By Bert Eljera
His now near mythical rise from the slums in Manila to the top of the international music world is nothing short of breathtaking.
On Friday night, before a packed crowd at the Theatre for the Performing Arts at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, the 45-year-old Pineda put on another high-energy performance as lead vocalist of the legendary band, Journey, which he joined five years ago.
“Are you having fun Las Vegas?” he hollered to the 7,000 fans, including hundreds of Filipinos, who later said they swell with pride at the sight of a compatriot doing so well and received so warmly by music fans.
They danced to the bouncy beats, swayed to the ballads, and marveled at the pyrotechnics and special effects that transformed the set into incredible visuals.
Most of all, they let Pineda’s soulful, sometimes raspy, vocals capture their hearts.
“Makes me feel so proud as a Filipino,” said Nimfa Raagas Aguila, a neurologist, who came with friends for her second Journey concert.
Fans savored old favorites: Don’t Stop Believin’, Faithfully, Separate Ways, Anyway You Want It, Highway Run, Open Arms.
Since its formation in 1973 in San Francisco, Journey has earned 19 Top 40 singles and 25 gold and platinum albums, and was one of the most successful touring bands in 2011, four years after Pineda joined it.
Once forced to fend for himself as a young man living on the streets of Sampaloc in Manila, Pineda’s journey to become the band’s front man of is now the stuff of legend.
His life and struggles are now featured in a movie : “Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey,” directed by Ramona Diaz, which was shown for the first time in April this year.
The FilAm.Net, an online publication for Filipino-Americans, reported that the movie chronicled Pineda’s rise from hard-luck pizza joint singer to lead singer of Journey.
That is an intriguing story by itself, something that Journey fans now know by heart. Pineda debuted with the band as lead singer at an international song festival in Chile on Feb. 21, 2008.
His movie opens with this first concert.
“I still get goose bumps thinking about that very first show. I was scared,” Pineda said. “I wanted to just get to the first flight out but when I saw the people, I was overwhelmed. I will never forget that day.”
That performance also impressed the other members of the band, who had some doubts about him.
Jonathan Cain, the band’s keyboard player, said Pineda proved he belonged.
“We went to Chile, where we had never played and they went crazy, they absolutely went nuts…Arnel’s first show — talk about a stressful thing — we had a televised concert for 25 million people…Is the guy a winner? Yeah, he’s a winner. He’s a clutch player,” Cain said.
Since joining the band, Pineda, who still performs in Manila from time to time, has been a part of Journey’s continued success.
The band’s 2011 Eclipse World Tour was one of its most successful tours ever, drawing nearly a million fans and ranked in the Top 15 Tours of the year.
That year also 2011 marked the 30th anniversary of “Don’t Stop Believin’,” which was honored as the top-selling digital classic rock song in history by Nielsen SoundScan.
A family man, Arnel has three kids and another one on the way, he said he’d stay with Journey “for as long as they want me.”
“They are amazing people to work with. I learn so much from them, each one of them,” he told FilAm.Net.
He said he takes pride in knowing the torch has passed from the iconic Steve Perry, who stayed with Journey for more than two decades, to him.
“I think that Steve Perry will always be known as the singer of Journey. I have so much respect for him. He is known as ‘the voice,’” Pineda said.
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