San Francisco Fest: Journey, Steve Miller Band, Tower of Power
Saturday, July 26
Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View
A night of Bay Area nostalgia was celebrated by thousands as Bay Area-ians flooded the freeways and packed the seats at Shoreline Amphitheatre to see three hometown bands finally share the stage for the first time – Journey, Steve Miller Band, and Tower of Power!
I’m not sure who had a better time at this concert, the audience or the players. Despite the elaborate lights, the huge stage, and thousands of fans losing their minds, at its essence, this show was about the camaraderie the players have formed during their lifelong devotion to their music , separately and together, as representatives of the Bay Area music family. There was a huge sense of unity among the bands, as each joined the other onstage to jam a song at one point in each set.
Tower of Power opened the show. There is nothing better than a stellar horn section, and no one knows how to serve that up better than TOP! I heard more of their set than I was able to see as we were battling our way through the droves of concert goers to get to our seats. Fortunately, we arrived just as Neal Schon was being welcomed to the stage to jam with TOP on “What is Hip.” The combo had the entire crowd on their feet, funkin’ and jivin’ to their funky R&B grooves – it was excellent! Tower of Power was spot on with their arrangements and choreography, presided over by awe inspiring vocals. TOP was so polished, they were shining!
Steve Miller Band hit the stage playing “Jungle Love,” and I have to say that every band member was in top form. But one of them immediately stood out to me: backing vocalist Sonny Charles. This man was out there with no instrument to dance with, but he didn’t need one – he was having his own party! He was lighter than air, cutting a rug, and working the audience. I was absolutely fascinated by him and his performance all the way through the set. After a few songs, the nostalgia came on thick as Steve stepped up to the mic and announced that the next song, “The Joker,” was dedicated to the folks he used to play with at the Avalon Ballroom – Quicksilver Messenger Service and Moby Grape. Then it was Sonny’s turn to take the spotlight. Steve again stepped to the mic to say, “Now we’re going down to New Orleans, and Sonny’s gonna take us there.” Sonny has a set of pipes combined with a gospel flair. He and the band did an excellent, foot-stompin’ version of Jessie Hill’s 1960 classic “Ooh Poo Pah Doo.”
Steve then told the audience, “This next song was written at The Fillmore. And what was great back in those days is that you could see Quicksilver on Monday…and Tower of Power on Wednesday!” The Tower of Power horn section then arrived onstage to do a rip-roarin’ version of “Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma.” “That’s the way we used to do it in San Francisco,” Steve said, “and it will probably be another 200 years before that happens again!”
Things quieted down for a minute for the acoustic part of the set. “In the spirit of jamming,” Steve told us, “I’ve invited Mr. Neal Schon.” The crowd completely lost it, and Neal did an incredible acoustic guitar solo during “In the Wintertime.” Huge balloons came out over the crowd nearing the end of the set for “Swingtown,” and the crowd volleyed them around until the set concluded with “Fly Like an Eagle.”
Journey came out with an unusual opener, “Be Good to Yourself,” which led into “Separate Ways.” By the fifth song in, Neal Schon approached the stage for a guitar solo –and what ripping solo it was, segueing into “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It may look easy when you see the national anthem performed at the opening of every sporting event, but the truth is, “The Star-Spangled Banner” is an extremely difficult song to sing, let alone play solo on guitar and kill it, and he did! And then came another highlight of the evening – drummer Deen Castronovo on lead vocals! Introduced by Neal as the best singing drummer on the planet, Deen belted out a version of “Mother, Father” that blew the audience away and darn near brought me to tears. It’s not often that drummers command the attention of the audience, but Deen does. The man is so fluid and animated when he plays his drums, he is compelling to watch.
Neal came back to the mic to dispel any misunderstandings of the next song: “Lights” was written about San Francisco, not L.A. or San Diego! A few songs later, Neal came back out for another solo of a completely different kind, this time sporting a hollow-body guitar and using no pick, with percussion coming in halfway through. And he killed it again! Ray Greene, the Tower of Power singer, came onstage to sing “Faithfully” and had the entire crowd in a full “wave.” To wrap up the show, all three bands trooped on for an encore of “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin”– an epic moment in an epic night!
Journey is a “live” band! You must make every effort to see them live – it’s a completely different animal than when you hear them on the radio. In fact, all of the bands on this bill are so seasoned that I doubt there would ever be anything close to a bad night. It was an awesome show – thanks to all the artists and their crew!
Neal Schon is a busy, busy man these days, Journey tour, recent So U solo release and upcoming Santana reunion. Here’s what Neal has to say about his chaotic schedule and eventual Santana tour in the next two clips…
Neal talks about his recent solo release, So U, with Marco Mendoza – bass and Deen Castronovo – drums and Jack Blades’s (Night Ranger) involvement in the writing of So U…
Do you remember “Schon Guitars”? We talk about the debacle with his former line of “Schon Guitars” in the early 90’s as well as a potential signature series coming out with Paul Reed Smith Guitars (P.R.S. Guitars)
Neil had much more to say on all these various topics and more. If you want to check out more with this very happy, funny, unpretentious guitar god, click below for the full, uncut Neal Schon interview in its entirety…Tower of Power set list:
We Came to Play
You Ought To Be Having Fun
Only So Much Oil In the Ground
Don’t Change Horses in the Middle of the Stream
This Time It’s Real
So Very Hard To Go
What Is Hip
Steve Miller set list:
Take the Money and Run
Ooh Poo Pah Doo
Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma
Dance, Dance, Dance, All Night Long
Wild Mountain Honey
In the Wintertime
Keep On Rockin Me Baby
Fly Like an Eagle
Be Good to Yourself
Anyway You Want It
Only the Young
Stone in Love
She’s a Mystery
Who’s Cryin Now
Wheel in the Sky
Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’
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