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Tuesday, December 18 , 2018, 9:52 am | Fair 56º


Jeff Moehlis: Journey and Styx Keep Fans Believin’ at the Bowl

The bands rock the house with arena classics from the 1970s and '80s

The Santa Barbara Bowl played host Tuesday night to two of the best known rock bands from the 1970s and ‘80s: Styx and Journey.

First up was Styx, with blazing guitars and power harmonies galore. This was a real treat for me, having been introduced to Styx through their Pieces of Eight album as an under-10-year-old thanks to an older brother’s vinyl collection. Back then, I thought guitarist and singer Tommy Shaw was “The Man,” perhaps helped by the fact that we both had the same hair color (strangely, what I have left is gray while his remains full and blond). He also wrote the “coolest” songs, in my opinion.

The current lineup features Shaw, who somehow looked good in leather pants at 58 years old, and longtime guitarist and vocalist James “J.Y.” Young. Original bassist Chuck Panozzo joined in for part of the set; Chuck’s twin brother, John, the original drummer for Styx, died in 1996. Rounding out the lineup was Todd Sucherman on drums, Ricky Phillips on bass and guitar, and Lawrence Gowan, who hammed it up on vocals and keyboards on a swivel stand.

The band, who I would place as one of the best of the arena rock genre, played songs ranging from hard rocking (“Blue Collar Man” and “Renegade,” both by Shaw, by the way) to FM-radio-friendly prog (“Grand Illusion,” “Too Much Time on My Hands” and “Fooling Yourself,” the latter two by Shaw) to power ballads (“Lady” and “Come Sail Away”). They also kicked off their encore with a surprising, amazing cover of The Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus.”

Notable in their absence were some of the band’s best-selling hits written by former keyboardist/singer Dennis DeYoung, namely, “Mr. Roboto,” “The Best of Times” and “Babe.” DeYoung and the others parted ways because of artistic differences, leaving the current band to focus more on the hard rock material.

Styx set the stage for fellow arena rock giant Journey, who put on a bombastic show to the delight of the adoring crowd. Personally, and I know that this is an inappropriately broad stereotyping of people’s musical taste according to gender, I think Journey’s popularity comes from their magic formula of being strong enough for a man, but made for a woman, or at least gentle enough for a woman.

Indeed, they balanced rockers such as “Stone In Love,” “Separate Ways,” “Wheel in the Sky” and “Anyway You Want It” with slower fare such as “Lights” (to which the audience waved along with their lit up cell phones) and borderline-sappy ballads such as “Open Arms” and “Faithfully.” Say, was it just me, or did the latter two songs give anyone else flashbacks to their junior high dances?

There were two stars of Journey’s performance: founding guitarist Neal Schon whose soaring, distorted guitar colors virtually every song, and dynamic Filipino singer Arnel Pineda, who Schon recruited to replace longtime singer Steve Perry after seeing Pineda perform on YouTube. (How’s that for a 21st century success story?) I have to say that I’m always a bit skeptical when a key band member gets replaced, but Pineda pulled it off smashingly, singing powerfully and with sincerity throughout the night.

Also in the spotlight at times was keyboardist Jonathan Cain, who helped the band go supernova with its smash 1981 album Escape, having co-written all of the songs. The rhythm section was in the capable hands of founding member Ross Valory (bass) and Deen Castronovo (drums).

In addition to an impressive collection of hits, it was cool to hear the underrated album track “Escape.” The band also played their new song “City of Hope” about Pineda’s hometown of Manilla, which holds up well in the Journey catalog.

Not surprisingly, the highlight of Journey’s set was the closer “Don’t Stop Believin’.” This song seems to be in our collective DNA, and everyone strained their vocal chords to belt it out along with the band. Things got a bit crazy, with bras thrown onstage and an explosion at the end sending streamers into the audience. It’s fair to say that the audience has not stopped believing, welcoming a new singer and a new energy as the band journeys onward.

Like the kid I was when I first heard the song, I know I still believe.

Styx Setlist

Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)
Grand Illusion
Too Much Time on My Hands
Crystal Ball
Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
Come Sail Away

I Am the Walrus

Journey Setlist

Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)
Ask the Lonely
Send Her My Love
City of Hope
Only the Young
Stone in Love
Wheel in the Sky
Open Arms
La Do Da
Be Good to Yourself
Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’

Anyway You Want It
Don’t Stop Believin’

Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.

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