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Singer channels Steve Perry while fronting Journey in First Niagara show

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Saturday, June 28, 2014, 12:55 a.m.

The classic rock band Journey gave thousands of mostly middle-aged fans a delightful evening full of nostalgia and memories, and good, clean rock and roll Friday at First Niagara Pavilion.

Arnel Pineda, the formerly homeless singer from the Philippines whom Journey discovered via YouTube, seemed to channel the band's former lead singer Steve Perry, which is difficult to do because Perry has such a distinctive voice. Pineda has a voice that sounds a lot like Perry's, sometimes hauntingly so. And Pineda runs and jumps around the stage, interacting with the audience and getting up close with fans just like Perry loved to do. Pineda shows great stage charisma and clearly loves his role as singer.

When the band sang many of the ‘80s classics like “Lights” — backed by video images of the band's hometown of San Francisco — and other favorites like “Be Good to Yourself,” “Any Way You Want It” and the signature anthem “Don't Stop Believin,'” a resemblance to Perry was evident. But Pineda, in the difficult position of trying to live up to a legendary frontman, still has managed to both make his own mark while still filling Perry's role with familiarity. Journey included a few newer songs in the setlist that are all Pineda's, such as “She's a Mystery.”

Pineda puts so much energy into zipping around on the stage that, though he hit the high notes, he often couldn't hold them because he would get out of breath. But the eager audience filled in the gaps, as fans love to do at concerts when the singer stretches the microphone out toward the crowd. Her performed the sweet ballads “Open Arms” and “Faithfully” with such emotion, and couples in the audience embraced each other and slow danced.

Journey's set followed that of touring partner, the Steve Miller Band, which set the stage for an interesting contrast between the two bands. Miller, dressed sharply in a sporty white coat and shades, performs mostly with a band with members many years his junior, since several original band members have died.

With Journey, it's the opposite: the younger Pineda fronts an aging band. In both cases, the older and younger band members complemented each other well. Miller occasionally sang at a lower octave, which is common for older singers, but the backup band balanced the sound with higher notes. The youthful Pineda brought a manic zest to the stage, breathing new life into Journey, though the older members like guitarist Neal Schon still maintained their own, yet slightly more subdued, passion.

Miller's band gave us more than an hour of hits from the '70s and '80s, and many younger showgoers surely had “A-ha!” moments where they hear a recognizable tune and say, “So that's who sings the song.” Highlights included the catchy and intense '80s song “Abracadabra,” along with “The Joker,” “Jet Airliner,” and “Rock'n Me,” a classic that came with the floating of giant, multi-colored balloons over the pavilion audience.

The evening overall provided fans with an explosion of tenor male voices and sweet nostalgia.

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