At The City Hall, Newcastle, U.K., March 15, 2007

Back in June of last year, Journey played their first UK shows in over a quarter of a century, garnering universal acclaim and ecstatic full houses as they went. Many were left hoping that they would not leave it so long to return again.

Those wishes were granted when an extensive series of shows covering the length and breadth of the UK was announced. Many shows sold out within days, with extra dates being added to the schedule to meet demand. Journey had clearly a far larger fan base in the UK than they had ever dared to hope.

Over the intervening months, there has been a significant change in the Journey camp with the departure of singer Steve Augeri, who had been such an integral part of the band for nigh on 8 years, following increasing problems with his voice with his place being taken by the gifted Jeff Scott Soto.

To those in Melodic Rock circles, Soto is a highly regarded singer with a long and illustrious track record with the likes of Yngwie Mamlsteen, Talisman, and Eyes, amongst others, as well as being a talented solo artist in his own right. Soto, of course, had been a part of Neal Schon’s and Deen Castronovo’s Soul Sirkus project a couple of years earlier.

Soto’s appointment caused raised eyebrows in some quarters, being a more powerful and hard-edged singer than either Augeri or the legendary Steve Perry, and some questioned whether his style suited Journey, however his versatility, range, and technique were all assets that Journey needed, and he was duly handed the baton (or should that be microphone) to take Journey forward.

Two years ago, Soto played at Trillians, a pokey bar a mile from The City Hall and he treated the stage as if he was in a stadium. Tonight he set foot on the boards of the legendary City Hall, fronting the greatest Melodic Rock band of them all.

Tonight was the final night of the tour, and Journey’s second visit to Newcastle, having played here two weeks earlier and many in the crowd had attended both shows, so the set list was varied accordingly.

As the lights went down, Neal Schon entered the spotlight and proceeded to dazzle with a sparkling rendition of “Jerusalem” before the full band joined him for the bombastic “Message of Love,” which is a more stirring opener than “Rubicon” used earlier in the tour. As “Stone In Love” and “Ask The Lonely” came and went, it was clear how well Soto has settled into life as lead singer of Journey. With the obvious talent that he possesses, Soto stamped his own identity on the songs while retaining the spirit of the originals. Soto is no Perry clone, but he certainly gave these songs a new lease of life and a harder, Rockier edge. Soto looked so at ease, it was easy to think that he had been a part of the band for years.

While Soto provided the Rock, drummer Deen Castronova supplied the more mellow moments of the show. It’s still incredible to believe that such an energetic drummer can posses such a sweet and silky voice. If you close your eyes, you’d swear Steve Perry himself was standing on the stage singing “Who’s Cryin’ Now,” “Still They Ride,” and “Open Arms.” Even Soto responded jokingly “C’mon man, gimme a break!!” as the crowd chanted “Deano, Deano!!” after a stunning performance by Castronova.

Not to be outdone, however, Soto is the consummate showman, using every inch of the stage, never standing still for a moment and playing to every single person in the crowd. One of life’s mysteries over the years is how has a singer of Soto’s obvious talent had not become a major star? Now he is in a band of the stature of Journey, Soto has the stage to shine and how he is enjoying his new role. Soto has never concealed his love for Journey over the years, and has even covered a couple of their songs and now he is living his dream. His enthusiasm is infectious and it is clear that messrs Schon, Cain, Valory, and Castronova are enjoying themselves more than they have in years.

With Steve Augeri, Journey had a fine singer who sounded similar to Steve Perry, but his understated stage presence perhaps held the band back to a certain extent, leaving them treading water. With Soto, he has the voice, charisma, and image to take the band forward instead of reflecting on their past glories.

Highlights in the show came thick and fast with the monstrous “Edge of the Blade” highlighting Soto’s powerful vocals combined with Schon’s soaring fretwork. The show stopping “Winds of March,” the hidden gem from the Infinity album was possibly one of the most moving moments the City Hall has seen for many a year. This was simply wonderful with Soto showing his versatility to stunning effect and Cain adding a swirling Hammond organ solo at the song’s climax. This was a special night indeed for Newcastle, as it was the only night on the tour that this was aired.

Journey had promised to mix the set up from night to night and threw in “Place In Your Heart” from Generations, as well as delving right back to the birth the band with Jazz Rock infused “Mystery Mountain,” featuring Cain on lead vocals. “Higher Place” from the underrated Arrival also received a welcome inclusion into the set.

The set included such live staples as “Wheel in the Sky”” and “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’,” as Journey had the whole City Hall singing along while Soto dragged support act Danny Vaughn onto the stage to provide some additional backing vocals. “Be Good To Yourself,” the sole representation from the excellent Raised On Radio platter, was greeted enthusiastically by the crowd. The set finally drew to a close with “Anyway You Want It” and a rousing “Don’t Stop Believin’” where Neal Schon, as he had throughout the night, peeled off an astonishing solo, showing why at the age of 15 he was invited to join Santana, a move that eventually lead to the formation of Journey in the early ‘70’s.

Closing the show with the finest Melodic Rock anthem of them all, “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart),” Journey cemented their reputation as one of the finest live bands around. As Queen’s Brian May commented after their show in London, “All young bands could learn a thing or two from Journey about playing live” few would argue with him after this performance. Journey have the songs, the musicianship, and stage craft to prove once again that they are one of the best bands around. Yet another resoundingly successful UK tour had come to an end for Journey.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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