Few generations have rocked as hard as people rocked in the ’80s. It was a decade of smoke machines, guitar solos that never ended and voices that seemed bigger than the very bodies they came out of, or so I’ve gathered from VH1 specials.
And Tuesday night at the Midstate Fair, those same rockstars came back to prove that they hadn’t stopped jamming just because they hit 50, as Loverboy, Pat Benatar and Journey took the Chumash Grandstand Arena.
Loverboy was a solid opening act. They sounded just the way a typical band from the ’80s should sound like, but the lead singer kept saying, “I know you know this one. Sing along!” before each song and I didn’t know that one, because I wasn’t born in 1975.
Pat Benatar came on next, and she was far and away the standout of the night. She may be 59, but the only way the audience knew was because she jokingly referred to how long she and her husband/guitarist/co-conspirator Neil “Spyder” Giraldo had been writing and performing together (34 years, for the interested).
Benatar jumped about stage in a long, black jacket with a dragon design on the back, with her haunting, larger-than-life and immediately recognizable voice filling the arena at the fair.
More than once, I found myself exclaiming, “This chick can still rock!” which must have sounded pretty funny to the old couple seated next to me, but I was so into it, I didn’t care. And you know I sang along to “Love is a Battlefield” like it was written just for me.
When Benatar finally left the stage, people screamed and stomped until she returned for an encore of “Heartbreaker” merged with Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” This doesn’t sound like it should work, but trust me, it did, partly because it absolutely shouldn’t, and partly because Benatar and Spyder sang “Ring of Fire” as a duet.
When Journey finally took the stage, I was bouncing in my seat with excitement. After all, I like Pat Benatar, but I love Journey, and I had been waiting for this moment for weeks.
Guitarist Neal Schon was commanding in all leather, and immediately grabbed the crowd’s attention with his incredible guitar skills. Drum and bass, as well, all sounded exactly as they did on my old Journey records.
The real test now was whether their relatively new lead singer, Arnel Pineda, could live up to the legendary Journey sound.
And as soon as he came on stage, mic in hand, I knew why he had been chosen as lead singer. Pineda may be a good foot shorter than the other band members (which brings to mind the cliché “giants of rock ‘n’ roll”) but his voice is huge, matching that same big hair, big rock sound that Journey is known for.
Singing with such a big voice can be trying, however, and it soon became obvious that Pineda seemed to be struggling with his. Though he sang well, he often left the stage in between songs, leaving other members to perform drum, guitar or piano solos while he rested his vocal cords.
The entire band also seemed to be determined to get all of their more obscure songs out of the way first.
I mean, I love you, Journey, but do not make me sit in the cold for an hour and a half just to hear “Separate Ways.” And don’t wait until half of the arena has left to play “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
I get what you’re trying to do here, but at some point, the original fans of your music are going to realize it’s way past their bedtime and just pack it in, whether or not they’ve heard their favorite song.
One couple summed it up more concisely than I ever could. As I got back onto the shuttle to head home that night, I overheard them talking about the concert:
“Pat Benatar was the best part,” one woman said.
“Journey was good,” a man replied. “I just wish they had played more of the songs we wanted to hear.”
Even with the disappointment, though, I’m so glad I went to the Midstate Fair for the concert. It was a night dedicated to the type of rock ‘n’ roll that doesn’t really exist anymore, and, for just a few hours, I could pretend that I wore big hair, went to high school with T
he Breakfast Club, watched music videos on MTV and thought John Cusack was totally dreamy.