VENUE: Oslo Spektrum
DATE: 09.06.2024
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With a stellar line-up consisting of Return, Stage Dolls, and the legendary Journey, there was absolutely no excuse for sitting at home on this relatively cold and windy Sunday evening in Norway’s capital city. How could anyone resist a bill of bands like that?! Pairing Journey with two excellent and well-known Norwegian groups was an inspired one, and the great thing is that although all three of them tend to fall within the melodic rock/AOR genre in the overall scheme of things, they bring something different to the table and approach the style in their own individual manner. The concert was neither sold out nor packed to the rafters, but the turnout was definitely respectable, and given the fact that Journey had not graced one of our stages for many years, there was a palpable sense of expectation and excitement in the air at Oslo Spektrum.

First up were Return who served up a concise and wonderfully uplifting set containing the gems “Change the Attitude,” “Having Fun,” “United in a Scream,” “Sing Me a Song,” “Friends Will Be Friends,” “To the Top,” “Can You Forgive Me,” and the anthemic “Bye Bye Johnny.” In other words, they enthusiastically played some of their most cherished and well-known tunes to an appreciative audience, and they were a tight unit that clearly had lots of fun doing so. Although a little too heavy on the bass in terms of the sound, the whole thing was as melodically gorgeous as it was catchy and life-affirming, and I loved the positive spirit of it all. Forty minutes of unadulterated joy.

Fellow Norwegian rockers Stage Dolls were on stage roughly ten minutes after Return walked off and essentially tore through their irresistible and stadium-sized songs with more vigor and zeal than I have previously experienced when in the company of this well-oiled musical machinery. Boasting a powerful sound with lots of clarity and definition to it, the four gentlemen played like there was no tomorrow and understandably went down a storm among those who had gathered to witness the rock ‘n’ roll festivities. If memorable cuts ala “Soldier’s Gun,” “Love Cries,” “Hard to Say Goodbye,” “Love Don’t Bother Me,” “Wings of Steel,” and “Still in Love” do not sound like a grand and fabulous time then there is simply no hope for you. Superbly executed and heaps of fun to watch and listen to.

Then came the time for the mighty Journey to carry us further into the melodic rock/AOR stratosphere and they did so in a decidedly confident and impressive manner. With a crisp yet sufficiently punchy sound and an infinitely skilled line-up, these purveyors of pure ear candy delivered a masterclass in epic rock music. The interplay between the six members was outstanding, and they conjured up that unique atmosphere associated with their recorded outputs almost effortlessly in last night’s live setting but added a lively and playful touch to the compositions that made them sound anything but rigid. The setlist was akin to a greatest hits collection, and the material Journey aired was as timeless and enjoyable as ever and came across as robust and full of interesting textures. While the two opening songs (“Only the Young” and “Stone in Love”) were good, they lacked a bit of warmth and energy, but all of that was forgotten when “Don’t Stop Believing” roared out of the speakers and was received rapturously by the crowd; from that point on the show was pretty much flawless. Arnel Pineda’s vocals were phenomenal throughout, Deen Castronovo’s charismatic and muscular drumming consistently propelled things forward, and keyboardist/guitarist/vocalist Jonathan Cain, founding member and six-string wizard Neal Schon, bass player extraordinaire Todd Jensen, and keyboardist/vocalist Jason Derlatka all brought their A game. I love the fact that everyone involved in the ensemble can carry a tune and sing, and in fact, two of the highlights of the evening were “Mother, Father” and “Girl Can’t Help It” – the former sung by Castronovo and the latter by Derlatka respectively. Personally, I was madly in love with the hauntingly beautiful rendition of “Send Her My Love”- talk about an emotive stroke of musical genius!

It had been thirteen years since Journey’s last visit to Norway and much has happened in their camp since then, but the quality of their back catalogue shines as brightly as ever and their live shows still deliver some marvelous thrills. What a night!

The photo above is of the band Return.

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