Journey @ LG Arena, Birmingham – 28 May 2013

After a great opening set from Thunder followed by a Whitesnake stormer, I’m asking myself that headliner running order question again. At least the answer is only a few minutes away.

The story of how Journey found their Filipino vocalist Arnel Pineda is a fantastic one. With a huge smile and boundless enthusiasm, you may think it was only yesterday he received the invitation to audition from Neal Schon – but it’s five and a half years since he’s been in the job.

As the Jonathan Cain keyboard intro to ‘Separate Ways’ gets us underway, Pineda flies onstage to join the band, before proving his vocal worth in a very short amount of time, through the opener, ‘Any Way You Want It’ and ‘Ask the Lonely’.

Tracks come thick and fast from the bands 38 year history, although particular attention is given to the massively successful 1981 album ‘Escape’. The title track, ‘Stone in Love’ and ‘Keep on Runnin” – with lead vocal from drummer Deen Castronovo – generates notable enthusiasm throughout an otherwise subdued crowd.

Child prodigy (joining Santana at the age of 17), master guitarist Neal Schon is something else to watch. There is no doubt this guy can shred with the best of them, with guitar work on heavier songs such as ‘Edge Of The Blade’ and ‘Wheel In The Sky’ which is pretty devastating. The tunes ‘Lights’, ‘Be Good to Yourself’ and ‘One More’ cover two decades worth of material from their respective albums, with the ballads ‘Open Arms’ and ‘Faithfully’ prompting a few lighters in the air.

Journey are good, to be fair – they are really good. Whilst Cain, Valory and Schon leave Pineda to drum up enthusiasm as best he can, it does look like this audience is not quite as up for American AOR as they were for the hard blues rock of Whitesnake. However, if one song was ever going to spring this Birmingham crowd into life, it’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin”, the top-selling catalogue track in iTunes history. Complete with confetti cannons – and utter glee for some of those who appear to have waited all night for these few minutes of the classic power ballad – it’s the inevitable finish to a Journey show.

So, my answer to the question “why didn’t Whitesnake top the bill tonight?” I don’t know, but they should have. That’s taking nothing away from Journey, who offered a performance of equal measure, but it was evident that Whitesnake had the majority of interest and participation, in Birmingham anyway.

All in all, a thoroughly entertaining night for the ‘old rocker’ fraternity. Three great bands, all on form, giving punters excellent value for money and sending them home happy.

Review & Photography: Steve Johnston