Few people go to rock concerts to hear a band’s latest tune.
And I’m convinced that’s especially true for Journey, which played the SNHU Arena this past Sunday. The show was a last-minute addition to the band’s Freedom Tour after two dates in Canada were canceled. Toto opened the Manchester show.
I hadn’t planned on going, but I was able to score a ticket in the seventh row at the last minute. People packed the arena for nostalgia, but also felt good about having their kids tag along even on a school night to make new memories.
For me, I just needed a night out.
The band only made fans wait through two songs before hearing the famous keyboard riff of “Don’t Stop Believin’” and followed that with another fan favorite, “Faithfully.” I got chills as the crowd cheered and sang along. The guy in front of me legit thought he was a rock star the way he was singing at the top of his lungs.
The lighting and the video screens that filled the entire back of the stage were slightly overwhelming from the seventh row, but also created the right vibe for the group. Lead singer Arnel Pineda — who has been the front man of the band for 15 years — brought a lot of energy by playing air guitar, leaping on stage and engaging with the crowd, but he couldn’t get some fans in the loge and upper section up on their feet despite his best efforts. Not sure if it was the average age of the crowd, or the fact it was a Sunday night.
About 10 songs into the show, guitarist Neal Schon spoke of the band’s upcoming 15-song album, which is set to be released in late April or early May.
“Can you believe that we have new music coming out?” he asked the nearly sold-out arena.
This is also the moment when some probably rolled their eyes and said, “Ugh, a new song!” I hadn’t heard the single “The Way We Used To Be” before the show and was struck by its lyrics. (Yes, the rock group got me with their lyrics.)
Can we ever get back?
To the way we were doin’ it
To the way we were livin’ it
Back to the way we used to be
Back to the way we used to be?
For me, going to the Journey concert was a step in the right direction to the way life used to be before the COVID-19 pandemic. Few wore masks, and I felt oddly comfortable. I looked around and saw smiles. Yes, smiles. I talked to strangers and exchanged pleasantries.
I knew only Toto’s hits going into the show, but I was blown away by their performance, especially touring drummer Robert “Sput” Searight whose fills at the end of each song makes you want to jump 10 feet in the air and not even worry about how you land. Apparently, Searight has performed with Snoop Dogg and Justin Timberlake.
Singer Joseph Williams was on point vocally and rocked out on the tambourine during epic guitar solos. And what’s a rock group without a tambourine? Their music also infused the likes of an organ, flute and soprano saxophone.
“Africa” was the highlight, of course, with Williams encouraging the crowd to sing some vocal runs.
Journey started their set with “Only the Young” and I’m sure everyone in the arena, no matter their age, felt just that way as the group played songs that span more than 45 years. I sat near Mike LeBlanc, 69, and his son Joe, 23, of Hudson. The two had upgraded their seats to the floor after Joe bought tickets for his father’s birthday.
“They have very energetic music,” said Mike. “And music that can be listened to over and over again.”
They wore matching “Caddyshack” baseball caps, the 1980 film which features “Any Way You Want It.”
“I like coming to concerts because I just live a little for a couple of hours and just enjoy some good music with people who love the same thing,” Joe said.
The LeBlancs told me they also were looking forward to upcoming shows at Tupelo Music Hall in Derry.
Journey got everyone singing “Na-na-nana-na-na’’ during “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’’’ and kept the crowd mostly engaged during the hour-and-45-minute set. The band ended its set with its hit “Any Way You Want It,” complete with white confetti filling the front section of the arena — like a long-awaited celebration of some sense of normalcy.
Toward the end of the Journey show I caught a T-shirt thrown into the crowd by crew members.
I know it’s cliché, but the message on the shirt is one we all needed — and need — to hear: “Don’t Stop Believin’.”