Compared with the big productions Charlotteans have witnessed recently (Brad Paisley, the Jonas Brothers), the Journey-Heart-Cheap Trick triple bill last Saturday at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre packed fewer frills, with minimal lights and only the headliners' images projected on the venue's big screens.
The performances were more about delivering tight versions of classic hits and demonstrating that even in their 50s, these '70s and '80s rock legends still boast musical and vocal chops.
After Cheap Trick warmed up the crowd with hits like “I Want You to Want Me” and “The Flame,” Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart (58 and 54, respectively) took over, harmonizing like it was 1979. Wearing a shiny black dress and long purple coat, older sister Ann belted out “Magic Man,” “Kick It Out,” and the Who's “Love, Reign O'er Me” with soaring vibrato.
The five-piece band altered its '80s hit “Never,” with Nancy strumming acoustic guitar and playing a harmonica solo in jeans and a long ruffled knee-length jacket/dress. Another '80s hit, “Alone,” was one of Ann's vocal highlights; it was presented with synthesized strings instead of as a big rock number.
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They ended the 40-minute set with the live staple, “Barracuda,” but returned to play Led Zeppelin's “Going to California” under the Carolina sunset and ended the encore with a ripping “Crazy On You.”
The vocal showcase continued as Journey unveiled its latest frontman – Filipino YouTube discovery Arnel Pineda, who made his live debut with the band in Chile in February.
Pineda's range and grasp of the band's catalog was amazing. He effortlessly handled the most challenging passages of “Separate Ways” and “Only the Young.” Pineda, who is 40, looks and moves like he's 26. At one point, Pineda ran from one side of the stage to the other while continuing to sing at full belt.
Although tracks from Journey's new album “Revelation” were integrated nicely into the set, “Separate Ways” and “Don't Stop Believin'” (which included a nod to its use on “The Sopranos'” finale) received the biggest response. Pineda, whose voice is eerily similar to former Journey singer Steve Perry, did spot-on renditions of the ballads “Open Arms” and “Faithfully.”
Following a country-esque segment from Neal Schon on mandolin and keyboardist Jonathan Cain on harmonica, the quintet fired off its earliest big hit – 1978's “Wheel in the Sky” – and 1980's “Any Way You Want It” before a pre-encore bow. The encore included 1979's “Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin.'”
For a band that has gone through three adequately impressive vocalists since Perry's permanent departure in 1998, Journey's track record remains unmarked. With 33 years and no sign of slowing down, it's still able to pack in thousands of fans and deliver a standout show.