The nostalgia factor was high for Sunday night’s classic rockfest at SPAC: Cheap Trick, Heart and Journey played to one of the largest crowds all summer. Time travel may have been the main attraction for some, but much of the music was good as well.
Headliners Journey have made comparisons unavoidable by touring with a singer other than their classic, Steve Perry, who was as crucial to their sound as Robert Plant is to Led Zeppelin. Their replacement is the (understandably) excitable Arnel Pineda. At times, Pineda was like a fan who found himself onstage and couldn’t believe his good fortune. His style and tone is close to Perry’s, but it may have been a wise idea creatively to have picked someone with a clear departure from Perry’s style. Still, Pineda works well enough for a fun re-creation.
Aside from the singer issue, Journey’s set was a good time. The hits came often: “Separate Ways,” “Open Arms,” “When The Lights Go Down In The City,” and the now infamous “Sopranos” series-closing “Don’t Stop Believing.” As solid as the whole band is, without early members Gregg Rolie and Steve Smith, it’s mainly Neal Schon’s show now. He’s professional and a bona fide guitar god. From his clear, singing tone, to his blistering distorted solos, he makes everything look effortless.
To the Heart
Anyone disappointed at the absence of Journey’s heyday singer should’ve been vocally satisfied by just one tune of Heart’s Ann Wilson’s singing. She can match Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan for power and could basically out-sing nearly any rock singer with her tone, dynamics and perfect intonation. On their most hard-rocking tunes, like “Barracuda” and “Magic Man,” the band matched Ann for intensity and energy. Thirty years on and this band is still has the energy of 20-year-olds.
Ann’s sister, guitarist Nancy Wilson, shined on acoustic guitar, mandolin and even a little harmonica. Her percussive rhythm playing, musical phrasing, and voicings using the guitar’s nature to its advantage are still crisp. Backing up her sister on a cathartic version of The Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me,” she jumped, kicked and whirled like a banshee having the time of her life. Covering a power ballad by The Who was the perfect choice to highlight the power of Ann’s voice and to show off the arranging skills of Nancy. They made the tune their own.
Heart filled out their set with multiple classics, including “Crazy On You,” “Never,” and another cover tune: Led Zeppelin’s “Going To California.” They paid tribute to their roots as they have been roots for others following them. Excellent set.
Cheap Trick opened the show and took a few songs to hit their stride. Their hits were played while all other material was blatant filler. Tunes such as “Surrender” and “Dream Police” didn’t fail to get people on their feet early in the evening. But the backbone of their set was guitarist Rick Nielsen’s showmanship. Constantly prowling the stage, he changed his guitars as often as Sara Jessica Parker changes clothes in “Sex and the City.” He also wore his signature suit, bow tie and Angus Young-style baseball cap. Just like the old days.