With the 35th anniversary of the Journey album Escape, which spawned numerous chart-topping hits, right around the corner, the band is back on the road. This time they are joined by The Doobie Brothers and Dave Mason. And Steve Smith is behind the drum kit, stepping in for the band’s former drummer Deen Castronovo. For those keeping count, this is the classic Journey lineup, minus one member: Steve Perry. I’m happy to say this was one of the best Journey concerts I’ve attended (this was my fifth), and my my pre-show meet and greet with Neal Schon exceeded my expectations. Read on for all of the details.
When I arrived at the BB&T Pavilion in Camden (NJ) I stopped by the VIP box office to pick up my ticket, photo pass and Neal Schon meet and greet pass. Neal, who I previously interviewed, was nice enough to provide me and my cousin with great seats and backstage access so we could meet him before the show. Neal and his wife are two of the nicest people I’ve ever met. They’re both down-to-Earth, generous, all-around wonderful people.
I should point out that my cousin, Chris, drove 12 hours from his honeymoon in Florida the day of the concert so he would make it in time for the show and so he could meet Neal. If this isn’t fan dedication of the highest order, then I don’t know what is.
As we entered Neal’s dressing room a little after 7 p.m., Neal’s beautiful wife Michaele greeted us and Neal said, “Hi Michael!” Neal had a guitar in his hands, and he was effortlessly shredding it to warm up. The room itself was covered from floor to ceiling with ornate tapestries, including an afghan of the Infinity album cover draped over the coffee table. Sitting atop the table was a gorgeous bouquet of red roses. This room was a site to behold and I asked Neal, “How long did it take them to decorate this room?” He replied, “About an hour or an hour-and-a-half.”
After introducing Neal and his wife to my cousin, we started taking photos together and chatting. I asked Neal if he and his wife ever got the chance to enjoy the cities they visit on tour and he said, “Oh, yeah, except on days like today when it’s ninety degrees.” My cousin asked Neal, “What’s your favorite song to perform live?” Neal said, “‘Lights,’ because the whole place lights up like a Christmas tree when people pull out their cell phones and lighters. It’s also the second song I wrote with Perry.” At the age of 15 Neal was offered two jobs: he could either join Eric Clapton or Carlos Santana. He chose Santana, who he recently reunited with for the terrific album Santana IV (along with former Journey keyboardist Gregg Rolie) and played several dates with the classic lineup, opening up for Journey. So, Neal did double-duty on these dates. He played one set with Santana, followed by another set with Journey. Neal did this last year too, when he opened for Journey by playing material from his newest solo album Vortex. At 62 years of age, Neal has the stamina of a guitarist in his 20s so I asked him, “Have you ever had any issues with your hands when it comes to playing?” “Never. I could play for hours on end,” he said and continued to strum away on his guitar. Before leaving Neal’s dressing room, I asked him to autograph a miniature cherry sunburst Les Paul guitar I bought specifically for this occasion. I figured having my favorite guitarist sign my favorite guitar only made sense, and Neal was happy to oblige. He wrote “Neal Schon Journey 2016” and it looks great. I look forward to displaying it on my shelf.
After thanking Neal and his wife once again for their time and generosity, Chris and I were led out of the backstage area and headed to our seats. The Doobie Brothers had already started, and the crowd was up on their feet dancing and singing. At first, I wasn’t all that impressed by The Doobie Brothers. However, by the end of their set, Chris and I were on our feet too as they played hit after crowd-pleasing hit.
Following a short break, the lights dimmed and Journey hit the stage. It was a hits-filled show from the start. They performed “Separate Ways,” followed by “Be Good To Yourself” and “Only The Young.” Neal ripped into a blistering version of the “Star Spangled Banner,” and then Jonathan Cain strapped on a guitar as the band played the Escape classic “Stone In Love.” “Any Way You Want It” was followed by “Lights,” which led to Jonathan Cain’s beautiful piano solo, which blends together iconic piano parts from various Journey classics, including my all-time favorite: “When You Love A Woman.”
In addition to expected standards like “Open Arms” and “Who’s Crying Now,” Journey played two deeper cuts: “Escape” and “La Do Da.”
The crowd was also treated to a thrilling drum solo by Steve Smith that put his exceptional talent on display.
As the confetti fell over the crowd during “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’,” everyone was dancing, smiling and swaying. The final chords were struck and the response was deafening, even with my ear plugs in. Journey gave the people exactly what they wanted, an electrifying concert by a band that is as vibrant as it was when Escape was released 35 years ago.