Judge Jim Thomas stopped believin' the other day. It hurts.
Don't Stop Believin'
Journey was one of the the supergroups of the eighties. Fronted by the stellar voice of Steve Perry, the band filled the airwaves and concert halls. Their popularity has endured; their 1981 track "Don't Stop Believin'" is the top-selling catalog track in iTunes history. They disbanded in 1987, and had the usual on-again off-again reunions in the years that followed.
They had a couple of lead singers through the 2000s, but none quite worked out, due to a very basic problem: Steve Perry has one of the best voices in rock history. Jon Bon Jovi simply dubbed him, "The Voice"; Rolling Stone ranked him #76 in their list of "the Greatest Singers of All Time." Perry's voice was a major part of Journey's musical identity. In 2007, the band was desperate to find a new frontman. Guitarist Neal Schon had taken to scouring YouTube videos, hoping to find someone—anyone—who could help the band recapture that signature sound.
Who he found was Arnel Pineda, the forty-year-old frontman for a cover band in the Philippines.
This is his story.
Don't Stop Believin' spends some time with Journey's history, but the focus is on Pineda as he deals with suddenly being in the world spotlight on a yearlong U.S. tour.
So let's start with the obvious question: Dude's got an amazing voice. More importantly, it's similar enough to Perry's that the group has recaptured that distinctive Journey sound. There are some purists who still refuse to accept Pineda; in fact, he's gotten a fair share of hate mail for presuming to take Perry's place. Whatever. He's got a great voice, and just as importantly, he has a great stage presence, a dynamo on stage. He knows that he is living every fan's dream, and he does his best to share the experience. The fans feed off his energy, the rest of the band feeds off his energy—you really can't ask for much more than that. There's a wonderful moment when he gets some words of encouragement from Chicago's Jason Scheff—the guy who replaced Peter Cetera.
One of the odder accusations leveled at Journey after they picked Pineda is that they were exploiting this poor schmuck from some third-world nation so that they could continue to live their debauched lifestyle. If becoming fabulously wealthy and famous while giving your family a sense of security they never would have otherwise known is being exploited, then please, by all means, exploit me.
Maybe that idea came from the film showing the physical toll that the tour takes on him—at one point he develops a cold and is sleeping with a breathing mask to protect his voice. Still, his attitude throughout remains upbeat—and why shouldn't it? He came from the slums of Manila to front one of the worlds' biggest bands. He's going to enjoy himself—but at the same time, he's not going to let it go to his head. That's one of the reasons Pineda—and Don't Stop Believin' by extension—is so appealing. Despite all of the craziness, despite all of the adoration, the guy manages to stay grounded. He keeps his family with him, and he's created a foundation to help renovate Manila's more impoverished areas. One of the film's highlights is a homecoming of sorts, as Journey, with Pineda firmly established as their frontman, plays to a packed arena in Manila.
Technically, Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey isn't particularly memorable. Video is somewhat inconsistent—it looks pieced together from a variety of sources, none of which are particularly good. Audio is OK, provided that you aren't expecting concert-quality audio; that's not what they're trying to do here. The dialogue is for the most part clear—an accomplishment in many situations. At times it can be difficult to follow Pineda in the interview segments, as he tends to bounce back and forth between English and Filipino. Subtitles are always included when he's speaking, so it's not a big problem—you do have to concentrate a bit more, but that's not a knock on the disc audio. That said, it sure would have been nice if they had included one properly recorded performance in the extras. Speaking of which, there's a set of brief interviews with a lot of the backstage crew, some additional tour footage, and an interview with Pineda's wife—basically, footage that didn't make the final cut—along with some clips from the film's premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Pineda's genuine warmth and energy propels this film just as it propels Journey's concerts. In an industry that has become far too prepackaged and commercialized, he and Don't Stop Believin' are a breath of fresh air. Not guilty.
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