USANA celebrates the rock of San Fran

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The USANA Amphitheatre felt like the Fillmore Auditorium for a few hours Thursday night.

Three huge names to come out of the San Francisco music scene – Journey, The Steve Miller Band, and Tower of Power – all took the stage before a near sell-out crowd of more than 20,000 people.

Journey headlined the show, and they had a set list designed to go full throttle out of the gate. It was almost like a reverse set list, with a lot of traditional end of set/encore songs placed up early, starting with “Be Good To Yourself” followed by “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart),” “Any Way You Want It,” “Only The Young,” and “Stone In Love.”

Unfortunately, Journey majorly stumbled out of the starting block. Technical problems seemed to throw the band off, though after 40 years in the business they were still professional enough to play through it.

Drummer Deen Castronovo hits the kit as hard as any drummer Utahns will see this summer. The dichotomy with him is he also can sing many of Journey’s softer songs better than some of the lead singers they’ve had since Steve Perry. Castronovo nailed “Mother, Father” off the Escape album.

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As might be expected, it was the Perry-era material that the crowd came to hear. Songs off 2011’s Eclipse album, such as “She’s a Mystery” and “Ritual” didn’t elicit nearly the same reaction as songs off Infinity, Escape or Frontiers.

Fortunately, just as guitarist Neal Schon seemed to be asking the crowd if anyone was awake out there, everything started to come together during “Lights.”

Keyboardist Jonathan Cain has co-written a lot of Journey ballads over the years. He teased the audience with snippets of some of those songs during his piano solo which included pieces of “Who’s Crying Now,” “When You Love A Woman,” “Send Her My Love,” and “Why Can’t This Night Go On Forever.” That lead into the crowd-pleasing “Open Arms.”

Arnel Pineda was his typical ball of energy on stage. The youthful Pineda was constantly jumping, and spinning, yet still had lungs and vocal power to nail all the high notes.

By the song “Escape,” Journey was running on all cylinders. They ended with fan favorites “Wheel in the Sky,” “Faithfully,” “Don’t Stop Believin'” and “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin.'”

It was interesting that between Miller and Journey’s sets, the PA system played Perry-era Journey songs. The band also briefly showed pictures of their beloved former lead singer on their large digital screen during “Faithfully.”

Being a child of the ’80s, I have seen Journey live on many occasions. I’ve seen Perry with the band, Perry solo, Steve Augeri, and even the brief Jeff Scott Soto era. Pineda is the best frontman they’ve had since Perry. And while I thought Thursday wasn’t the band’s best performance, I sat next to a couple who were seeing Journey for the first time. They had their firsts in air for “Wheel in the Sky” and embraced during “Open Arms.” It reminded me that even though things aren’t what they used to be, there’s still a really good band on stage that delivers enjoyment to a lot of people and work their butts off each night to keep those old songs alive.

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Speaking of a man with a lot of rock-n-roll history, no one would have ever guessed that Steve Miller turns 71 later this year. The Gangster of Love’s guitar playing Thursday night was still as sharp as ever. And with his five piece backing band, he gave fans a great set that included “Jungle Love,” “Take The Money and Run, ” “Space Cowboy” and a number of songs off The Joker album, which is celebrating it’s 40th anniversary, like “Sugar Babe,” and “Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma.”

The entertaining Sonny Charles delivered dance moves (like Miller’s own personal Bosstone) and backup vocals the entire set and was very interactive with the crowd. The band also included Joseph Wooten on keyboard, who comes from the crazy talented Wooten family (yes, that includes Victor Wooten).

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Miller dedicated “Wild Mountain Honey” to longtime band member Norton Buffalo, who passed away in 2009. An acoustic “True Fine Love” lead into a big finish with “The Joker” (Miller wore the mask from the album cover for the song), “Rock’n Me,” “Jet Airliner” and “Fly Like an Eagle.”

Miller has more than 45-years in the business. After Thursday’s performance, I don’t think anyone would be surprised if he came back to USANA in a couple of years to celebrate 50 years of entertaining audiences.

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