Atlanta greets Bay Area trifecta with ‘Open Arms’

Journey, Steve Miller, Tower of Power play Lakewood



ATLANTA – With the Northern Crescent beset by thunderstorms and the interstates chockablock with everyone trying to get out of Dodge, it was perfectly fine way down yonder at Lakewood Amphitheatre Friday, May 30, when three of the greatest groups to ever rock the Bay Area brought their San Francisco sound to the Right Coast.

The formidable Tower of Power was “Live and in Living Color” as they surged onto the stage and rocked it steady as the traffic escapees made their way south of the ATL. It was floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall brassy Bay Area brio.

Their biggest hit was the Motowny “Black Pearl” in 1969, but I remember well the sweet soul “So Very Hard to Go” playing at my high school graduation parties in 1973.

And it was “So Very Hard to Go,” but after their hot set, they had to make way for the other two acts. When they unfurled the scrim emblazoned with the iconic Pegasus, it was greeted with cheers and anticipation built to hear the pompatus of rock, Steve Miller.

The curtain rose and the space-age intro to “Jungle Love” kicked off Steve Miller’s segment of the show. Two gorgeous Pegasi formed an arch behind the band, and their iridescent glitter was beautifully lit with all the different colors projected on it.

Ooh, Lord! “Take the Money and Run” had everybody jamming. When they projected a big old “Jet Airliner,” the audience was all with them “Livin’ in the USA!”

There may be a few lines in the mirror and lines on the face, but a little snow on the roof did nothing to quench the hot licks and vociferous vocals. Time may be slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future, but yesterday and tomorrow are today and the Steve Miller Band will “Fly like an Eagle” for the foreseen future. The sound is just as fabulous as it was when we were all young enough to believe in our immortality.

Sonny Charles was actually the hit of the show. He performed as Gogo Boy the entire time, occasionally lending supporting vocals, and taking the lead for one of his own songs. Formerly of the Checkmates (great name for a mixed-race group), he was as hammy as a Smithfield.

Since James Brown is no longer with us, Sonny has taken up his mantle and is the new Hardest Working Man in Show Business. You name a move and he’s got it; Motown, Hip-Hop, Boogie, Interpretive Dance. His two-tone shoes (holdover from his Checkmate days?) were cutting the cake, and he even threw in a Michael Jackson moonwalk.

Steve shared with a little chuckle that it was actually “The Joker’s” 40th birthday. Who knew then it would be still be such a hit today? A favorite of nearly everyone, we all sang along.

And all obeyed his command to “Dance, Dance, Dance” for its promise of “If you keep on dancing, then you’ll never grow old.” Sage advice. “Keep On Rockin’ Me, Baby!” It works for them!

What a long, strange Journey it’s been

Journey launched into “Be Good to Yourself” and they certainly did right by the audience. I don’t believe there is an equal to Arnel Pineda on any stage. As much as I loved his sound – so like Steve Perry’s, it’s hard to believe when you’re looking at this 5-foot-3 adolescent-looking guy – my mind kept dwelling on what a fantastic poverty to popularity arc his life has been.

Pineda was 13 when his mother died, and the younger kids were taken in by relatives. But Arnel volunteered to take care of himself, helping the family financially when he could, sometimes sleeping outside a friend’s house and not even able to eat every day.

The humble gratitude that emanates from him is unparalleled. He endeavored to make a personal connection with everyone whose eyes were visible to him, pointing, winking and shaking his head. He is as light on his feet as Peter Pan bouncing all across the stage.

Steve Perry broke his 19-year seclusion to sing live last week, and it was apparent that decades of wailing had taken its toll; but he may be setting the stage for a comeback. The day before the show, an interview quoted Arnel as saying he was happy to let Steve have his job back.

He cited a growing desire to spend more time with his wife and four children. In any event, his star is now firmly fixed in the firmament, so his solo career could resume with a vengeance.

Guitarist Neal Schon’s finest hour was a resounding solo that began with an atypical “Taps” and launched into Jimi Hendrix’s “Star-Spangled Banner.” With Old Glory whipping in the wind on the video screens, the crowd was whipped into a patriotic fervor. He is the linchpin of the group, the only member who has toured and played on every album since the group’s inception.

The most touching moment was the screening of family photos during “Faithfully,” which keyboardist Jonathan Cain wrote on a long-haul bus ride. Deen Castronovo is the best singing drummer in the business. He sounded a lot like Steve Perry, as well.

From the opening piano chords of “Don’t Stop Believin’” to Neal Schon’s virtuosic guitar riffs, the throng throbbed in delight. We won’t ever stop believin’. Not a chance.

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