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JOURNEY / PETER FRAMPTON / JOHN WAITE
The Tweeter Center; Tinley Park, Chicago, IL; 07/22/01

Reviewed by Shelly Harris 

    There was a monsoon thunderstorm just waning at the newly renamed Tweeter Center, an outdoor amphitheater-type venue just outside Chicago, but, armed with my trusty red slicker, I couldn't wait (no pun intended) to get out with the masses to catch what was left of John Waite's all-too-brief opening set on the current Journey headlining tour. 

    It is no wonder Waite includes his rousing vintage hit ,"Back On My Feet  Again," on his abbreviated playlist, since the song is an obvious and appropriate metaphor for his recent career rejuvenation. This is the best kind of news for Waite's legions of admirers who have been dormant during most of '90s while he kept a lower profile due in part to a combination of record label business-related setbacks and years spent resolving personal issues. Nevertheless, for the uninitiated, let it be known in no uncertain terms that there's hardly been a more compelling, original, authentic, and influential rock 'n roll pathfinder in the recent history of "melodic hard rock" than this Lancaster-bred Englishman. And - perhaps because many in a position to remember think of Waite in terms of what might have been only if, rather than giving him credit for the groundbreaking and extensive body of work he still managed to produce - it is also difficult to imagine a artist/rock frontman from his era who has been more underestimated, misunderstood, and overlooked. 

    Even as far back as the late '70s (when I saw him for the first time while he was fronting The Babys) it was hard to figure why some of the press - basically those too arrogant to pay attention - were bent on misbranding Waite and his music (either solo, or with The Babys and/or Bad English) with that nefarious "light weight" power-pop label. Sure, though he would later co-pen and sing one of the most bittersweet and ironically sublime rock ballads of all time, "I Ain't Missing You" (which also displayed his vital knack for cutting to the heart of the vulnerable human condition with any tune he's had a mind to warble), in fact Waite was also one of the most influential and unsung forefathers of true melodic heavy rock as it was later practiced and mass-marketed during much of the '80s and '90s by the likes of Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, and many other contenders. 

    And this night Waite reminded why he deserves iconic status, despite a career that was often frustrated by self-destruction, warring bandmates, and bad timing. Looking energized and contented, and exhibiting the sprite-like enthusiasm of an ageless Peter Pan, Waite, as elegantly charismatic as ever (his trademark crimson hair now shoulder length), also displayed that same rare combination of ethereal melodies, passionate lyricism, and the raw power punch of the guitar leads, keyboard runs, and infectious hooks which permeated many of the classics he performed this night such as "Change," "When I See You Smile," "Midnight Rendezvous," and "Head First. (Journey's  Neal Schon, his former Bad English bandmate, stepped in to jam on the latter). Moreover, the gift that has always set him apart most - his uniquely pure and soulful vocal style - has gotten even more on the mark and authoritative with maturity and clean living, a fact that was undeniably evident throughout this impeccable performance.

    Like the proverbial fine wine, Waite has actually blossomed with age. At least judging from the cuts he performed from his long-awaited new album, "A Figure in a Landscape," (his first release in six years, set for an Aug. 21 release), including "New York Girl" and "Key to My Heart," Waite, like the  artiste extraordinaire that he is, seems to just now be hitting his stride on a level that could eclipse his mid-80s heyday. Yes, indeed, as the song title goes, "Rock'n'Roll Is (Alive And Well)" - or at least it still is for the inimitable Mr. Waite. At the end of the day, though, this show was actually just a tasty, teasing appetizer for Waite's long-awaited (full set) solo tour dates which will begin in September. Hope to see you out there, where you'll most definitely see my point. (Check out www.johnwaite.com for more info.)

    And, speaking of icons, as anyone with an iota of knowledge of rock history already knows, Peter Frampton absolutely owned the genre for a period of time during the mid '70s with his unprecedented smash (at the time), "Frampton Comes Alive." (I actually did not realize until afterwards that 2001 marks the 25th anniversary - yikes! - of the release of that landmark album!!) On a personal level, finally seeing him live for the first time after so many years, was a case of unbelievably delayed gratification. Practically anyone born in the United States between '45 to '65 (i.e., the baby boomers) has a life tale revolving around that album or one of Frampton's live shows during that era. Certainly all my peers - including my long lost first love and all his youthful cronies - had seen and told wild stories stemming from Frampton's massive arena/festival tour dates during that period (indeed we'd worn my copy of that record out), yet something or the other had always come up to prevent me from actually seeing him play. 

    Now, I know you younger RoughEdgers won't yet fully understand this, but, semi-jaded music veteran that I am (and despite the countless number of times I've heard them played on the radio), I was still stunned at my own goosebumps and the unexpected, extremely powerful rush of emotion when I finally heard him deliver some of those classic tunes like "Show Me The Way," "Do You Feel Like We Do," and "Baby I Love Your Way." It was one of the few times in my entire life that hearing an artist play live had me nearly overcome with uncontrollable, bittersweet nostalgia. Moreover, I am  absolutely certain such reaction was fairly universal with this concert's other attendees, too. 

    But, make no mistake, Frampton still, of course, has the chops that once made him a legend in his own time. Moreover, as a side note, both Waite's and Frampton's easygoing banter, humility, and wonderfully British sense of humor onstage accentuated precisely why, over all the years, I've always felt those working class Englishmen/musicians were also the most gifted - onstage and off - when it comes to personality, charm, and wit. (See www.frampton.com

    Which is not to diss American guys or musicians, of which the headliners, Journey, are consummately representative. Certainly, if you wanted to choose for a time capsule just one band that adequately represented a cross-section of Americans' popular music tastes during the last quarter century, Journey (with its distilled blend of testosterone laced power, guitar licks, and percussive oomph combined with the melodic and lyrical romanticism that has always captivated female contingent in bulk) would definitely be the perfect fit. 

    Indeed, just how well they managed to balance all the elements that lead to massive commercial appeal hit home all the more when, as the alternative to standing out in the far reaches of the venue (the entire grandstand area was, by this time, jam packed), I found a niche behind the band's onstage monitor control board. There, directly in front of me, was a set list that was chuck full of some of the biggest pop/rock hits - spanning at least 20 years - that nourished, inspired, and connected an entire generation. (In fact, so long - and well known - was that playlist, that I am sure I need not take up space by detailing it here, other than to mention it also included two tunes from their 17th and latest album, "Arrival. ') 

So, though I like to look forward, musically speaking, even more than I like to look back, it is difficult, and even inappropriate to disparage a band like Journey who was obviously out there playing for the joy of it, more than the need to rack up more dinero. Though they never made their career by  being music critics' darlings in the first place, like their contemporaries such as AC/DC, Aerosmith, and Iron Maiden, Journey are still out there to prove to themselves, more than anyone else, that they can do it as well as they've always done it. 

    Yes, the audience was primarily composed of thirty to forty-somethings, but you really wouldn't have known it based on the level of abandon and enthusiasm. (Hey, wasn't that my investment banker standing there, front row center, with a two fisted salute and saucer eyes the entire show?) Okay, I didn't see any out-of-control mosh pit action, nor any feeble attempts to body surf the band members, but I did see a bunch of people who, notwithstanding the inevitability of the physical aging process, haven't forgotten what it means to be young at heart. Time marches on, but no amount of the nihilistic goth/techno/industrial/rap metal snobbism is likely to make any of the baby boomer masses out there in the Journey landscape "Stop Believin'" And, however fleeting, that attitude is obviously part of the reason why both the band and their massive fan base still manage to continue sneaking sips from that elusive Fountain of Youth.

    Hey Garcon! I'll have what they're having!!

(See more about journey at www.journeytheband.com)  


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Copyright 2001 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
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