The enduring majesty of Journey
Say one thing about the Journey-Heart-Cheap Trick tour: After four solid hours of 70s and 80s rock, these three bands had nothing left to prove to anyone.
Here are some highlights from the tour stop at Tampa's Ford Amphitheatre on Wednesday night:
EARLY START: It looked like a nearly full house at the outdoor venue, but maybe half had managed to arrive in time for Cheap Trick's 7 p.m. start time. That's a shame, because Robin Zander & Co. played only 45 minutes.
IF THEY WANT OUR LOVE, THEY GOT IT: Despite their short set, Cheap Trick got in all the classics, including "The Flame," which doesn't work itself in set-lists often. And hearing "Surrender" live just proves once again it's one of the best teenage anthems of any decade.
THEY'RE NEVER ALONE: Heart sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson were brilliant in an hour-long set. If you've never seen Heart play live, then frankly you haven't seen the best that rock n' roll has to offer. When Nancy starts the frantic acoustic chord work of "Crazy on You," I felt like my heart was about to explode. "Magic Man" remains as powerful today as it did 32 years ago. And their acoustic version of "Alone" never seems to lose its charm.
WE (HEART) HEART: The fans seemed surprised by Heart's commanding performance. A female fan two rows in front turned around and gushed at me: "God, I love Heart!" When waiting in the t-shirt line, where Heart's "Crazy on You" tank-tops were hot-sellers, another woman asked me, "Do you think Heart will come back and play more?" Nope, I told her while explaining the night's lineup, and she seemed crushed.
NO DREAMS: One missing piece to the Heart set -- "These Dreams," their 1986 classic sung by Nancy. But reportedly she had a cold, so we'll take a rain check.
A LITTLE WARM: Pass the word to other bands visiting soon -- it's warm here in Florida during the summer. Still most bands came on stage dressed like they were playing a winter sock-hop at Clear Lake, Iowa. (Oh, I'd have paid double to see Nancy Wilson in a skirt and halter-top. Sorry, Cameron Crowe. You're wife is amazing, and I'm only human)
NICE SURPRISE: Journey opened with a surprise -- playing "Majestic," an aptly titled instrumental from 1979's "Evolution" album. Many fans recognize it also as the opening tune from their live "Captured" album. The harmonizing by the band members sent chills straight from your feet to your brain stem. The perfect opening to a great set.
ARNEL IS THE REAL DEAL: New lead singer Arnel Pineda worked the stage like a seasoned front-man, no small task in a steamy Florida summer night. Give him another two years, and he'll be the face of the band.
TWO-TISSUE SPECIAL: In an odd move, Journey stacked their two best-known ballads on top of each other, playing "Open Arms" and then going straight into "Faithfully." But hey, they've been doing this for 35 years now. I'm sure they had their reasons. Just feel free to share those with the women around me who spent 10 solid minutes crying during that love-a-polooza marathon.
THE CLASSICS: Many of the band's older tunes in the set -- "Lights," "Wheel in the Sky" and encore "Lovin' Touchin' Feelin' " -- had some extra zing that really brought them alive. But "Separate Ways" -- never my favorite tune -- really was pumped up, and it made all the difference.
WHAT ABOUT...: Hey, no "Who's Crying Now?" No problem, as far as I'm concerned. It wasn't for lack of time though. A hillbilly jam with Jonathan Cain on harmonica and Neal Shon on acoustic guitar seemed out of place and time-consuming. Still, it's obvious the band is changing its set-list nightly, and that's always the sign of a confident group of musicians.
THE SHIRTS: Ah, of course, the big question. All three bands have decent shirts for sale. And yeah, I bought two, including a Journey shirt that will soon replace my beloved 1981 "Escape Tour" jersey. (Click here to buy a replica online.) I chose a traditional black number, with the "Revelation" artwork on front and the tour stops listed on back. Dare I say classic?
BOTTOM LINE: A fantastic lineup of bands who still perform as well today as any point in their careers. This is the summer tour to beat right now. If this lineup passes within 500 miles of you, go!