A port-of-call Journey concert? Why not? Carnival Cruise Line's 2015 CarnivalLive concert series kicked off this week in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands as two Carnival ships - the Splendor and Liberty - hosted arena rock kings Journey, who rolled through 16 songs and three solos during a 90-minute affirmation of their platinum-selling decades of hard work.
To be honest, I was a little skeptical about seeing a band that's used to playing in front of 20,000 fans suddenly transported across the Caribbean to play in front of an audience about a tenth that size. But on Thursday night onboard the Liberty, it came together perfectly. The sound. The songs. The energy. It all just worked. And I don't think I've heard a crowd so loud since Journey's 1981 Escape tour.
Journey took the stage inside Liberty's Venetian Palace theater about 9 p.m., launching into the fan-favorite "Any Way You Want It." "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)" and "Be Good to Yourself" quickly followed.
Founding member Neal Schon was probably the only person in the Caribbean wearing a black leather jacket on Thursday night. And Arnel Pineda, who has attracted new generations of Journey fans since taking over lead singing duties in 2008, now sports a mohawk.
Rumor has it the contract that got Journey all the way to St. Thomas was 60 pages long, no surprise considering the logistics involved as well as any concerns over photography and video rights. And yet the band played gleefully as if they'd just wandered onboard and found their instruments already set up.
CarnivalLive is in the second season of bringing popular rock and country acts to play onboard its ships for a night. Each band comes on board while a ship is in dock, performs a quick soundcheck and then a concert that night. They scurry off before the ship leaves port and then usually wait for the next ship to pull into port the next day. Admission to the concert is an additional fee for guests on the ship, with prices varying between $35 and $65 for general admission and $150 to $250 for VIP access.
Here are some more takeaways from Thursday's concert.
ROOM TO ROAM: Frontman Arnel Pineda usually needs a lot of space to run and jump and yet he seemed very comfortable on the smaller Carnival stage. And he was happy to exchange high-fives and fist bumps with the crowd throughout the show. In a band where nobody gives less than 100 percent, nobody works harder than Arnel.
THE SETLIST: Journey's set lists have become somewhat predictable lately - I tried myself to guess the lineup of songs with some success - but they threw in a few surprises on Thursday. "One More," a rarely heard tune from the album Trial By Fire, was the fourth tune of the night. "Be Good To Yourself," usually one of the finales, found itself in the third spot. And a keyboard solo - Journey's standard intro to the ballad "Open Arms" - transformed itself into a medley of tunes, honoring songs such as "When You Love a Woman," "Send Her My Love" and "Patiently."
OPEN WOUNDS: Much is made among Journey fans about the feud between guitarist Neal Schon and former lead singer Steve Perry. Lately, the two have actually been exchanging compliments publicly, but that came to an unexpected end on Thursday. During his introduction of "Lights," Schon mentioned that he and Perry were currently arguing over who wrote the song, essentially a love ballad for the band's hometown of San Francisco. "(Perry) says I only wrote 25 percent, but it wouldn't sound this good with guitars if I only wrote 25 percent." But what's rock 'n' roll without a little unnecessary drama.
THE INTIMACY: Give it up to Carnival for giving hardcore fans a truly intimate experience with their favorite bands. I was maybe a third of the way back from the stage and yet only 10 yards from it. Each time Arnel landed a jump, I could feel the thud. Everytime, Neal glared out toward the audience, it felt like he was looking right at me. All in all, this was an epic Journey concert.
REACTION: Classic rock fans around me where similarly amazed. "Remember when I told you before the show I wasn't really into these guys? Nevermind!" one guest near me said. "That sounds like Jeff Beck up there," another previously skeptical fan gushed during a guitar solo. There's nothing like a night of hard-pounding, soul-affirming rock - while on vacation! - to melt even the hardest hearts.
MORE CARNIVALLIVE: Carnival's concert series continues with Little Big Town performing March 30-April 1 in Nassau onboard Fascination, Fantasy and Freedom; Smokey Robinson playing April 21-23 in Cozumel onboard Paradise, Ecstasy and Breeze; Rascal Flatts performing May 5-7 in Cozumel onboard Paradise, Ecstasy and Breeze; and Styx playing June 16-20 in Nassau onboard Sensation, Sunshine, Fantasy and Ecstasy.
JOURNEY CONCERT SETLIST: CARNIVAL LIBERTY, ST. THOMAS
- Any Way You Want It
- Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)
- Be Good to Yourself
- One More
- Open Arms
- Only the Young
- (Guitar solo)
- Stone in Love
- Still They Ride
- (Keyboard medley)
- Who's Crying Now?
- La Do Da
- (Guitar solo)
- Wheel in the Sky
- Don't Stop Believin'
- Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin' (encore)