15 Years Ago: Arnel Pineda Overcomes Nerves for His First Journey Concert
Arnel Pineda's first concert fronting Journey arrived as part of the Festival Vina del Mar on Feb. 21, 2008, in Chile. It was a dream come true for the Filipino singer, who'd been discovered by Neal Schon some 10 months before on YouTube.
Just minutes before he went on, however, Pineda was having cold feet, second thoughts, weak knees and everything else that comes from being thrown into the deep end of the pool. "I was nervous – terrified," Pineda told this writer in 2013 while promoting the documentary Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey. "Just before we went on, I said to Neal Schon, 'I can't do it. I'm not ready.' I wanted out."
In the film, Pineda's description of the scene is even more amusingly detailed: "I wasn't nervous. I was prepared. I practiced a lot. I was confident. We practiced for two weeks. I didn't lose my voice. But the evening of the performance I started hearing 18,000 people were attending. 18,000?! [Gasps.] Wow, that's a lot. Then I heard the noise, the thunderous applause. How will I face them all?
"I started being terrified. I got weak. The tips of my fingers were getting numb. My breathing became faint. Neal kept asking if I was OK. 'I'm fine ... ,' Pineda added. "My lips were trembling. You know that kind of fear? And they said two minutes, and 'Oh my God, I'm dead!' You know the vertigo feeling? I'm on the edge of the cliff. Someone can just tap me and, ahhhh, I'd fall off. You know in the movies when suddenly everything is silent – everything stops and you go into slow motion. Even my heartbeat was like that."
Pineda remembered telling Schon, very slowly: "'Neal ... can I ... just go ... hoooome,' he said. "Then I hear, 'Here they are, the band you've been waiting for almost 20 years. Finally, they're here!'"
The good news is that the concert was a resounding triumph, as Journey was telecast to a nationwide audience of 25 million. Pineda won over both his bandmates and the crowd, and it was the beginning of a new era for the group.
Journey, of course, had become a multi-platinum concern during the late '70s as Steve Perry joined the lineup for their fourth studio album. Band fortunes rose even higher when Jonathan Cain came on board with 1981's diamond-certified Escape album, turning Journey into a stadium-filling sensation.
Turbulent times followed in the wake of that success. There were long gaps between albums amidst personal and personnel infighting. Things came to a head in 1998, when Journey was planning to go on tour to promote their Trial By Fire reunion album. Perry's need for hip-replacement surgery delayed the dates until he ultimately announced he was leaving the band. Journey quickly brought in the vocally similar Steve Augeri, who'd been in the bands Tyketto and Tall Stories and would front Journey for over eight years, two studio albums and an EP before vocal problems forced him out of the band.
Jeff Scott Soto, his replacement, toured with Journey during an 11-month tenure but was not well-received by fans. With record and ticket sales on a steep decline, the Journey appeared to be nearing an end – even as their 1981 hit "Don't Stop Believin'" enjoyed a resurgence thanks to the June 10, 2007, series finale of HBO's The Sopranos.
Schon and Cain weren't quite ready to put the band in dry dock. They scoured the internet looking for singers and were about to give up when Schon came across Pineda, singing Journey (and other) covers with a band called Zoo and sounding remarkably like vintage Perry. "I wasn't sure at first," Cain told this writer, also in 2013. "You could hear he had the pipes, but I was like, 'Does he speak English? Has he been on big stages like we play before? Can we take somebody like that and just throw them into the circus?'"
Watch Journey's First Concert With Arnel Pineda
A week-long audition, though it started rough, assured Schon, Cain, bassist Ross Valory and drummer Deen Castronovo that Pineda was their man. He also brought along a compelling rags-to-riches story that helped bring Journey back into the media limelight.
His first night with the group featured a hit-filled 15-song set, opening with "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)" and including a pair of encores. Pineda turned his nervousness into energy, remaining in constant motion as he ping-ponged across the stage and onto a ramp that swooshed into the audience. In Everyman's Journey, Castronovo described Pineda's performance as "like David Lee Roth and Bruce Lee put together. ... I was grinning ear to ear."
In the film, Pineda said "when the show started, it suddenly became real-time. The adrenalin shot 300 miles per hour. ... I felt drunk and high. ... It was sheer excitement, sheer happiness and nerves: 'I'm in concert with Journey! Wow, I'm dead if I mess this up!'"
The show's success, however, was tempered by a word of caution. "Fans are like, 'This is great,' but he's running out of air – no air to sing on," Cain remembered. "So he comes backstage and our manager looks at him and says, 'What was that?! What are you doing?!'"
The recommendation, Pineda said, was to "just stand in the middle and sing. Journey is about singing, not about jumping and dancing on stage. I took it in a professional manner. I hadn't really proven myself to them that I can really last, that they can depend on me the whole tour – so it was cool. I accepted it, but deep inside I was down-hearted."
Cain had taken charge of helping Pineda adapt to the new environment, having already sent Pineda to his vocal coach in Los Angeles after the initial audition. Pineda would have to change his approach to make it through an extensive North American tour set for 2008.
"He was screaming in a club, so he had to undo that," Cain told this writer. "He had to re-learn the concept [of singing]. It's like learning to be a NASCAR driver from being [an amateur] racer: You can't be smashing into walls being the lead singer of Journey. It's got to be precision. So he had a lot to learn, but we knew he would prevail. We knew his talent and his desire and his commitment would win over the bumps in the road."
Pineda would largely overcome critics and critical fans who compared him pejoratively to Perry – or at least outlasted them. "I'm pretty conscious about it, yes," Pineda said in 2013. "It's a lot to take. The pressure is very high. I mean, hardcore fans expect a lot of me ... and I have no argument with that because I'm also a big fan of Mr. Steve Perry. But somehow one thing that they [misunderstand] about this is I am trying really hard to emulate Mr. Perry."
In the end, Pineda admits that he "can never fill the shoes Mr. Perry left. But me being with Journey right now is about being able to help the guys send a message, making it still a relevant thing." Message received: Pineda went on to help Journey complete a series of studio projects, beginning with 2008's platinum-selling Top 5 hit Revelation.
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