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Journey's Darien Lake concert showcases its jam band style

Meet Journey.

No, no, no. Not the Journey you remember from the prom, your cousin's wedding and that sappy request show on the radio every night.

Meet the other Journey.

This one is a jam band that believes vocals should take a back seat to powerful guitar solos and meaningful interplay between talented musicians. But don't worry. That other side, the hit machine that packed stadiums in the 1980s and sold millions of albums, is still alive and sounding as good as ever, much to the pleasure of a large crowd at Six Flags Darien Lake Performing Arts Center on Tuesday night.

As late-arriving fans still filed in, the group launched into the instrumental "Kohoutek," a song from the group's eponymous 1975 debut album that features searing guitar work from Neal Schon. Moving right into "Of a Lifetime," Schon clearly loved taking center stage as his massive riffs were again showcased, with keyboardist Jonathan Cain handling vocals. Those songs, from the group's early work before the addition of since-departed lead singer Steve Perry, were proof positive that Journey always rocked -- perhaps more so before Perry than after. In fact, late arrivals to the show would be forgiven if they checked their ticket stubs to make sure they had the right night, as this work bore little resemblance to the pop hits that brought Journey worldwide recognition.

"That's the new, old Journey," bassist Ross Valory joked after the powerful opening.

"I'm Gonna Leave You" -- with a guitar refrain borrowed by Kansas on "Carry on My Wayward Son" -- "Nickel and Dime" and "Mystery Mountain" continued the voyage through the group's early work. The first set felt like a history lesson, with members chiming in about how each piece fits in the Journey catalog. This was interesting for a diehard fan, but perhaps a little too much information for those pining for more familiar fare.

That fare tends to come from the era that included Perry, who joined the group in 1977 and fronted it during its most popular period. With him on lead vocals, the group cranked out hits and record sales soared. The alliance remained intact for a successful run that lasted until 1986's "Raised on Radio." After a decade apart, the group re-formed for 1996's "Trial by Fire."

An ailing Perry delayed a planned reunion tour, until the group decided to wait no more. They picked up Steve Augeri, hit the road again, kept making new music and never looked back.

Augeri has a look and vocal style similar to Perry's, but it's unfair to expect his renditions to duplicate the haunting highs of his predecessor. After all, the majority of those trademark tunes were written for, and in many cases by, Perry. This was clear on "Faithfully," where the new guy just didn't have the ability to add nuance to those memorable screams of "I'm forever yours." Nonetheless, he did justice to the fast-paced "Don't Stop Believin' " and the high-energy "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)," which wrapped up the second set.

With no opening act, Tuesday's whirlwind tour through Journey's past and present gave evidence that there's a future. As the group celebrates 30 years of trying new things, no matter what the personnel, it's clear that in Schon's deft hands, you'll bump into the new Journey again.


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