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Journey very focused on fan faves in Las Vegas Strip residency

Updated October 16, 2019 - 11:35 am

Journey gets the concept of a Las Vegas residency: Play the songs everyone wants to hear. Don’t play what the songs they don’t want to hear.

The first rock residency at the renovated Colosseum at Caesars Palace has blossomed, opening Oct. 9 night and running through six more dates (including Wednesday) through the month. The band is back for four more dates — due to overwhelming demand! — in December.

This band simply smokes. Neal Schon still blends melody and pure rock riffs with incredible skill and showmanship. Steve Smith is a master musician behind the drums, his stick-spinning drum solo manages to reinvent what has become trite concert moment. Jonathan Cain remains a wise presence on the keys and in his warm intro to “Faithfully,” a song he wrote on a bus in 1982. Ross Valory manages to preen and mug his way through some thundering bass lines, his hair and mood rising higher as the night unfolds. Nobody is having more fun up there than Valory.

And even Journey’s most fervent fans, who clamour for the days when Steve Perry was lead vocalist, have to accept the brilliance of Arnel Pineda as the band’s permanent front man. He sings like Perry in his vocal prime, and bounds around the stage like an untethered Cirque artist.

Pineda has become indispensable, blowing the place apart with the show-opening “Separate Ways” and reaching the roof with “Escape” and “Open Arms.” Even if you’re not a big fan of San Francisco, you can’t help but be spirited away with Journey’s homage to their home city, “Lights,” the LED screen in full flourish with S.F. landmarks.

Most important, Pineda has infused new life into Journey in the same way Adam Lambert has extended Queen’s career as a top-level live band (which it proved in its terrific run at Park Theater in 2018). Few can achieve what these two have, which is instill their own imprint on songs made famous by legends.

The Colosseum renovation itself has been the focus of ample hype, especially in this space. The aesthetics are markedly improved for a rock band, with fans now able to stand in the area at the front of the stage. A band like Guns N’ Roses, an odd fit in the old Colosseum, makes sense in the new model.

The venue’s VIP sections are expanded, though I don’t feel a true nightclub atmosphere with bottle service and such, which I’d expected when looking at renderings. The seats are all new and the work has been a refresh, mostly, of a venue already regal and comfortably designed. The new sound system is fantastic, and that screen is a needed upgrade over the tired old panels.

What is not there is the type of staging running through the VIP section, such as presented at Zappos Theater, where Britney Spears, JLo, Gwen Stefani and the Backstreet Boys grooved right up to those seated in the booths.

I wondered, too, if there was a way to expand performances high above the orchestra section. Park Theater owns a couple of signature moments, as when Lady Gaga arrives on an aerial harness while playing a key-tar, and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry act out “Walk This Way” on a walkway extended from the stage all the way to the balcony.

Maybe such gimmicks are not needed at the Colosseum, long the industry leader in the Las Vegas’ superstar residencies. When you have Journey, looking and sounding as good as ever, the place feels right.

LVFG’s future

MGM Resorts International will continue to operate Las Vegas Festival Grounds through the end of the year, but its future beyond is uncertain after Phil Ruffin bought the parcel along with Circus Circus hotel-casino. The sale was announced this week. Events scheduled are the USA Today Wine Experience on Oct. 26, and the highly anticipated Day N Vegas hip-hop festival, with headliners J. Cole, Travis Scott and Kendrick Lamar, on Nov. 1-3. MGM Resorts has been working for years to develop that venue as a premiere festival parcel. We’ll see whether Ruffin shares that vision, or has other plans.

Bubbly recollection

Penn Jillette says he doesn’t read any book he’s in. So he’s not reading Debbie Harry’s memoirs, titled “Face It,” which was released this month. Jillette and Harry dated for a time in the early 1980s, and the two remain friends — I actually met her on opening night of Penn & Teller’s Broadway run in 2015.

Noted in her book Harry was the inspiration for a modified Jacuzzi at Jillette’s former Las Vegas home, “The Slammer.” She suggested the design for the Jill-Jet, and you can Google the rest.

Pink effort

Friday night’s “Sexxy” performance at Westgate Cabaret marks the Jennifer Romas’show’s 1,000th performance. The night will also serve as a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society’s Men in Pink Campaign. Westgate Las Vegas Director of Public Relations and Public Affairs Gordon Prouty is serving in the campaign, and a portion of ticket sales will be delivered to his platform. To disclose, yours truly is also involved, and as we say, we can never do enough. Wearing the pink is just a start.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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