Journey delivered what Pittsburgh fans wanted, and Toto did, too

·4 min read

PITTSBURGH — Fittingly, 2-22-22 ended with two top bands performing at a high level at PPG Paints Arena.

Journey, and Toto, too, delivered the hits and hooks that sparked memories of school dances, keggers and blasting tunes from car stereos that weren't factory installed.

Journey just makes sense in an arena. Sure, you might have enjoyed the Bay Area band in recent years playing outdoor amphitheaters. But Journey's formula of big, swelling choruses set apart by thumping, guitar-blazing classic-rock is tailor-made for superior indoor acoustics, accompanied by lights and visuals that bring a colorful backdrop without distracting.

OK, it was hard not to focus on the beautiful San Francisco scenery the video screens showed Tuesday during the equally lovely "Lights," where fans alighted their smart phones, as lead singer Arnel Pineda masterfully scaled the long-held vocal heights.

Nearly 15 years into his vocalist role, Pineda remains a marvel, hitting the technical marks and the emotional requirements for songs like "Stone in Love" and "Who's Crying Now." Enthusiastic in his leaps, spins and other audience-encouraging stage moves, Pineda's vocals sound much like original lead singer Steve Perry. But he steers clear of trying to be a carbon copy, switching the syllabic emphasis or phrasing ever-so-slightly.

Arnel Pineda gets airborne as guitarist Neal Schon grinds out the guitar at PPG Paints Arena.
Arnel Pineda gets airborne as guitarist Neal Schon grinds out the guitar at PPG Paints Arena.

Though on this opening night of the tour — Journey's first show in two months — Pineda's stage talk was rusty. After the band played its new single, "The Way We Used to Be," he wondered aloud when that song will be released. It's already available on iTunes, keyboardist Jonathan Cain kindly informed Pineda.

Later, at a moment reserved for a solo by lead guitarist Neal Schon, Pineda forgot the setlist order, and introduced Cain instead. Pineda quickly caught his mistake and apologized, and nobody on stage seemed upset, as Cain, on an orange-ish-red piano, and Schon both got their solo time.

Schon soloed many times throughout the one-hour-45-minute set, mustering an entertaining mélange of crisp, piercing notes, with blistering bluster and straight-up shredding.

Neal Schon shined as Journey's guitarist.
Neal Schon shined as Journey's guitarist.

Deen Castronovo's drum whacks kept the beats propulsive; he gave a nice little extra gallop to the familiar radio version of "Separate Ways." Wearing a sleeveless flannel vest with metal studs, Castronovo chimed in on Journey's solid backing harmonies, and sang lead with grit and vigor on "Mother, Father." Second keyboardist Jason Derlatka capably handled lead vocals on a few numbers, notably "Girl Can't Help It."

Journey drummer Deen Castronovo was a force Tuesday, adding backing vocals and on one song lead singing.
Journey drummer Deen Castronovo was a force Tuesday, adding backing vocals and on one song lead singing.

But it was faithful recreations of the nostalgia-spurring hits that fans craved, and Journey delivered, including a surprisingly early (song No. 3) rendition of the Gen X.-tested, Millennial-approved "Don't Stop Believin'." It sounded fabulous Tuesday, and the crowd elatedly sang along.

Skewing toward 50-somethings, though with those in their 40s and 30s also well represented, fans seized the opportunity to sing the "Na na na na na na" part of "Lovin', Touchin' Squeezin'," a song benefitting from Cain's Jerry Lee Lewis-like piano flourishes.

"Wheel in The Sky" started strong, but lost focus in an extended jam.

Big-time ballad "Open Arms," with Arneda sounding outstanding, snapped attention spans back into place, though the set started to drift again for several songs including "When You Love a Woman." Past 11 p.m. on a work night, you could sense the energy level waning, until Journey ripped into rousing set-closer "Any Way You Want It."

Arnel Pineda sang with gusto at PPG Paints Arena.
Arnel Pineda sang with gusto at PPG Paints Arena.

Opening act Toto expertly warmed up the audience. Guitar-string bending genius Steve Lukather and smooth-voiced vocalist Joseph Williams led Toto through a crowd-pleasing 55-minute set that included delightful takes on classic-rock staples "Hold The Line" and "Rosanna." Even deep cuts like "Georgy Porgy" from Toto's 1978 debut, brought a fun funkiness.

"Home of The Brave" supplied stout singing from Williams, and a prog-rock-like organ solo, with Lukather's expressive guitar strokes practically singing aloud the chorus. Having made his last few Pittsburgh stage visits as part of Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band, it was exciting Tuesday watching Lukather's exceptional, but makes-it-look-easy guitar work.

Steve Lukather was masterful on guitar for Toto Tuesday.
Steve Lukather was masterful on guitar for Toto Tuesday.

As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti, Toto ended majestically with "Africa," featuring light conga and a synthesizer replicating rain. Williams encouraged the audience to stretch its vocal cords singing back an ambient phrase.

Lukather's less polished vocal parts didn't match the flawless quality of Williams', though that's quibbling about an overall delightful Toto performance coming on 2-22-22. Lukather said it was the band's first performance in — you guessed it — two years.

Joseph Williams' vocals sounded smooth throughout Toto's set at PPG Paints Arena.
Joseph Williams' vocals sounded smooth throughout Toto's set at PPG Paints Arena.

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Journey at PPG Paints Arena.
Journey at PPG Paints Arena.

Scott Tady is the local Entertainment Reporter for The Beaver County Times and Ellwood City Ledger. He's easy to reach at stady@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @scotttady

This article originally appeared on Beaver County Times: Journey & Toto delivered what a PPG Paints Arena crowd wanted

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