TAMPA — Journey guitarist Neal Schon, he of the anguished faces and permish 'do, led off his band's gig at the Republican National Convention Thursday with a 48-minute instrumental take on the Star-Spangled Banner. Okay, it was probably shorter; I got dizzy not long after the "dawn's early light."
But for all the firework glory of his rendition, which echoed prettily in cavernous Liberty Plaza, a tented venue set up near the Tampa Bay Times Forum, it wasn't until the end of the show, at 1:31 a.m. that Journey truly put goosebump punctuation on the hopes and dreams of Mitt Romney fans everywhere.
That's when Jonathan Cain pounded out the keyboard line of Don't Stop Believin', the most ubiquitous, and universally beloved, song of the 21st century. It fits any occasion of ripe promise, and it certainly fit the bill on the RNC's final night. Journey has gobs of hits, but let's be honest: Their main job here was to play that slightly cheesy smash and play it well.
Led by operatic belter Arnel Pineda, who lacks former singer Steve Perry's star power but not his sky-kissing pipes, Journey uncorked 70 minutes of pure power rock before getting to the Big Song. There was no mention of unemployment lines or November elections along the way. Instead, the band unloaded smash after smash, from Any Way You Want It and Who's Crying Now to those painfully pretty ballads Faithfully and Open Arms.
It's arguable who the bigger star in the band is nowadays: Pineda, who bounces around like a smiling lottery ball, or Schon, who unloads every rousing solo as if it were causing him great psychic pain. Both men like to hog the spotlight, but that's okay: Without their jockeying for audience affection, there wouldn't be a whole lot to look at onstage.
That said, the '80s-centric rockers sure do sound good. Best songs of the night? It's a tie: Only the Young, which also worked well as a GOP rallying cry, and the life-affirming Stone in Love and its air-guitar-blissful intro.
After the quintet finished Believin' the house lights flashed on and the band bid adieu. But the crowd, so used to chanting and getting its way this week, was having none of that. "One more song! One more song!" So Journey rather sheepishly came back and played Escape, the title track from their near-perfect 1981 album. The young fans must have felt like they could rule the world. Hey, Journey can do that to you, no matter who gets your vote.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.