If I may indulge my inner hipster for just a moment, allow me to say that I liked the band Journey before liking Journey became cool. I'm not old enough to say I was there from the very beginning. But long before the Chicago White Sox and the San Francisco Giants made it their anthems to World Series titles, before The Sopranos infamously ended their series with it, before the effervescently annoying kids from Glee remade it, I would rock "Don't Stop Believin'" loud and proud whenever I could.
Like I said, age prevented me from really enjoying Journey when they were at their best, and by that I mean strictly when they were led by Steve Perry. By the mid-1990s, when my musical preferences formed, the man described by Queen guitarist Brian May as having "a voice in a million" decided not to endure the rigors of a reunion tour, and Perry's run with the band was officially over, again.
Nevertheless, original band member and lead guitarist Neal Schon decided to keep Journey running and hired a new lead singer, Steve Augeri, with a voice almost as similar to Perry's as his name was. It was this edition of Journey, call it Journey 2.0, I saw live at Davis Park in Rockford, Illinois on a summer's night in 2004. Don't get me wrong, it was a good show. All the favorites were played: "Lights," "Any Way You Want It," "Don't Stop Believin'," and an excellent 10-minute bluesy redux of "Lovin', Touchin', Sqeezin'" as their final encore.
Like I said, it was a good show... but it wasn't quite the same. No Steve Perry, no one-in-a-million voice, left me wanting just a little bit.
I thought of that concert and that feeling of enjoyment over slight disappointment Tuesday as the opening piano riff of "Don't Stop Believin'" rang out on the loudspeakers at McKeon Pavilion, home of the Saint Mary's Gaels. I had finally made the trip out to the San Francisco Bay, but I realized I had come, just like with Journey 2.0 in 2004, just a little bit late to see the Saint Mary's that was responsible for all of their greatest hits. Patty Mills and Omar Samhan were gone now, lost to graduation and the professional game. But still, this is a good Saint Mary's team, with dead-eye shooters like Matthew Dellavedova and Clint Steindl to fill in for Mills, and of course coach Randy Bennett to lead them. This Saint Mary's was better than just a reboot, better than a 2.0 label.
Accompanying me to this game was my cousin Sarah, who has lived in San Francisco for three years now while attending medical school. Growing up, she and I shared a closeness more resembling siblings than cousins. I had only seen her three times in the three years since she had moved to San Francisco, and I missed her greatly. I wanted to surprise her with a visit as close to the holidays as I could manage. The basketball game was a bonus to the trip, but also a small part of the motivation of flying 3,500 miles during the holiday season.
Of course, it was these same impending holidays which kept McKeon Pavilion, small as it may be, from being filled on this Tuesday night. The raucous Gael Force student section I'd normally seen on TV was sparse, which seems to be my luck regarding good student sections so far this season. Sarah and I entertained ourselves during parts of the game, like joking about the man a couple rows in front of us eating a homemade, sneaked-in meal of vegetable and tofu stir-fry from a plastic bowl before the game.
"Only in California," Sarah chuckled.
After dinner was finished, the game started, and Saint Mary's burst out to a quick 10-0 lead thanks to a trio of Steindl superhoops, each one prompting the public address announcer to shout "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!" to which the crowd would respond with the obligatory "Oi! Oi! Oi!" It seemed Jackson State, two days removed from a 27-point loss in a guarantee game at Cal which certainly helped fund this trip out to the West Coast, would suffer a similar beatdown to a fellow Mid-Major foe. But Jackson State worked hard on the defensive end and followed that up with spectacular drives and layups from senior Jenirro Bush and sophomore Kelsey Howard to keep the Gaels' leading margin in the low to mid-teens for most of the first half. The half ended as it began though, with another Steindl three and a authoritative dunk from Kenton Walker II sending the Gaels into the locker room with a 16-point lead.
I'm going to take this opportunity to pass along a note to our male readers: If you have an opportunity to attend a game with a woman, please do. She will offer you perspectives and information you would never, ever notice. For instance, I would have never noticed that all of the Gaels' dance squad's moves, talented and attractive as they may be, were essentially the same. As Sarah described it, "Kick, kick, turn, booty shaking dance, same thing as before." Of course, it goes beyond dances and shoes and stereotypical things. My cousin knows hoops, too.
The second half began with a 7-0 Rob Jones run pumping the Gaels' lead to 25. I feared another yawner of a game, yet another curse I seem to be afflicted with so far this season. But Jackson State started to mount a slow and steady comeback, helped by a sudden cold spell in the Gaels' shooting and more great shots and drives from the Tiger twosome of Bush and Keaton. Each missed shot on the Gaels' end followed by a make on the Tigers' end brought a louder groan of discomfort from the assembled Saint Mary's crowd. By the under-12 timeout, the lead was down to 14 at 52-38.
During the timeout, Sarah and I discussed and concurred that the next four minutes would be the key to this game. Like I said, she knows hoops.
But then again, so does Randy Bennett and his team. The first play out of the timeout saw Dellavedova hit a deep shot from the left wing, along with another "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!" Sarah and I faithfully shouted "Oi! Oi! Oi!" each time as Steindl hit two more superhoops on his way to six total for the game. By the under-8 timeout, the Saint Mary's lead was 66-43. The run broke what was left of Jackson State's will, and the Gaels cruised to a 77-53 win.
As Sarah and I drove back into San Francisco, we looked out over the bay, the lights of the city shining off in the distance and reflecting on the water to form a galaxy of sodium-vapor stars. The brilliant light of the top of the TransAmerica Pyramid served as the brightest, a Star of Bethlehem guiding us home.
These very lights inspired a young Steve Perry to write a love song to his hometown: "When the lights go down in the city, and the sun shines on the bay, Oh I want to be there in my city..."
"Lights" gets plenty of radio play in San Francisco, and sure enough, those familiar guitar notes came into our car as we navigated the streets of that very city. At one point during the song, I said, almost under my breath, "Ahh, Steve Perry, singing about his home..." to which Sarah replied, "This isn't Steve Perry."
After a double-take, I questioned her about this.
"It's not Steve," she said. "It's the new guy. Listen, he doesn't hit the high notes on the 'There in my city' quite right. Here..."
She turned up the radio and surely enough, this man did not hit the notes right. In fact, the whole song was in a different key to make up for him not being able to hit the notes. Sarah knows her music, too.
"They re-recorded all their stuff with the new guy," Sarah added.
In 2007, Schon hired Arnel Pineda, a Filipino whom Schon discovered on Youtube, as the new lead singer of Journey. Shortly thereafter, this Journey 3.0 had recorded a new album, Revelation, on which they placed an updated, but very similar-sounding version of"Lights." Despite being a fan, I was unaware of this new version and assumed the original one, the Steve Perry one, was being played. I was completely wrong.
"It happens here a lot," Sarah said. Her husband, Jeffrey, first alerted her to this a long time ago. "Jeffrey and I play this game in the car all the time. 'Is it Steve Perry or the new guy?' They usually say which version it is after the song."
To say I was somewhat confused was an understatement. But still, I enjoyed the remainder of the song. It's a great song, this love ballad to a city. It's home to a band that shaped the course of rock history, a basketball team that is still on the verge of making its own history, and my much beloved cousin becoming a successful woman, making history of her own as well. All three have undergone great changes, as all of us do over the course of time. However, my appreciation or love for them will never change.
"So you think you're lonely,
Well, my friend, I'm lonely too.
I wanna get back to my city by the bay..."
at SAINT MARY'S 77, JACKSON STATE 53 12/13/2011
JACKSON STATE 1-9 (0-0) -- J. Bush 9-21 4-9 23; K. Howard 3-9 7-8 15; K. Stewart 2-4 0-0 4; J. Lewis 0-0 0-0 0; C. Williams 1-5 0-0 2; S. Coleman 1-3 0-0 2; W. Readus 0-3 5-8 5; D. Jones 0-3 0-2 0; D. Taylor 0-1 0-0 0; R. Gregory 0-0 0-0 0; J. Armstrong 0-0 0-0 0; J. Sykes 0-0 2-2 2; T. Ballard 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-49 18-29 53. SAINT MARY'S 6-1 (0-0) -- M. Dellavedova 3-7 0-0 8; S. Holt 1-5 3-5 5; C. Steindl 6-10 0-0 18; R. Jones 6-9 5-7 18; J. Page 1-8 0-0 3; K. Walker II 4-9 0-0 8; B. Waldow 2-4 2-3 6; B. Levesque 2-2 4-5 8; M. Young 1-3 0-0 2; K. Rowley 0-2 1-2 1; E. Petrulis 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-60 15-22 77.
Three-point goals: JSU 3-8 (C. Williams 0-3; J. Bush 1-3; K. Howard 2-2), SMC 10-28 (R. Jones 1-1; C. Steindl 6-10; J. Page 1-7; M. Young 0-1; M. Dellavedova 2-5; S. Holt 0-3; E. Petrulis 0-1); Rebounds: JSU 24 (K. Howard 7), SMC 44 (R. Jones 10); Assists: JSU 8 (J. Lewis 3), SMC 23 (M. Dellavedova 7); Total Fouls -- JSU 19, SMC 20; Fouled Out: JSU-None; SMC-K. Rowley.