Journey returns to Honolulu

Dec. 7, 2012 | 1 Comment In the Star-Advertiser Friday Print Edition
Arnel Pineda has injected new energy into Journey's performances since becoming its frontman in 2008. --Courtesy Cinediaz

Arnel Pineda has injected new energy into Journey's performances since becoming its frontman in 2008. --Courtesy Cinediaz

BY SJARIF GOLDSTEIN / sgoldstein@staradvertiser.com

Conversations about the current incarnation of Journey usually start with two facts: The band discovered its lead singer from the Philippines on YouTube, and this singer sure sounds an awful lot like Steve Perry, the band’s lead singer during Journey’s prime.

From there, there’s a 50-50 chance that the conversation will become an argument, with one side saying, “There’s no Journey without Steve Perry!” and the other side saying, “But Arnel Pineda sounds just like him!”

The members of Journey are finding enough people saying the latter that they are happy to ignore the former.

JOURNEY

Where: Blaisdell Arena

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday (limited seating available) and Dec. 14-15

Cost: $65-$125

Info: ticketmaster.com, 800-745-3000

THE SOUND OF JOURNEY

For all Journey’s success (more than 50 million albums sold in the U.S. alone), the one honor that has eluded the band is a No. 1 pop single. Still, it has plenty of signature tunes:

» “Don’t Stop Believin'” (1981) — Though it peaked at No. 9 in 1981, the song has found new heights of pop culture ubiquity thanks to its use in “Glee” and in the controversial final scene of “The Sopranos.” It has ridden that success to the honor of top digital sales by a pre-digital-era song, with about 5.5 million downloads sold.

» “Open Arms” (1982) — The band’s top-charting song (No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100) is perhaps the ultimate ’80s power ballad. It is also the first Journey song singer Arnel Pineda heard, though he admits he preferred other tracks off the 1981 album “Escape.”

» “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” (1983) — One of the band’s five top-10 hits is best known for its cheese-tastic video, which features copious amounts of not just air guitar, but air drums and air keyboards. (Find it on the “JourneyVEVO” YouTube channel.)

» “Faithfully” (1983) — This life-on-the-road lament just missed the top 10, but Pineda’s performance of the song on YouTube landed him the gig as vocalist. Check it out here: tinyurl.com/PinedaFaithfully.

» “Lights” (1978) — Though not a major hit when released, this tribute to the band’s hometown of San Francisco has gained steam over the years.

“It’s definitely, really great,” guitarist Neal Schon said by phone before a sold-out show in Canada when asked about fan reaction to Pineda. “Since Arnel has been in the band, that almost everywhere I look outside the U.S., everybody’s more open to our music. We’re playing places we’ve never played before. We’re considered an international band now more so than ever.”

THE STORY of how Journey found Pineda is well known even beyond the group’s fans.

Needing a new lead singer in 2007, Schon scoured YouTube and eventually came across videos of Pineda singing hits by Journey, Aerosmith and Bon Jovi with his Manila cover band The Zoo. Blown away by Pineda’s power and the similarity to Perry’s voice, Schon invited Pineda to San Francisco to try out for the band.

After working with him for a week, the band offered Pineda the job. Pineda made his Journey debut in 2008 in Chile, bringing an energy to the performance that the band was not used to, running all over the stage and runway.

In “Don’t Stop Believin’,” a new documentary on Pineda and the band that has been touring film festivals, drummer Deen Castronovo said of Pineda, “He’s like David Lee Roth and Bruce Lee put together.”

At the band’s recommendation, Pineda, who at 45 is about 15 years younger than most of his band mates, has since scaled back the running.

“I finally realized why they’re saying that, because I myself am not getting any younger,” said Pineda with good humor. “Sooner or later I’m gonna slow down, too. Maybe five years from now you’re just gonna see me standing in the middle, just waving my hand and singing.”

As shockingly passionate as some fans can be in refusing to acknowledge Journey without Steve Perry, the bigger shock may be how easily hundreds of thousands of them have taken to Pineda.

Rock fans can be notoriously fickle about the personnel of their favorite bands. One need look no further than Journey itself to be reminded of that. When Perry came onboard and made Journey one of the biggest rock bands of the ’80s, there were still fans who pined for the Gregg Rolie era.

Rolie was among those who founded the band in 1973 (as were current members Schon and bassist Ross Valory; keyboardist Jonathan Cain and Castronovo round out the current lineup). He left in 1980 as Perry took the group from its jam band roots in a more pop direction. Some of the band’s fans were less than thrilled, and surely some of them even proclaimed, “There’s no Journey without Gregg Rolie!”

So why have so many of Journey’s fans been so accepting of Pineda? It could be his voice’s similarity to Perry’s, which gives fans who didn’t see the band live in its heyday the opportunity to experience its sound now. It could be his rags-to-riches story. Or it may be that in this era of myriad TV singing competitions, having a new singer perform with original musicians feels like the real thing when compared with the endless stream of faceless singers performing with studio bands in prime time.

It could be the humility with which Pineda approaches his role. (“I’m just happy enough to be in the band … continuing their legacy that Mr. Perry has left behind,” he said. “I know my place.”)

In Hawaii there’s one clear reason for the popularity: the state’s large Filipino population. With about 25 percent of Hawaii’s people identifying as at least part Filipino and few American pop or rock stars of that ethnicity, Pineda connects with that community.

“Me as an addition to Journey now and being a Filipino, it makes the Hawaiian-based Filipinos … proud of what I have achieved,” Pineda said, adding that the only cities (outside of Manila) where he sees similar turnout from the Filipino community are New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

EVEN BEFORE Pineda joined Journey, Hawaii was one of Journey’s more popular tour stops. Its second performance ever was at the Diamond Head Crater Festival in 1973, and the band’s been back for more than a dozen shows since, including a sold-out five-night stand at the Blaisdell during 1983’s “Frontiers” tour.

“The fans are the best,” Schon said. “We’ve been coming over forever and just love the island and the people. The whole vibe, it’s just so nice and chill.”

The band is especially happy to be ending this leg of the tour here, giving the members and their families time to enjoy the islands.

“It’s the absolute best place that I love to be when I’m done and to finish out,” Schon said. “It’s just a great place to hang. The only place that helps me unwind for real. To be there with family and my girl (fiancee Michaele Salahi of “The Real Housewives of D.C.”), it’s awesome.”

Pineda is looking forward to having more time in Hawaii than on his last trip — the band’s five-show, three-island tour in 2009 — and having his wife, Cherry, and four children join him this time.

“Last time we were there, it was so quick,” Pineda said, “so I didn’t really enjoy my time. (This time) I’m going to have time to really enjoy Hawaii ’cause we’re going to be there at least six days.”

Pineda says his wife has enjoyed her first trip to the United States.

“My wife (is) starting to like now how America’s system is, the lifestyle, the living. She’s starting to like it, so she’s considering now having a home in America. We’ll talk about it. There’s still a lot of things to consider.”

Arnel Pineda has injected new energy into Journey's performances since becoming its frontman in 2008. --Courtesy Cinediaz

Arnel Pineda has injected new energy into Journey's performances since becoming its frontman in 2008. --Courtesy Cinediaz

IF PINEDA uproots his family, he won’t forget where he came from. He’s made that clear in his actions since joining Journey. Besides still living in Manila, Pineda founded the Arnel Pineda Foundation, a charity that provides educational and medical services for homeless youths.

Pineda spent much of his teen years homeless in Manila after his mother died and his family couldn’t pay the rent.

“Once in a while we do medical and food missions,” Pineda said of his foundation, “but really our main goal is to teach those street kids. We come to them, and we have teachers and volunteers to teach them for free. We give them medicines because they live in the streets. They’re more exposed to diseases and abuses from people, so we try to educate them. We try to sway them away from those elements.

“I’m really looking forward to some downtime so I can do my job again with my foundation, because I really need to do that,” he said. “There’s a lot of kids in the Philippines who can’t afford to go to school.”

Though joining Journey has brought Pineda success he never imagined, he has not forgotten what it was like growing up homeless, even if things didn’t seem so bad at the time.

“When you’re young, you don’t really look at it as it’s the end of the world or it’s so hard. It doesn’t sink into you the way it (does) when you’re old enough to realize you’re homeless and living in the streets and you don’t know where to get your food every day. … I was young, and so it was like a freedom for me, to explore the world alone. Now, looking back, it was really hard, being hungry for days, asking your friends for food or your relatives for food. It’s not an easy thing.”

AFTER HAWAII the band has a couple of months off before some makeup dates in February (rescheduled from last month when Pineda fell ill) and a trip Down Under — the band’s first gigs there since the ’80s — then to Japan, Singapore and the U.K.

Journey will also try to find time to record another album. “We play and we write all the time. … Everybody compiles their ideas, and then we just get together and it comes out,” Schon said. A long-rumored episode of CMT’s “Crossroads” with Rascal Flatts is also on the agenda.

There is no end in sight for Journey.

“It’s been a blessed five years for us,” Pineda said. “I hope it continues to be happening that way, but nothing lasts forever. As long as it’s happening, we’re gonna try to enjoy it.”

  • Howard Michaels

    Rock on, Journey…