Journey Through Time
Fox Theater, Oakland
February 23, 2019
Seminal Journey members Neal Schon and Gregg Rollie, and their new project Journey Through Time (JTT) turned the Fox Theater in Oakland into a time warp, with an impeccable two hour and forty-five minute odyssey of predominantly pre-‘Escape’ era Journey that left a capacity crowd spellbound and yelling for more. The only complaint of the evening was that they were so good and played for so long that there was no good time to make a needed bathroom break.
The diehard fans crammed into the Fox eagerly anticipating a set of what they referred to as “real Journey” a harder-edged blend of soaring prog rock that Schon and Rollie cultivated after migrating out of late 60’s/early 70’s Woodstock-era Santana.
Liftoff occurred right at 8pm with JTT resurrecting Journey’s second album Look Into the Future (1976). Leading with the one-two punch of ‘I’m Gonna Leave You’ and the album’s title song, those fortunate enough to be in the room were transported back to a time where it was Rollie’s deep soulful voice out front and bouncing like a balloon on a swirling breeze over wailing Hammond organ intertwined with spirals of Schon’s inspired guitar leads.
This was a version of Journey that was more a blur of Pink Floyd and Blue Cheer than the pop-rock darlings that were frequently featured on the covers of Circus and Hit Parader magazines. No formulas or boundaries or thoughts of radio hits in sight. Just psychedelically-tinged rock that showed off the brilliant musicianship of a band coming into their own….it was beautiful.
It was the very early Journey tracks from 1975-77 such as ‘Mystery Mountain,’ ‘Of A Lifetime,’ and ‘Nickel and Dime’ that were the biggest jaw droppers of the night, eliciting constant comments like “no fucking way” and “I never thought I would get to see them do this”. ‘Kahoutek’ (Journey – 1975) was probably the freak-out mind bender of the night, showing off the band at its best…. a juggernaut of precision psychedelia led by Schon’s swells of guitar that sounded like a storm percolating out of a calm sea.
As the set progressed JTT weaved in some of the songs that first introduced Steve Perry. These were the late 70’s hits that everyone knows which transformed Journey into FM radio stars. With no front man in the lineup, there was some curiosity as to how they would pull these off.
Chart toppers like ‘Feeling That Way / Anytime’, ‘Lights’, ‘Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’, and ‘Wheel in the Sky’ are burned into the memories of Journey fans, so any mis-steps would certainly be noticed. Using a front man by committee approach, JTT pulled it off flawlessly, thanks mainly to the insane talent of Deen Castronovo.
It wasn’t enough that he perfectly held down the complex beats originally laid down by drummer extraordinaire Steve Smith, but Castronovo also was a dead ringer for Steve Perry’s tenor vocals. He is so advanced in his percussive skills that drumming is second nature for him, freeing him up to let loose vocally.
Seriously, he is at least as good as Perry or current Journey singer Arnel Pineda. He was so good in fact that after a scorching version of ‘La Do Da’ (Infinity – 1978), he prompted Schon to comment that Castronovo is not of this world, “…only 70% human”.
Though the early Journey material was the drawing card for the night, it wouldn’t be a true journey through time without dipping a toe into the superstar era of Journey in the 80s. To appease the few fans that may have laid out their hard-earned cash to hear the MTV hits, JTT sprinkled some sugar on top of the psychedelic sundae.
To close the marathon main set JTT spun the ultra-gold of ‘Mother, Father,’ ‘Anyway You Want It,’ and the ubiquitous ‘Don’t Stop Believin.’ The latter, which has become a staple at sporting events, political rallies, and karaoke bars around the world, was a 3,000-person sing-along led by Catronovo from behind his drum kit…game over. Or was it?
After taking a quick stroll off stage, the cheers of the appreciative crowd coaxed the band back to their instruments. This time it was for a journey back to the music before Schon and Rollie were formed Journey, back to the days of Santana.
Most folks don’t know that Schon, recognized as a guitar prodigy at the age of 16, was pulled out of Aragon High School in San Mateo to join his future mentor Carlos Santana. It was there that he joined forces with future Journey co-founder Rollie (who played with Santana at Woodstock) to create their own musical alchemy. In fact, Rollie is one of very few (if not the only) two-time member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (with Journey and Santana…Schon was not inducted with Santana).
Dialing up the 1970 Santana classic album Abraxas, JTT shook the room on ‘Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen.’ With Rollie out front on lead vocals and playing his signature Hammond organ, Schon masterfully ripped up the guitar parts that are the foundation of his career, Castronovo expertly played the drums and most of the percussion by himself, and multi-instrumentalist Chris Collins added all the textures that made the song seem like it was played by an eight-piece band instead of five.
But it was bassist Marco Mendoza that truly amazed the crowd by stepping to the mic to cover the conga passages of the song with his mouth while he played bass….it had to be seen to be believed and was spot on.
Journey Through Time will not ever be the money maker that Journey has become, but Schon, Rollie, and their mates are not doing it for the $$ or adulation. This is more about the positive vibrations that really good musicianship brings to the fans that can appreciate it and to the musicians themselves. It was refreshing to see them set up like other band would playing a club gig…with just their instruments and amps, no excessive stage show or any other pretense. Just plug in and let it fly. I think all in attendance will agree that hopefully the journey of JTT will bring them back to the bay area again sometime very soon.
Setlist: I’m Gonna Leave You | Look Into the Future | Just the Same Way | Kohoutek | Daydream | Walks Like a Lady | Feeling That Way | Anytime | Lights | Still They Ride | Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) | Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’ | Wheel in the Sky | Trial by Fire | Stay Awhile | Mystery Mountain | Of a Lifetime | La Do Da | Lovin’ You Is Easy | Nickel & Dime | People | Mother, Father | Any Way You Want It | Don’t Stop Believin’ || Black Magic Woman / Gypsy Queen