Friday, March 3, 2023

The Journey, the Fall, and the Voice

Journey and Toto: 2023 Freedom Tour
Bryce Jordan Center
State College, PA
March 3, 2023

Recently, I had the pleasure of seeing Journey (and Toto, too!) in the 2023 Freedom Tour, which was also Journey's 50th Anniversary Tour. Never have I ever, so it was nice to be asked by my cousin if I wanted to attend with my mother, sisters, aunt and her; a girl’s night out, it was planned to be. It ended up being a high chance of a snowstorm that day, so my cousin was bummed about the timing, but what could we do other than wait and see what it would do. Part of the journey is not always being able to predict the weather or circumstances. It ended up not being an entire blizzard deal, but a winter event, nonetheless.

My mother drove my sister and I over at a crawl, and we made it on time but ended up waiting in the longest line I’ve experienced at the Bryce Jordan Center. Apparently, some gates were closed, so the lines wrapped all around the building and we waited in a windy onslaught that vacillated between sleet and rain that night. We got most of the sleet and missed the rain, that my cousin and aunt unfortunately had to wait through having gotten there before us. The sleet actually stung my face, and I was glad that I wore my hooded London Fog coat, but I had no gloves in my pockets and only found a pair of children’s socks where they should be. (Most mother’s purses and pockets have children’s socks in them, FYI.) I wasn’t prepared for it to be such an arduous journey to see Journey and Toto, but at least we weren’t caught in a twister or anything.

Toto had already started, and we were still waiting in line when my aunt texted us from our “peanut heaven” seats that awaited us. The line slowly inched as the sleet fell, my head bowed to shield me against the cold wind, giving me a view of shuffling feet and coat hems. “Why does anyone live here?” one woman lamented under her umbrella. “Because they’re born here!” my mother answered. We became a single unit, our bodies uniting in resistance against the weather, a shivering snaking form making slow articulations into the building. We discussed Steve Perry and why he stopped touring as we waited, wondering if the hip injury was the only reason. At one point a man in a garbage bag parka informed us that we didn’t need to wait in line, that there was another line, but he was wrong. The other line ultimately snaked similarly around and into the same gate, so we all hung tight. Another part of the journey is understanding that not everyone giving directions knows what they are talking about. How unhelpful. “This is why I don’t give [the college] money,” a man interjected. Valid point. Why reward subpar treatment? They seemed rather unprepared for the journeyers. It happens…so was I. Can one ever be fully prepared for the journey, though? Going in the doors, we found the ticket scanning to be finicky as well, adding to the delay. This particular Journey journey seemed almost slowed by The Universe itself and we missed part of Toto, but made it to our seats before they played “that song” as they called it. (In response to getting the tickets, I had previously said that I would pay $60 alone to see Africa performed live, so we luckily didn’t miss THAT song.) 

Directly upon stepping onto the nosebleed level your body sends out a warning: Danger! Unsafe incline! Alert! Something to do with your inner ear or balance center, perhaps? I immediately recalled being in this section for Elton John at the BJC years before as a teen, alone with my two younger sisters. I was so nervous with them; fearful they’d fall forward or something. Surely it happens, I thought back then. “I’m surprised people don’t fall here more often!” I said, as we took our seats. Little did I know at the time, but that was a little foreshadowing.

Toto was delightful, a blast from the past. I was swept back to the Night Tracks videos of my childhood. We texted my sister, who had to miss out unfortunately due to illness, sending her video snippets and our love. “Meet you all the way!” Our seats were such that we weren’t so much behind or ahead, but right in line with the stage, and above, on the right, or stage left, would that be? And we were so high up that it gave the illusion that we were directly above the band, and it almost felt like we shouldn’t be there, like we were somehow spies, looking down on the situation with a god’s eye view, instead of paid ticket holders enjoying a show. “I haven’t been this high at a concert in years!” my mother proclaimed, in one of the best quotes of the evening. I laughed to myself, and thought of how many times that same sentence had been uttered at concerts in an entirely different context.

And then, shortly after we were all told to stand up during "Rosanna", our attention was drawn to the left of us as a poor woman banged into our row of seats, having fallen from two rows behind us! She hit the back of the chair of a man sitting to our left. He said later that she was initially out for about 20 seconds or so after hitting her head. When she got up her face was bleeding. She assured people she was fine, but they ended up getting the paramedics and taking her to the hospital. What a drag of a journey for that woman, and I hope that she is okay. The dangers of mountain climbing are rock face and death. Thankfully, this woman only got the rock face. The Fall can leave you bloody and can certainly spoil your good time. Always watch your footing and never forget where you are. This section at the BJC has somewhat of an overzealous incline. It's like being in a realm where you can't trust your perceptions, the way it throws your balance off. “No standing!” we all yelled at each other afterward. 

There was a woman in front of my sister that kept standing up and dancing throughout the entire concert. In fact, that was her view for much of the show, and we were worried for this woman the entire time. While we loved her incredibly bouncy hair and enthusiasm, my sister's view with her in it is now burnt into our memory of Toto's Africa. She shared her video view with us after the show and now that's a funny memory. The woman seemed completely unaware of The Fall that had just occurred and was, thus, completely free of fear in her dancing, and it was a beautiful thing, however obscuring. We, on the other hand, decided to sit tight the entire show, lest The Fall come for us as well. I guess sometimes The Fall is part of The Journey. Nervously anticipating our ultimate decent, we put it to the back of our minds for the time being, for the legacy of The Voice was in the house.

The funny thing with Journey is how Steve Perry was not even with the band for its inception and was not their original vocalist, Gregg Rolie was. The band even added Robert Fleischman for a short time before Perry joined. Their lineup has changed a bit through the years, in general. Perry was also neither their last nor their longest vocalist, yet somehow he is absolutely the voice you think of when you think of Journey. They actually replaced that voice twice, Steve Augeri, who immediately replaced Perry when they went their separate ways, and then Arnel Pineda, who ultimately replaced the first Perry replacement. I reckon the players change quite a bit throughout the journey. 

Being dubbed The Voice by Jon Bon Jovi, Steve Perry is an iconic sound of the 80s. What is it with tiny people having behemoth voices? He’s a legend, and apparently, he quit and ended his personal journey with Journey after a hip injury that required surgery, though I’m sure it’s more nuanced than that, as most partings usually are. The whole replacement by Arnel Pineda is an interesting aspect, too, which bands often do and it isn't uncommon, per se, but not all bands choose new frontmen that sound so similar to other frontmen. This switch, in any case, is just as often received with mixed feelings by fans. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it, but truth be told, if Steve Perry were the one touring with Journey, you would pick apart The Old Voice as much as The New Voice, because that’s what people tend to do. Everyone’s a critic. Who knows if Steve Perry could even sound like Steve Perry, but all you have to compare Pineda to are the recorded versions of Perry doing these songs years ago. It’s interesting to hear Arnel speak of it, because he says he is "keeping the legacy of The Voice alive", as though it were his divine purpose or duty. He carries the torch that was passed to him and he seems to understand the gravity well. He utilizes the spirit of The Voice in his own shows, now. 

As a performer, Arnel Pineda is very entertaining and enthusiastic. Every time he would jump from a platform or leap around stage, my sister and I would look at each other and frown, agreeing “THAT’S why Steve Perry can’t do it anymore!” Arnel Pineda seemed to have all the energy a youthful Perry may have had, with moves that Perry probably never pulled off himself. In a way, it’s an odd thing to witness, almost like Arnel Pineda opens his mouth and Steve Perry’s voice leaps out; Perry is The Voice and Pineda is The Voice Box? Or is The Voice itself a possession by the spirit of the thing, as the entity merely takes over to live out its own legacy? Who knows, but it’s admittedly, a little weird. But it’s not like Pineda is trying to sound like Perry, it doesn’t feel painful at all. It just happens to be that Pineda sounds like Perry and can imitate the sound even if the annunciations are off and he sometimes gets the words wrong. Those are just reminders that he is NOT The Voice, he is keeping the legacy of The Voice alive with his performance. Voices can sound a lot alike, but no two voices are truly exactly identical. Arnel Pineda, however, is a close facsimile to The Voice, close enough to gain the approval of arenas full of fans, and does he ever work the crowd. He is definitely a part of the band and a talented performer, not just a stand-in for Perry, even though it feels somewhat like the concert could open with that softly delivered soap opera line: "Tonight the part of Steve Perry will be being played by Arnel Pineda!"

It was wonderful to witness all the Journey hits you forget that they had, and every one was enjoyable to hear. Everything you’d want to hear was pretty much played.
Journey, Freedom, 2022
Neal Schon was a bit more jammy on the guitar than I'd remembered, but if you have listened to their newest album Freedom, all is well and it's not unlike his playing on other albums over the years, I have found. Freedom has an interesting feel to it. After all the time and changes, it still ends up sounding like classic Journey. Which makes sense, because Steve Perry never was the Journey. He just became the voice of Journey for a short time, and thus became The Voice. The Voice is only part of The Journey, you could say. So in the end, after all the changes the band has been through with its individual players, as a whole the band has remained true to itself somehow. They're still authentically within the spirit of the thing. I would say that is what defines a successful journey! It was a treat to experience them at this time in their careers. I also always enjoy seeing bands when they have recent releases. 

I ended up only recording snippets of the ballads, and all my videos are short; I was sending them in text messages to our sister who couldn't make it, so I was trying to keep the size down. Open Arms produced our own playful wave of arms, which was a memorable silly moment with family. There’s something to be said about the atmosphere of an arena, when people light up their phones during ballads, as well. These moments were neat to witness from so high up, having a very observational view of the place. It’s a new day and age, because the last time Steve Perry toured with Journey, it was a sea of lighters instead of phones. In my own lifetime alone we have witnessed concerts go from lighters to phones; it's a bit mind blowing. Some traditions never die, they just change throughout the journey.

Journey, Frontiers, 1983

Each song on this night was like an 80s memory, the rhythm and melody triggering scenes long passed, bubbling feelings to consciousness. My experience, a little more in the shallow end with the 80s being my first decade of life, was a more visceral and subconscious visitation. I didn't personally get into Journey until I was a teenager and bought their first Greatest Hits album. My mother, on the other hand, began to cry when they played “Send Her My Love” and for a brief moment in time it was 1983 again for her. I was a toddler, the age of my youngest child now, and she was a young mother of two, salving herself with Night Tracks music videos on TBS and spinning vinyl records. I vividly remember her Frontiers album,
Journey, Greatest Hits, 1988 
because it was one that I found visually interesting as a child, somewhat intimidating even with its glowing blue face artwork. It’s strange how certain songs unearth time capsules of emotion within you, sometimes pulling out feelings that you didn’t even remember having when you
originally had them…that’s the power of music. It speaks to the subconscious. It’s a journey of continual self-discovery. In that way, you could sing my favorite Journey lyric direct to your memories: “I get the joy of rediscovering you!” Over and over and over again, music will always uncover the truth of your heart---faithfully.

Overall, Journey begs the question: “Can all things be replaced?" Is nothing sacred? Could a doppelganger really be a stand-in for the real thing? Yes. It happens all the time. It's happened twice with Journey alone. They replaced Perry with Steve Augeri who successfully sounded like Perry only to replace him later with Pineda who also sounds like Perry. The human voice is an amazing thing, but we are mockingbirds. Some people are talented enough to make their voices sound like anything. Some people just happen to have singing voices that sound like other voices, like Arnel. Elvis impersonators would be out of a job if they couldn't emulate The King successfully. Though, sounding like a voice and tapping into the spirit of the thing are two different things, I'd argue. Michael Cullipher, who I saw perform in Memphis at the cafe across from Graceland had Elvis' cousin saying how much he sounds like him! To the basic ear or those who simply want to be entertained, it happens all the time. Impersonators have always been around and the secret to a good impersonation is getting the voice down. 

Voices can sound convincingly alike and be hard to discern as it is, but now, the biggest impersonator of all is the AI voice technology coming out. Fake Drake is disturbing enough, but AI has even been used to make "Kurt Cobain" sing Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun. Is nothing sacred? There have been AI Beatles songs created?! You can't even really say created. They are generated, not created. Generated, mind you, using human creations, so I personally believe that AI is entirely based on the theft of humanity's intellectual property! It's sacrilege and I partially cannot even process my feelings while listening to these things. I am fearful of how AI will shape the world in general, but as far as music, will there come a time when authentic human voices in music will be rare? Grimes has already offered to split any royalties 50% with whoever uses her voice in AI songs. Is a voice your intellectual property? We essentially went through a similar change decades ago as the sounds of pianos and instruments began to be synthesized by machines, and it was widely accepted, so if this is no different, why does it seem so different? IS the human voice just another instrument or is it something more than that? It's hard to say where this all will go, but definite changes are coming in the industry as things get increasingly strange in the [music] world because of AI, but that's a whole other topic and post and once again, I digress.   

Voices are like fingerprints, though, unique to individuals. When you hear the voice of a dead loved one on a video or audio recording, it is somewhat of a holy experience, for they live again, ever so briefly, as their unique vocal signature vibrates out into your ears and the world once more. No one can replace that and the AI that recreates dead voices IS sacrilege, in my opinion. Sometimes hearing a voice recorded in time can take us back to different lifetimes inside of us. That can easily happen all the time with recorded music, but Arnel Pineda is doing the same thing for the Journey legacy as Michael Cullipher is doing for Graceland. It’s a wonderful way to visit the past and enjoy something that has been lost to time. It's not the real thing, per se, but it allows you to experience the spirit of the thing and at least it's human. There is also something to be said about keeping a legacy alive. It should only be undertaken by those that understand the gravity, like it’s their divine purpose and duty. Arnel Pineda apparently gets it. Sequined jumpsuits and all, Michael Cullipher absolutely gets it; I felt the spirit of the King while in Memphis and the spirit of Journey was certainly in the air tonight, oh wait, that's a whole different 80s song, isn't it? Ha. 

The finale was grand; I had heard about the confetti from a friend who experienced the tour at the end of last year. Our seats gave us a somewhat different experience of it, though. We experienced the confetti more vicariously, removed and from a distance. Confetti is meant to be experienced, but we more so watched the confetti experience, which was also an experience, albeit a somewhat removed one. From our heavenly seats it was interesting to be above the confetti instead of under it. Is that a metaphor? It feels like it. Something akin to the discipline of being the silent observer of one's thoughts, instead of being identified with the storm of voices, maybe? That's the real freedom tour. But in the same breath, if you never get under it, among the crowd and swim in the deluge of voices, you can't take a piece home like my friend did, either. Every seat in the house has its pros and cons. All in all, this was a very enjoyable concert experience and musing. The journey is always better if you can avoid the fall, but sometimes that's the price you pay to hear an old, familiar voice. What matters is what's left After the Fall, you could say. Okay, enough song references and metaphors. Final point, I enjoyed my somewhere-above-the-confetti, god's eye view of the 2023 Freedom Tour; Journey was well worth weathering the storm for---Toto too.   

Above the confetti.