What happened to Arnel Pineda will only increase the fearsome number of YouTube videos showcasing the efforts of aspiring rock vocalists worldwide.
Five years ago, searching for a new lead vocalist, members of the band Journey spent untold hours trolling YouTube looking through tribute band samples and the like. Then, like a Steve Perry miracle, there he was: a remarkable Perry sound-alike with a glimmer of his own style and personality.
The comparatively young Pineda, born in Manila, Philippines, had been captured on video in a small club wailing his lungs out. The Journey people got in touch and invited him to audition for the lead vocalist catbird seat. Pineda flew to San Francisco and got the job, and the documentary “Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey” pays affectionate, unprobing tribute to this success story.
He is a man with a golden set of pipes and a true belief in the lyrics contained in the Journey standard referenced by the title, the one heard at the end of “The Sopranos” to such memorably unsettling effect. It’s easy to like the movie, though there’s not much of a movie there. Writer-producer-director Ramona Diaz goes only so far into the nitty-gritty of Pineda’s harsh childhood (“broke” and “angry” are two of the words Pineda uses to describe himself at a young age), his battles with drug addiction and alcoholism, his efforts to make his music pay.
The best material in the film is the loosest, capturing the perpetually insecure and overcompensating Pineda in his early concerts, leaping, bouncing, careening around as if every moment in every song were an audition for the next moment in the next song. “Like David Lee Roth and Bruce Lee put together,” drummer Deen Castronovo puts it. Journey’s frontman is fueled by his determination to earn the respect of the skeptics – “all those converted Arnel-haters,” Pineda says, in one of many of his third-person references.
My favorite bit in this de facto court biography finds the wiry frontman backstage at yet another Journey concert. (Most music docs feature a lot of tour footage, but in this one the locales really blur after a while.) Hey, says one man, grinning. “I’m the guy who replaced Peter Cetera in Chicago.” It’s Jason Scheff, unidentified by name in the film. They beam at each other. It’s a warm moment of self-recognition for Pineda: There are, he realizes, a few of us out there, the replacements filling big shoes one city at a time.