Before playing his piano ballad “Faithfully” on Journey‘s opening 2023 date at an Oklahoma casino theatre on Friday (Jan. 27), Jonathan Cain told about 3,000 fans: “It’s good to be back. All together again.”
It was a unifying sentiment after months of Journey acrimony. Although the classic rock band sold 296,000 tickets in 2022 and grossed $31.9 million, according to Billboard Boxscore, Cain and his longtime bandmate, lead guitarist Neal Schon, have been battling legally since late October over Schon’s expenditures on Journey’s American Express card and Cain’s participation in an event at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago resort.
As Journey prepares to return to arenas Feb. 4 in Allentown, Pa., the two-hour show at the Choctaw Grand Theatre in Durant, the first of two nights, was generally harmonious and upbeat.
The sextet’s three focal points — frontman Arnel Pineda, Schon and Cain — dominated the spotlight. Pineda, who replaced long-departed frontman Steve Perry in 2008 and sounds exactly like him, was in constant motion, running, jumping, waving, pointing and leading singalongs. Schon soloed constantly, opening the first song “Only the Young” with a burst of noise on his PRS NS-15 guitar and improvising with hard rock power chords in unexpected ways at the ends of rock radio fixtures “Wheel In the Sky” and “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’,” and Cain anchored “Feeling That Way” and “Who’s Crying Now” on his red piano.
Journey’s live formula is simple: play the beloved hits from the ’70s and ’80s, even if Schon and Cain are the only remaining band members from that era. They dispatched with their signature “Don’t Stop Believin’,” which has nearly 1.5 billion plays on Spotify alone, as the third song, then closed with na-na-na-ing, whoa-oh-whoaing and general earworm-rocking with “Wheel In the Sky,” “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” and the finale “Any Way You Want It.”
Relying on a setlist similar to much of the 2022 tour, Journey challenged the crowd in subtle ways, opening with lesser-known hits like “Only the Young,” a 1985 single first released by Scandal, then “Stone in Love,” from 1981’s Escape, later throwing in “Be Good to Yourself,” from 1984’s Raised On Radio, during the punchy, four-song finale. Most experimental of all was Schon, who wore a black denim jacket, an open-collar shirt and several necklaces, and spent much of the night engrossed in his guitars, coming up with different improvisational angles and colors for hits you thought you knew, dabbling in glam rock, metal and even new age music, peaking with a three-minute solo before “Wheel In the Sky.”
Schon and Cain consistently kept roughly 20 yards of distance between them, as Cain, mostly stationary in a dark suit coat, held down stage right with four different keyboards. Schon spoke sparingly, but Cain told the story of writing “Faithfully” on a lonely 1981 bus ride, concluding, “We pay a price for a life like this,” then encouraging the crowd to support the U.S. armed forces. The two cooperated musically, especially on “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’,” when Cain played boogie-woogie runs and Schon dropped in sympathetic guitar riffs to augment the piano. With the exception of Schon, who sang minimally, all six band members harmonized on vocals, nicely backing Pineda’s impossibly high range on “Anytime.”
With Schon and Cain in separate corners, and drummer Deen Castronovo, bassist Todd Jensen and second keyboardist Jason Derlatka holding down the middle, it was Pineda’s job to enliven the crowd, which he did, energetically and enthusiastically. He was the one member of Journey who seemed happy to be there, jumping on a pedestal and throwing his head back to hit those high notes, patting Schon on the back, fist-bumping Cain, signing autographs as songs were going on and, long after the others had walked off stage, sticking around for crowd selfies. Rock stars may “pay a price” for the rock-star life, but, Pineda suggested, it’s fun, too.