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Manchester Apollo, 5 June 2006

Anyway you look at it, it's been far too long a wait for British fans of Journey to see their heroes live in the flesh - an incredible 26 years since Neal Schon and co last played on these shores.

But finally thay have tested the European waters with a number of dates including Edinburgh, Monsters Of Rock at Milton Keynes (reviewed elsewhere on this site) and now here in Manchester, before heading to festival dates in Germany, Sweden and Holland. Tickets for Manchester and Edinburgh sold out in a matter of days.

Manchester is often portrayed as a grim Northern town where it endlessly rains but we arrive on a warm balmy evening to find hundreds of Journey fans already enjoying drinks in the street outside the Apollo theatre.

There's a lovely, relaxed atmosphere as fellow BackTalkers (members of the discussion boards at the band's website) introduce themselves to each other.

After a couple of pints and a bag of chips we decide it's time to find our seats. I want to get a T-shirt but the merchandise area is packed, so we head into the auditorium, where just over 2,500 Journey fans are getting set for their big night.

As we sit down, the stage is bathed in deep purple lighting, Jonathan Cain's red baby grand is on the right of the stage just like it was at Monsters Of Rock, an odd sight after always seeing Jonathan on the left previously.

There's still quite a relaxed air about the place. I'm expecting a build-up akin to a football match, chatting and chanting and cheering. Maybe it's the age of the fans, there are certainly lots of beer bellies and grey hair around - and some of the men are just as bad! But once the lights dim it signals the start of an amazing evening of joy, release, companionship and celebration. The wait is finally over. Let the show begin.

Bassist Ross Valory and keyboard player Cain are the first band members I see take their positions among a joyful congregation of applause. I miss guitar legend Neal Schon's and drummer Deen Castronovo's entrances, they are suddenly just there. Cain raises a hand to salute the crowd and hits the opening notes to Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) just as they started at Milton Keynes two days earlier.

This time there's a difference though. Although the Monsters Of Rock crowd gave them a fine welcome, now they are playing on "home turf" to their own audience and it shows. Fists punch the air, there's a most un-British whooping and hollering which rises in intensity as Steve Augeri approaches his microphone centre stage.

Just as at Milton Keynes, Augeri is in fine voice. He's ditched his rock T-shirt in favour of a red shirt and black waistcoat. We're sweltering in the crowd so goodness knows how hot he is on stage. I don't know how he does it but he doesn't even seem to break sweat as the band rocket through Only The Young and Faith In The Heartland. To my mind Augeri doesn't look quite as relaxed as he did at Monsters Of Rock, but then this is a much more intense occasion, it means so much to the patient (and not so patient) British fans.

As usual, Neal Schon gets his guitar solo spotlight fairly early on in the proceedings. I've just got to be honest and admit I'm totally in awe of the guy, how he combines melody and speed and yet still generates such soul with his playing is a mystery to me and a constant source of pleasure. This time I'm listening carefully as I was pretty sure he played a line or two from God Save The Queen, at Milton Keynes. This time there's no mistaking it. A nice touch for which we salute him.

Cain grabs a guitar for the next song and there's a huge roar as the unmistakeable riff to Stone In Love rings out, the first of no less than nine songs from the band's 1981 landmark Escape album. Just like at Milton Keynes the band seems determined to stamp its rock credentials on a British public which might largely think of Journey as smooth balladeers. So we get Wheel In The Sky and a pumping Where Were You featuring drummer Castronovo on lead vocals for the first time this evening. Once again there are gasps at just how high his voice soars into Steve Perry territory. This is even more incredible when you consider what an energetic drummer the man is.

But the present Steve, Mr Augeri, is soon back to stamp his mark on the first of the evening's ballads, with a beautiful rendition of Lights, bringing the San Franciscan sunshine from the bay to the north of England. Castronovo is back on lead vocals soon after, singing Still They Ride. Then Jonathan Cain and Steve Augeri trade lead vocals on a couple of numbers from the old Greg Rolie days, Feeling That Way and Anytime, before rocketing back into their classic 80s heyday with the thunder of Chain Reaction and Edge Of The Blade from the Frontiers album.

There then follow five tracks from what many (including me) consider to be the Journey's ultimate album, 1981's Escape. Who's Crying Now, which surprisingly wasn't played at every gig on last year's 30th anniversary tour has the crowd in raptures, especially as Schon launches into his signature guitar solo. He may have said he gets bored playing it night after night, but its something these fans tonight demand,

Then, for me, the greatest moment of the night. the one song I've personally waited 25 years to hear Journey perform live. Schon and Cain lock together for the opening bars of the sublime Mother, Father and Deen Castronovo lifts it higher and higher in a vocal performance which even exceeds Perry's on the Live In Houston DVD. As it ends the crowd shows its appreciation by starting up a sustained chant of "Deeno, Deeno..." which eventually even Augeri is joining in.

Jonathan Cain's piano interlude leads us to Open Arms, many in the audience link arms and wave lighters in the air. Lovers gaze at each other. Aww shucks, it's just one of those songs that has that effect, even on the most hardened rock reviewer! Still we stay in Escape territory, with the title track and Keep On Running, the song they finished their Monsters Of Rock performance with. Then it's another quick fast forward to the Generations album and Out Of Harms Way, a song which worked wonderfully on the American dates last year as the States questioned its involvement in Iraq but which loses some of its resonance here.

The beautiful Faithfully is followed by Don't Stop Believin', and the main set ends with Any Way You Want It, the crowd note and word perfect, hot sweaty and wanting more. "You guys rock," says Augeri as the band leaves the stage.

They return for an announcement from Augeri: "Nobody gets out of here . . . Dead Or Alive," and they blast through the track of that name. We know we're reluctantly nearing the end now, and there's one song which will signal that for sure. Augeri starts talking about the blues, "American music . . . everyone's music" and the multi-talented Cain plays a harmonica lament against Schon's gentle blue chops. It morphs slowly into a familiar refrain and we're in for the last big singalong of the night with Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin'. We sing louder and louder, as if that might make this amazing night somehow not end.

But finally it has to and the five band members take their bow at the front of the stage. Neal Schon is dishing out guitar picks, Deen Castronovo lobbing drumsticks into the stalls. They turn and walk off and a backing tape comes on, the house lights rise. The gig is over.

We talk with others about the gig, how it compared with Edinburgh and Milton Keynes. The general consensus is that Manchester was the best of the three, the band rockin' harder than ever. I'm reflecting on an amazing concert. Twenty three songs, with no less than nine from my favourite album, Escape. Two hours and ten minutes of pure magic.

Still I'm puzzled by the fact that they've totally ignored the Arrival album and Red 13 EP, as well as Augeri's first ever song with the band, Remember Me from the Armageddon soundtrack. For my money Arrival is right up their with Escape, Frontiers and Infinity, the ultimate Journey albums.

I can understand why the Monsters Of`Rock set was entirely Perry-era - they wanted to play the "dirty dozen" big hits and get the crowd going with as much familiar material as possible. But I do feel that here they have missed the chance to reward a particularly fervent and long-ignored fan base who have splashed out their money, often on imports, of the latest material featuring Augeri.

What are we to make of it? Do they lack confidence in the Augeri-era material? Or is there something more sinister afoot - a hidden hand, a hidden agenda? Maybe I'm just a conspiracy theorist but something just rings odd about it. Higher Place and All The Way could easily have been slotted into the set tonight and would have been greeted rapturously.

But I feel churlish to complain. it's been an amazing night, one which we can hardly believe has actually come true at last.

As a post script, it's worth mentioning that since the European gigs, Journey have embarked on a 'co-headlining' US tour with Def Leppard - to mixed reviews. Comments on the fan site message boards show that Augeri has been struggling with his voice, just as he did at the start of last year's 30th anniversary tour - with Deen Castronovo and Jonathan Cain taking on a fair portion of the vocal duties.

Many visitors to this site will be aware of the current controversy being discussed on a number of rock message boards, with allegations about the authenticity or otherwise of Steve Augeri's vocals and claims that backing recordings are being used to help him out in certain sections of the show.

All I can say is that at both Monsters Of Rock and Manchester I saw or heard nothing to raise any suspicions. A sound engineer contact I spoke to recently who was also at the Manchester gig insists it was all for real. But I do think Journey are unwise to continue ignoring the allegations and owe the fans an honest response.

One other bone of contention with the US dates is that fact that both bands are only playing about 75 minutes each - but that does mean that for once, and at long last, the long-denied British fans who got tickets for Manchester and Edinburgh have the upper hand!

Setlist: Separate Ways (Worlds Apart), Only the Young, Faith In The Heartland, Schon solo (incorporating God Save The Queen), Stone In Love, Wheel In The Sky, Where Were You, Lights, Still They Ride, Feeling That Way, Anytime, Chain Reaction, Edge Of The Blade, Who's Crying Now, Mother Father, Open Arms, Escape, Keep On Running, Out Of Harm's Way, Faithfully, Don't Stop Believin', Any Way You Want It.

Encores: Dead Or Alive, Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin'

Review by Ian Harvey

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