Thursday, September 19, 2013

Journey rides a new wave of attention to Music Midtown

Posted By on Thu, Sep 19, 2013 at 7:51 AM

If you're like most people, your vision of Journey is frozen somewhere in the mid 1980s. You're aware that the band responsible for such jukebox anthems as "Any Way You Want It," "Faithfully," and "Open Arms" has enjoyed a raised profile in the wake of its most enduring hit, "Don't Stop Believin,'" popping up on episodes of The Sopranos and Glee. You may have heard that the band has employed a succession of lead singers doing their best to approximate the honey-drenched wail of classic frontman Steve Perry (the latest is Arnel Pineda, whose first year with the band is the subject of a new documentary called - what else? - Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey).

What you may not know is that Journey doesn't consider its best days to be behind them. Not that this should be a complete surprise, given the unbridled optimism of its most popular anthem.

"That's the great thing about Journey," says drummer Deen Castronovo, who joined the band in 1998 following the departures of Perry and drummer Steve Smith. "We can be what we want to be and grow as musicians. It's nice, instead of just being stuck in the moment."

If you're tempted to scoff at the idea of the rock-radio powerhouse that defined populist arena-rock in the early-to-mid '80s "growing as musicians," a listen to the 2011 album Eclipse may be in order. On it, the group eschews stadium-ready sing-a-longs in favor of a more ambitious sound influenced by progressive rock, at the urging of lead guitarist and leader Neal Schon.

"That record was definitely a departure for us," Castronovo says. "Neal said, 'I want to do a rock record and go places we haven't gone in a long time.' We wanted to just go play. We don't have a label telling us what to do. We just did it. It's great that this band doesn't have to rest on our laurels. We do want we do."
Certainly, the renewed media focus brought on by "Don't Stop Believin'" - used first on the 2007 finale of The Sopranos and a couple of years later on the Glee pilot - has helped the band reach that point. That song's resurgence "was a huge, huge shot in the arm for us," Castronovo says. "We were doing well when it came out on The Sopranos, and then everyone lit up. It's a great song, still the most downloaded song in iTunes history, so that's huge. And we've got 16 or 17-year-old kids coming to the show because of Glee, and that's awesome. How can you discount what's going on with that song?"

All of the attention is a far cry from Castronovo's early days with the band following Perry's departure. "Obviously, when we first started, it was a struggle," he acknowledges. "It was a challenge. We were in re-education mode: 'Hey, we haven't gone away.' We were playing 1,500-seat halls and maybe selling 800 tickets. People didn't believe that Journey could continue without Steve Perry and Steve Smith. Over time, we moved up to bigger theaters to where we are now, anything from 15,000 to 25,000 people.

"Our fans are ultra-diehards, they love this band and won't let it go. I think a lot of it has to do with the fans not giving up on us. They didn't stop believing," he adds, laughing.

The drummer definitely believes in the power of Journey's live show. "The great thing is, we've got over 100 songs to choose from," he says. "We like to mix it up. We always have to do what we call the 'Dirty Dozen,' we put those in, but we keep changing it and trying different things."

One thing the crowd can expect when the band plays Music Midtown on Sept. 20? Volume. Castronovo recalls a previous Atlanta show at Chastain Park Amphitheater where he exceeded the venue's decibel limit: "I was over the limit without any mics on my drums. I was way, way over." Reminded that he'll be playing a different venue this time around, he responds, "Thank God, because I'm going to be very, very loud."

Journey plays Music Midtown on Fri., Sept. 20. $85-$1,000. 9 p.m. Piedmont Park, 400 Park Drive. 800-345-7000.

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