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Journey's 46-year-old frontman Arnel Pineda brings a youthful vibrancy to the classic rock band.
Journey's 46-year-old frontman Arnel Pineda brings a youthful vibrancy to the classic rock band. (Photo: Erik Ljung)
Journey served a steady stream of its classics Wednesday night at the BMO Harris Pavilion.
Journey served a steady stream of its classics Wednesday night at the BMO Harris Pavilion. (Photo: Erik Ljung)

Journey brings a new face to vintage rock

Perhaps because the band formed the year I was born (1973), Journey has always held a soft spot in my heart. Hearing the band perform the songs that shaped the soundtrack of my youth with hundreds of other people on a balmy September night on Milwaukee’s lakefront affirmed my love affair.

Journey opened its hour-and-a-half set at the BMO Harris Pavilion on the Summerfest grounds with "Be Good to Yourself" and served a steady stream of its classics: "Separate Ways," "Any Way You Want It" and "Only the Young."

No one can ever truly replace "The Voice" Steve Perry, but sound-alike Arnel Pineda comes damn close -- and, at age 46, he brings his own youthful vibrancy to the band’s current line-up.

While Pineda’s energy supply is seemingly boundless -- punctuated by twirls, jumps, kicks and spins -- the pint-sized Pineda lacks a certain gravitas and presence onstage.

But he does own a fascinating back story, which is the subject of the documentary "Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey." It’s a must-see for anyone who loves music, in general, and Journey, in particular, as well as for anyone who appreciates the timeless tale of overcoming the odds.

The documentary tells the story of how Journey found Pineda -- who spent several years living on the squalid streets of Manila -- and follows the band on the road for a year.

Sprinkled throughout Journey’s set at Wednesday night’s show were some sideshow attractions, including a tricked-out version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" by Neal Schon; "Mother, Father," sung by drummer Deen Castronovo; and a piano medley by Jonathan Cain.

A few newer songs were masterfully woven in among the iconic hits that everyone sang along to and swayed with.

The show ended particularly strong with the last three songs of the set, "Wheel in the Sky," "Faithfully" and "Don’t Stop Believin’," which featured blasts of confetti on the final note.

But Journey saved the best for last: Pineda led the crowd through the swee…

They want you to want them.
They want you to want them. (Photo: David Bernacchi)
From Rockford ...
From Rockford ... (Photo: David Bernacchi)
... Hello, Wisconsin.
... Hello, Wisconsin. (Photo: David Bernacchi)
And Summerfest is a wrap!
And Summerfest is a wrap! (Photo: David Bernacchi)

Vintage Cheap Trick never grows old

Milwaukee wrapped 2014’s Big Gig with one of its biggest loves: Cheap Trick.

The perennial favorite hit the BMO Harris Pavilion stage Sunday at 9:50 p.m. and proceeded to knock out its hits with a wall of guitar-heavy sound.

An audio collage of Cheap Trick references (yes, including Homer Simpson reminding us that he’d "prefer to listen to Cheap Trick") served as a prelude to the show.

From there, the band played what you’d expect, opening with "Hello There," followed by "Big Eyes" and "California Man."

The obligatory shout-out to Milwaukee came after about the sixth song, namely, "That '70s Song." Of course. They continued with the usual hits, like "The Flame," "Dream Police" and, yes, "I Want You To Want Me." Just like they always do.

The crowd responded accordingly but just couldn’t seem to muster a true fan’s enthusiasm. Perhaps blame the end-of-the-party vibe. Maybe attribute it to the rain that washed out most of the crowds standing outside the covered portion of the Pavilion. Or chalk it up to the fact that Cheap Trick has been a Summerfest staple since, well, as long as this 41-year-old Milwaukee native can remember.

To their credit, the members of Cheap Trick don’t take their adopted hometown for granted. They delivered a show with big, grateful showmanship, a wardrobe of guitars and enough glitz to make Elton John a bit envious.

If the rain or the prospect of a Monday morning alarm clock kept you from the 2014 Cheap Trick show, don’t worry … you know there’s always next year.

Led Zeppelin tribute band No Quarter opened the show.

Set list:

Hello There
Big Eyes
California Man
Hot Love
She's Tight
Ain't That A Shame
That '70s Song
Need Your Love
Ballad of TV Violence
I Know What I Want
The Flame
I Want You To Want Me
Dream Police
Never Have A Lot To Lose
Auf Wiedersehen

Farm Aid, as seen from a Miller Park suite.
Farm Aid, as seen from a Miller Park suite.
The baseball diamond sat empty like perfectly preserved homage to all-things American.
The baseball diamond sat empty like perfectly preserved homage to all-things American.

Farm Aid merges "Austin City Limits" vibe with down-home grit

Miller Park has likely never seen as much flannel as it did Saturday night, when it played host to Farm Aid 25. I had the pleasure of witnessing the iconic event from the perch provided by a suite.

When my host and I arrived just after 5 p.m., a fedora-and-flannel clad Jason Mraz was on the stage. He introduced a song he had "written for the farmers," which was essentially an ode to his grandfather -- and to all men of a certain generation who have the skills to be self-sufficient in a world without wi-fi and AAA.

Mraz inserted into his set a plea to everyone in the audience to vote for environmentally conscious legislators in the upcoming, November election.

Just to the left of the stage, the names of "green" event donors scrolled on an LED screen: Goodness Greenness, Organic Valley, Horizon Organic and Natural Events of Manitowoc.

When Norah Jones took the stage around 6 p.m., she opened with her own "Come Away with Me," then went into the Johnny Cash country classic, "Cry, Cry, Cry."

Flanked on the stage by just two guitarists, Jones left her jazz inflection by the wayside for the night and opted for a decidedly steel-string guitar sound -- and red cowgirl boots. Willie Nelson joined Jones for "Lonestar."

During a set break, I took an amble through Miller Park and decided the scene was "Austin City Limits" meets "UW-Stevens Point." Composting collection bags took their place next to trash cans, and food and beverage kiosks displayed signs giving products the official Farm Aid, "Homegrown Approved" designation, where applicable.

Back in the suite, I caught Kenny Chesney onstage, who brought his version of urbanized country to the mix. Admittedly, I'm no Chesney expert, but the audience seemed to embrace his hits and welcomed him warmly, despite the fact that he was wearing a trucker-style Saints baseball hat. (None of his handlers secured a Packers or Brewers hat for him? Asleep at the wheel?)

The view from the suite afforded me the opportunity to reflect …

The live show was a translation of the weekly TV show replete with "fan favorite" numbers and solos.
The live show was a translation of the weekly TV show replete with "fan favorite" numbers and solos.

Lackluster SYTYCD soft-shoes through B.C.

A reporter I used to work with had a theory: In every story, there's a Wisconsin connection. That wisdom held true Tuesday night during the Milwaukee stop of "So You Think You Can Dance" tour at the Bradley Center.

The show opened with a video montage of the past season's auditions, as well as a recorded message from show executive producer and judge Nigel Lythgoe, who identified his "top five" favorite auditions.

You guessed it; two of them were from Milwaukee. One was the quirky and unpolished Ashley, the other a "mystery contestant" who performed to "It's Raining Men." Milwaukee always makes its mark.

The live show continued as a translation of the weekly TV show -- without the competition element -- replete with "fan favorite" numbers and solos. Live is always better, right? Not in this case. A few things worked against the effort to bring the small screen to a live venue.

First, there's a certain momentum you expect in a live show. Typically, there's a warm-up, a build-up and a climax. "So You Think You Can Dance," with its "variety show" style of featuring dances ranging from the foxtrot to Bollywood ensemble numbers, offers no real beginning, middle or end. It's a series of numbers strung together.

Additionally, the cavernous Bradley Center stole the intimacy a viewer enjoyed from the TV show. Yes, I said intimacy from TV. Watching dance on TV brings the dancers directly in front of the viewers' eyes. You see emotion on faces, details of technique. On a massive stage, the details get lost. There was no better example than the "Adam & Eve" number performed by Jessica and Will. It smoldered on the TV show; it fizzled at the B.C.

Also, some of the dancers seemed to be lacking a "fire in the belly." Perhaps the grueling nature of a national tour is to blame. Perhaps it's the lack of competition and the hunger it fosters; these dancers already duked it out during the previous season, after all.

The missing …