Steve Perry Monday, Jan. 9, Spokane Opera House
Steve Perry, as one woman put it, is the rock ‘n’ roll equivalent of the romance novel.
The theory is simple: Romance is a big, unfulfilled void in the lives of most women. And Perry’s music fills it.
Perry doesn’t avoid The Big Subject - the first single from his new LP, “For the Love of Strange Medicine,” deals with the dangers facing children who leave home for the city - but he tends to focus on matters of the heart: guys who finally wise up and see the error of their ways, guys who are afraid/unafraid to devote themselves to their love object, guys who anguish over the one that got away.
Guys and girls - it’s always worked and it still does.
But while that theory may work for women, anyone who attended Perry’s sold-out show at the Opera House Monday will tell you that there was no shortage of men.
So what gives?
Perry is an unapologetic throwback to the ‘70s, when arena rock bands - Foreigner, Styx, his own old band Journey - drew women into the hard-rock mainstream with a longhaired but masculine romanticism and kept the guys happy with plenty of guitar solos.
Monday, the music flowed smoothly from the Journey-era hits - “Wheel In the Sky,” “Lights” and “Don’t Stop Believin”’ - to his most recent solo material. Remarkably, his music seems to have been completely unaffected by the revolutions in pop that swept away arena rock in the seven years he has been away.
He nodded toward pop fashion by wearing grungy jeans and a plaid shirt, but he played the same music millions loved a decade ago.
In those days, Perry played off Neil Schon, a founding member of Journey and one of the guitar gods of the generation. But Perry jettisoned Journey seven years ago when he took an extended leave from music, and he is now proving he doesn’t need a big-name guitar player to make the formula work, just a good one.
Perry’s current whiz is Lincoln Brewster, a baby-faced 23-year-old with a halo of curly hair and a feel for the soaring, fleet-fingered soloing of yesteryear.
His moment to shine came during “Somewhere There’s Hope,” a big, bluesy ballad from Perry’s new CD, “For The Love of Strange Medicine.” With a backdrop of lacy curtains blowing in a faux wind behind him and Perry singing wordless vocals, Brewster stepped forward to finger a screaming lead that had even Perry playing air guitar.
It remains for the rest of the band - keyboards, drums and bass - to lay down the foundation for Perry and Brewster. They’re all good players (and drummer Lucas Moyes grew up at Fairchild Air Force Base), but Perry’s 4/4 rock anthems don’t make big demands on them.
Instead, Perry lets his flawless tenor and radio-ready songs carry the day. He’s an emotive singer who turns one syllable into six and whose voice still soars into the upper reaches without straining.
But there are few examples of pop music where the material is strong enough to bear the weight of such great emotion: The songwriting ability of a Roy Orbison or a Bruce Springsteen is required to make a song big enough to take the kind of heat Perry applies, and Perry’s songs don’t make the grade. Even the biggest hits - songs like “Oh Sherry,” and “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’,” rely on big refrains rather than substance for their power.
Of course, those big refrains make for great sing-alongs - one of the great appeals of Perry’s music - and the house responded enthusiastically, singing lustily whenever he held the microphone in its direction.
Between songs, there were moments when the screams of grown women were louder - and more earshattering - than the screaming guitar lines of Lincoln Brewster.
Yes, Steve Perry is back, without Journey, and if Monday’s show is an indication, his formula for pop success works just as well today as it did a rock ‘n’ roll millennium ago.