Saturday, May 14, 2016

Journey, Doobie Brothers & Dave Mason launch last season at Irvine Meadows

Arnel Pineda, left, with Neal Schol.
Photo: Kelly A. Swift
San Francisco Fest 2016
Who: Journey, The Doobie Brothers, Dave Mason
Where: Irvine Meadows
When: Thursday, May 12
Next: the Chin Pavilion in Phoenix, AZ on May 14

When it was Journey bassist Ross Valory's turn to step up to the mic early in the band's set at Irvine Meadows on Thursday night, he noted this was the first night of the venue's "last season for concerts." The boos that filled the cold night were appropriate for a crowd of mostly Baby Boomers who have been attending concerts at the outdoor amphitheater for more than 35 years.

And while the imminent closure of Irvine Meadows five months from now cast a brief pall on the chilly night, the focus for the near-capacity crowd was truly all about nostalgia. From Dave Mason's opening set to the Doobie Brothers successful turn at getting everyone to sing along with its radio staples and headliner Journey's 90-minute hits-laden affair, this was an audience that wanted a soundtrack to the party. I can't remember ever being asked during a critical moment of a concert by a stranger to turn around and take a group's picture when that could have waited for the intermission.
A chatty and often inattentive crowd aside, all three artists turned in solid performances on the first night of the so-called "San Francisco Fest 2016" tour that extends through Aug. 30 with a date at Sleep Train Amphitheatre in Chula Vista (in San Diego County).

Arnel Pineda in Irvine on May 12,
2016. Photo: Kelly A. Swift
For casual Journey fans the departure of long-time singer Steve Perry in the 1990s proved to be no problem in Irvine. Arnel Pineda, 48, has been singing with Journey since February 2008 and has increasingly been accepted by fans as a fixture in the band. Indeed, at times during the show on Thursday, this writer would close his eyes while Pineda was singing and it sounded like Perry (who I last reviewed at the Bren Events Center in Irvine in March 1995).

Journey's approach in 2016 is much like it was in the late '70s and early 1980s when the Bay Area-spawned outfit was a commercial juggernaut. From the minute the band opened with the bombastic opener "Separate Ways," Journey delivered an energetic and engaging set highlighting the accessible material that has helped the band sell 90 million albums around the globe since their launch in 1973. Guitarist Neal Schon remains an amazing lead guitarist, and showcased his speedy fretwork throughout the 17-song set. Keyboardist Jonathan Cain's work and drummer Steve Smith also shined. The band's straightforward delivery of uptempo rock was occasionally dialed down for some more nuanced material, including "Only the Young" and lovely "Lights" early in the set, and 'Who's Crying Now" (showcasing Pineda's tenor) and "Faithfully" later on.    
Patrick Simmons of the Doobie Brothers.
Photo: Kelly A. Swift

Less than two weeks after performing inside a packed Palomino tent at Stagecoach in Indio, the Doobie Brothers delivered an almost-identical set of favorites in Irvine. Opening with "Jesus Is Just Alright" and turning right into "Rockin' Down the Highway," founding members Tom Johnston and Pat Simmons (both juggling lead guitar and lead vocals duties) and their top-tier band of supporting players performed both well-known and some lesser-known songs that worked well in concert. Particularly beautiful was the acoustic-flavored "Another Park, Another Sunday," featuring Johnston's effective lead singing. But it was the last half of the set that got the crowd excited, with the bluesy "Black Water," and rollicking "China Grove" and set-ending "Listen to the Music" getting the crowd on their feet and singing along.
Dave Mason in concert.
Photo: Kelly A. Swift

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dave Mason, who earned cheers when he announced he had turned 70 earlier in the week,  showcased highlights from his solo career and time with Traffic. Both his voice and electric guitar work remain credible, with highlights including the acoustic flavored "We Just Disagree," his '68 Traffic hit "Feelin' Alright" and a powerful version of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" - the latter including at least three guitar potent solos with a powerful 90-second foray closing out the track. 

It may have been lost by many in the crowd, but Mason played 12-string guitar on the 1968 Jimi Hendrix Electric Ladyland recording and it was thrilling to see Mason revisit the classic to kick off Irvine Meadow's final season. 

Review by Robert Kinsler

Photos courtesy of Kelly A. Swift

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