Journey Freedom Tour w/ TOTO•March 24, 2022•Vivint Arena
Reviewed and Photographed by Kevin Rolfe
Preceding their album of the same name, Journey’s Freedom Tour is underway. It should come as no surprise that Vivint Arena in downtown Salt Lake City was packed for the rock n roll hall of famers. I can’t think of a Journey concert whether it be out at USANA Amphitheatre or here at Vivint Arena that wasn’t overflowing with fans. Journey is one of the most beloved bands in Utah. People of all ages have taken to their music, and their concerts show it. With every song, I could hear the echo of the crowd’s collective voice singing along. These guys have been doing it for years. They’re true professionals. I can’t imagine playing to an engaged audience like the one on Thursday, March 24 could ever get old.
The evening began with legends themselves, TOTO taking the stage. Billy Idol was originally scheduled to perform on this leg of Journey’s US tour. But had to cancel due to health concerns. TOTO was already booked to open for Journey on the 2nd leg of the tour. So they committed to the rest of the dates. I have never seen Billy Idol. I one day hope to. And I wish him good health. Having TOTO open for Journey seemed so fitting. We saw TOTO here in Utah when they headlined Eccles Theater. It was great to have them back.
The purpose of an opener is to warm up the crowd, right? To get the energy up so when the headliner takes the stage the audience is ready to go. Sometimes it’s fun to have an up and coming or unknown artist open a show. It gives them a chance to perform in front of a new audience and gives the audience a chance to discover some new music. In this case, I loved having TOTO, a band established for over 40 years, get things going. Again, it was a really good fit for this show. They did not mess around with getting the crowd (not always an easy thing to do at Vivint) on their feet. Seconds into their second song, “Hold the Line”, the floor and lower bowl rose to their feet. Many stayed there for the rest of the set.
Lead guitarist, Steve Lukather shared with the audience that it made sense for many reasons that TOTO would be touring with Journey. Not only are they connected from back in the day, but Lukather’s son is engaged to Journey keyboardist, Jonathan Cain’s daughter. Pretty cool.
It felt like the TOTO set flew by. Songs like “Georgy Porgy” and “ Home of the Brave” seemed to bring back a flood of memories for the TOTO fans in attendance. Which were many. Joseph Williams’ vocals sounded great. In fact, the touring lineup TOTO has with them is stacked with amazing vocalists. Whenever someone was given the chance to solo during a song, each guy seemed to sound better than the next!
The set closed with a series of great songs. First was TOTO’s cover of The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends”. TOTO performed in the Joe Cocker style and I was so into it. I love that version, and this version was a welcome surprise. “Rosanna” followed, and it brought everyone back to their feet. The crowd was in mid-show form already. What better way to finish things off than their mega-hit, “Africa”. Vivint Arena went wild for this song which has had a great resurgence in recent years.
I feel like this resurgence has given TOTO a new pep in their step. The song unsurprisingly sounded awesome. TOTO was cheered on as they exited the stage. I thought for a second they might even come back for an encore. Something very uncommon for openers. But their set was over and the road crew began to work quickly to get the stage ready for Journey.
Hold the Line
I’ll Be Over You
I Won’t Hold You Back
Home of the Brave
With a Little Help From My Friends
As I made my way through the crowd, back to the soundboard area where I would be taking photos I could see the anticipation in everyone’s eyes. People were making hurried beer runs or souvenir stops so they could be sure to get back. I could hear people talking about how many times they’ve seen Journey. I heard a couple sharing that they’ve seen every incarnation of Journey together. They did a breakdown of each lead vocalist. It seems the common consensus is that people love Steve Perry, and would love to see him perform with Journey. But the love for Arneil is strong. Time was moving fast and it was almost time for the band to take the stage.
What is it about Journey? Why do people like them so much? Don’t get me wrong, I love them. I’ve seen them on every Utah tour stop for the last decade. When I look at other bands in their genre, or from their era who have had lineup changes, different frontmen, etc. They don’t seem to be able to keep the same sustainability as Journey has. Year after year, tour after tour, they just keep filling arenas and huge amphitheaters.
Lead singer, Arniel Pineda has a ton of personality on stage, but when you look at Journey, there’s not a ton of personality. At least overt personalities like the ones you might see in Red Hot Chili Peppers, or Foo Fighters (RIP Taylor 🙁 ). Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain are both pretty laid-back performers. So what is it? It’s the music. The songs are so popular, so infectious that we keep coming back to hear them and see this band live. It’s such a simple answer, but it’s the absolute truth.
I finished photographing after “Stone in Love” and made my way back to my seat. And by “made my way”, I mean I was running. I make a point of not looking at the setlist before the show. I like being surprised. One of the Vivint staff was so surprised at the next song on the setlist that she couldn’t help but show me. When I saw what song was next, I knew it wasn’t a song I should be making my way back to my seat to. So I ran!
The third song on the setlist, yes, the third song of the night was, “Don’t Stop Believin”! Can you believe that? I could not. That song is usually reserved for the end of a Journey concert. But apparently, the boys wanted to mix things up. I’m sure you can imagine the mix of shock and excitement coming from the audience. It was a surprising move that totally paid off. The crowd went nuts!
The streak of amazing songs didn’t stop there. The next song began with Neal Schon telling us that Journey was going to take us back to San Francisco. He asked us to “Light this place up!” as he began playing the intro to “Lights”. Cell phone lights made Vivint Arena glow as we all joined with Arneil on the chorus.
The first thing I notice was that Arniel Pineda’s vocals were in top form. Those vocals are not easy! In fact, it’s fun to hear people try to sing along. So often men have to drop it down an octave to be able to sing. I don’t know Pineda does it night in and night out. I’ve attended some shows where Arneil’s voice is a little tour tired. And who can blame him? But on this night, he sounded fantastic. What makes it all the more amazing is that he’s also running around the stage, jumping off monitors, and just constantly moving. It’s impressive.
Following a raucous, “Lovin, Touchin, Squeezin”, Jonathan Cain asked us about mid-show how we were linking the show so far. I’ll let you guess how that response went. He joked that they “Followed the Biebs”. Justin Bieber played Vivint Arena just a week or so prior. Jonathan Cain must have been looking at the Vivint show calendar. He shared with us that there’s an inspiration or story to every song. Cain told us he wrote this next song while he was on a tour bus. Touring and separated from his family. He dedicated “Faithfully” to the men and women of the military. That dedication added an extra sentiment to an already very sentimental song.
I enjoyed seeing Deen Castronovo back in the band. Having to depart some years back due to some matters in his personal life, I was happy to see him looking well and in peak form. He and keyboardist Jason Derlatka each had a turn singing lead on a couple of songs. Castronovo crushed it when taking lead vocals on “Mother, Father”. And Derlatka sounded great on deep cut, “Suzanne” off of Raised on Radio.
The beauty of having a catalog like Journey’s is you can play “Don’t Stop Believin” third, and still have so many great songs, that the setlist doesn’t suffer. “Wheel in the Sky” got the crowd back on their feet. “Wheel in the Sky” was followed by “Separate Ways”. A song Journey often opens with. So they really moved things around in this show. They kept me on my toes! At this point, the young people were still going strong, and the older fans were ready to use up the energy they had conserved by sitting down on the slow songs. I loved the people around me. I’d say they were in their late 50’s, but they might as well have been 21. They were having such a good time. I felt like their energy was contagious and the rest of our area was joining in.
Instead of taking an encore break, Journey kept the momentum going with “Be Good to Yourself” an underrated Journey classic in my opinion. And just when I didn’t think things could reach a new level, Journey closed the night with “Anyway You Want It”. That might be my favorite Journey song. I tried to sing along but by this time my voice was shot. So I saved my pipes and only joined in to echo, “All Night!”.
Journey left the stage, and again, for a minute, I wondered if they would come back. The crowd sure tried. But the night was over. 18 songs is a little short in my opinion, but to be fair, in the moment, I didn’t feel like it was a short show. It’s easy to look at the setlist and be like, “That’s it?”. But I was definitely satisfied with the night. Journey simply doesn’t disappoint. Journey is so polished in what they do. While some might criticize that it’s not raw enough, or polished isn’t rock n roll, I disagree with both sentiments. I think the band knows what they’re doing. They know what the fans want and they always deliver. I know they’ll be back and I can’t wait.