Friday, Oct. 21
Question: What separates a tribute band from the real thing? Is the current Guns>"/>
Key Arena Friday, Oct. 21
Journey, Foreigner, Night Ranger
Friday, Oct. 21
Question: What separates a tribute band from the real thing? Is the current Guns N' Roses still Guns N' Roses even if the band features only the guy who sang the hits--and who owns the name--and not any of the other players who made the band significant? Answer: I'm not entirely sure, but the line is getting blurrier and blurrier. Take, for example, Friday night's triple bill of arena rock at the Key featuring Night Ranger, Foreigner, and Journey, all of which played to a sold out crowd, but none of which featured a lineup that most fans would consider its "classic" one. And one of which, Foreigner, that included zero members from its first two decades, the years they scored all their big hits. The show, stop #91 on a six-month world tour, was also the final one.
The band that came closest to capturing the magic of their classic lineup was Night Ranger, which still features Brad Gillis, Jack Blades, and Kelly Keagy, all of whom founded the band together in 1979. They played an energetic and efficient set of hits including "Sister Christian" and "(You Can Still) Rock in America."
Foreigner played next, and as enjoyable as they were Friday night, it would be hard to label them as anything other than a very good tribute band. Though founder Mick Jones is still an official band member, illness has kept him off much of the tour, including Friday's show. That leaves the current six-piece lineup without a single member who played on any of the band's platinum albums, which isn't to say that the band lacks pedigree or proficiency, but doesn't exactly make them the Foreigner most people know from the radio. Singer Kelly Hansen did time in the '80s hard-rock band Hurricane, while bassist Jeff Pilson spent many years in Dokken.
The band took most of their moves and banter from the arena-rock playbook ("Make some noise, Seattle!"), though there was a bit of spontaneity as members of Night Ranger and Journey, plus a few dozen crew members, filed onstage for the band's final performance on the tour of "I Want to Know What Love Is." Hansen's voice isn't as unique as Lou Gramm's, but he has a comparable range and he had good command over both the songs and the stage. Having said that, many members of the audience Friday night likely had no idea who was--or wasn't--onstage. What mattered to the crowd were the songs, and they sang along enthusiastically to hits like "Cold as Ice," "Waiting for a Girl Like You," and "Hot Blooded."
The story of Journey's lineup changes are a bit better publicized, with golden-voiced Filipino Arnel Pineda becoming Journey's lead singer after guitarist Neal Schon saw clips of him on YouTube sounding just like former Journey frontman Steve Perry. If you close your eyes, you'd never know that a 5'3" Filipino man was singing "Separate Ways." Pineda's voice is uncannily Perry-like, and it was thrilling to hear Journey songs fill an arena, which they still do better than songs by almost any other act. However, the band has little chemistry with Pineda, and though he was endlessly energetic, there was minimal between-song chatter and very little history for Pineda to draw on. After all, he joined them in 2007. He's a gifted singer, but lacks the necessary charisma to lead a band of Journey's stature.
Schon, with bassist Ross Valory and keyboardist Jonathan Cain, all longtime members of the group, moved occasionally and deliberately across the stage, while Pineda jumped, karate-kicked, and ran from one side of the stage to the other, giving off a different energy than the rest of the band as he did his best to keep the crowd engaged. Journey's set didn't feel like a historic group playing their hits as much as like a bunch of aging rock vets showing off the kid wonder they discovered on the Internet. Or the way it felt to see INXS replace Michael Hutchence with a dude they found on a reality TV show. It was nostalgic but inauthentic.
For the 17,000 people that filled KeyArena Friday night, however, it was the songs and not the singer. The experience is what seemed to matter most. Many concertgoers wouldn't know Lou Gramm from Lou Reed, but they know they love '80s arena rock, which is what they got in spades. And with each act offering a reasonable facsimile of their once-classic lineups, who really cares? Besides, seeing the Cars or Motley Crue in 2011, both of which tour with all their original members (or at least the living ones), isn't like seeing those bands in their heyday either. Any way you slice it, they're all just paying tribute to their glory days, either with all their original members or none.
Personal bias: iPhone apps that look like a lighter should not be substituted for the real thing on "Faithfully."
BTW: Journey filmed footage for their "Resonate" video during the show, which replaced "Escape" in their set.