (World’s Apart).” Classic 80s rock at its best.
Signature doo and headband wrapped around his brow to keep the sweat out of his eyes, Schon stepped to the middle of the stage with his sunburst custom signature model PRS and let his pearly whites light up the building. Eyes shaded from the lights, Neal laid into that guitar like it was never away from his side and got the crowd in a frantic state and they all jumped and threw their hands into the air along with him.
Arnel out front, on the side, in the crowd, brought his energy to the arena and he worked the stage from left to right and back down the catwalk. Hands up in the air, he did his very best to make eye contact with each and everyone in the audience to give them that personal touch. Boundless energy is how I would describe Arnel, while at the same time still being able to pull off what most people can’t do without the full on cardio workout he endures, sing Steve Perry’s lyrics as close to perfection as you can without it being Steve. You have to love Arnel’s story and his character to be able to stand their every night and perform while there are some people who reminisce back to when Perry was the front man. I have often thought back on how things once were only to realize that today might be just as good if not better as then because my memory may not match up with reality past. I will leave that debate up to each individual person to decide, but I for one appreciate the effort and heart the that he shows by stepping up and bringing it 100% every show.
What would you expect from a band that has been playing together for so long? They know each other’s every step and minute finger placements as they slide between chords. Cain of course made his keys dance, Smith put on a drum clinic all night, and Valory did what has has done since 1973, he locked that pocket down tight and hard. Of course Neal smiled and took it all in as he showed what Carlos Santana and Eric Clapton saw in him as a kid. A rock guitar icon that has forgotten more licks than most people will ever learn. It doesn’t matter that the guys have taken time apart over the years to pursue other things, it is clear that they could all be blindfolded and they would never miss a beat. They didn’t. Hit after hit, “Lights,” Any Way You Want It,” “Only The Young” (from one of the greatest movies of the 80s I must say, “Vision Quest”), “Open Arms,” Who’s Crying Now.”
These guys didn’t create music to be played for a season and then forgotten when the next big fad comes along. Just another download that ends up off your playlist after 6 months and lost on your hard drive.
Schon and the boys took us on a journey to a time where there was real song writing and real musicianship. Real singers and real instruments, a love for creating real music that is timeless and will live on into future generations. For just a moment, I head the guitar riff that started it all for me, and in my mind I went back to when I found that cassette tape and just stopped to listen to the music when they played my favorite song, “Stone In Love.” More tremolo Neal, please more tremolo. I don’t know if I can ever get enough of that sound that he has mastered.
I don’t think there is anyone on the planet Earth that doesn’t know “Don’t Stop Believing”. I am freshly back in the country from Thailand, and I must have heard that familiar tune blaring from every bar and music club at least 10 times during my trip. As they neared the end of their set and played the classic, Arnel could have let the band play on and take a break, because the crowd shook the foundation singing every word in unison. Just looking around at the young people’s faces made think, I probably looked just like that when I first heard the tune in 1981. For their vocal accompaniment efforts, the fans were rewarded with confetti cannons showering their glimmering streamers on everyone’s heads as the band sincerely thanked the fans for coming out to see them.
Schon’s efforts and tireless pursuit of what he originally envisioned back in ‘73 is still evident as he is the anchor to the band, still keeping that love of music flourishing with Jonathan Cain, Steve Smith, his partner in crime from the original lineup Ross Valory, and of course Arnel Pineda. There are always going to be critics who harken back to day long past, but you can’t go back, and if you could, nine times out of ten, you would be disappointed. You can only go forward and that is how Journey is still bringing music to us. I have to send out a thank you to Schon for burning that classic guitar sound into my brain and Journey for introducing me to one thing that never disappointed me and is always there when I need it, authentic music. Journey is out on the road co-headlining with Def Leppard on a juggernaut tour across the US and Canada until October as they wrap up back in Los Angeles. Check your calendars and get out and support these two great acts.