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BPO’s tribute rewards the Journey faithful

The one and only time I took in a Journey tribute band (not counting the school of thought that the current lineup is a glorified cover band), I paid $5 to get into a bar the size of a small apartment.

My feet stuck to the floor, the acoustics were horrendous, and by the time the night was over, you were glad you couldn’t hear the band very well because they were fingernails-on-a-chalkboard awful.

Then again, the cover quartet I saw wasn’t coming from the bright lights of Vegas and they weren’t backed by a world-class orchestra. Welcome to “Faithfully – A Symphonic Tribute to the Music of Journey,” an evening of the biggest hits from one of the greatest rock bands of all time.

They may be decades removed from their heyday, when Steve Perry and company were cranking out gold and platinum albums and racking up 19 Top-40 hits along the way. But for those who packed Kleinhans Music Hall on Friday evening, it was 1981 all over again – albeit with a touch of class never seen at an actual Journey show.

While Jesse Bradman is credited with lead vocals for Faithfully – and does an admirable job tackling the voice of the legendary Perry – what makes this six-piece tribute band so enjoyable is their vocals-by-committee approach to the evening, including singer Christine La Fond, who was more than a little reminiscent of a young Ann Wilson as she took the lead on some of Journey’s biggest hits, including “Stone in Love” and “Only the Young.”

La Fond told the crowd, “We aren’t here to imitate Journey, we’re here to celebrate them,” and celebrate they did, taking fans through decades of hits, including dipping into Perry’s solo catalogue and taking on “Oh Sherrie” and “Foolish Heart” from the former frontman’s 1984 album, “Street Talk.”

Drummer Joseph Fingers took the vocal reins on “Foolish Heart” and delivered a stirring rendition of the love ballad.

To be sure, Faithfully is not your average cover band, but even if they were, there is simply something magical when the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra takes the stage.

Those who have had the pleasure of enjoying the BPO live know what an incredible gem Buffalo can lay claim to, and if Faithfully was your first experience, you picked a great night to soak in the masterful efforts of Buffalo’s best musicians.

If there were a single song of the evening that captured the magnificence that is the BPO, it was “Wheel in the Sky,” where the orchestra’s rich sound perfectly complemented Bradman and La Fond’s vocals and paired for a highlight of the evening.

Faithfully was the launch of the 2015 “BPO Rocks” series and it is safe to say, the bar has been set high. On the backside of intermission, La Fond’s take on “Separate Ways” was so good, so powerful, it had you imagining what Journey would have been like with a female vocalist alongside Perry.

But no Journey tribute would be complete without arguably Journey’s best-known song, “Don’t Stop Believin’,” and the band didn’t disappoint, urging the crowd to its feet and ending the night with a feel-good sing-along.

The music is timeless – even those who profess to hate Journey likely know every word to at least a half-dozen of the band’s biggest hits.

Faithfully did it more than justice and the BPO was, as it always is, a collection of the finest musicians coming together for an evening that simply leaves you feeling good and wanting more.

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