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Best tribute band

Bon-Journey

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Just this past week, Journey announced the latest in a long line of replacements for the keening pipes of Steve Perry: Philippine vocalist Arnel Pineda. But what's interesting about Pineda is that he was recruited after Journey's guitarist saw Pineda's band cover "Faithfully" on YouTube.

This has to be the secret fantasy of every musician in a tribute band. And you know what? Don't stop make-believin'.

Whether you appreciate tribute bands' cornball factor, or just really need to hear "Black Dog," it's hard to knock the bang-for-your-buck entertainment value of local musicians strutting their stuff as arena rockers. Now take that appeal -- however ironic it may be -- and double it. That's Pittsburgh tribute band Bon-Journey.

The trouble a lot of tribute bands run into, says Bon-Journey keyboardist Jeff Kolbfleisch, is that if you have only one band's catalog to choose from, it's nearly impossible to play crowd favorites all night long. "You wanna keep people up, keep it light, keep it stuff that everyone can sing along with and have a good time," Kolbfleisch says. But "unless you start getting into a lot of off-the-cuff album cuts and music that people really don't know, it's pretty impossible."

But if you play the greatest hits of two chart-topping bands? Problem solved.

Bon-Journey's scarab first soared in the summer of 2006, rising from the ashes of a local Journey tribute band. Kolbfleisch says that branching out to include Bon Jovi -- "the counterpoint to Journey in a lot of ways" -- was a natural progression. He points out similarities between Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" and Bon Jovi's "In These Arms" -- songs Bon-Journey occasionally blends together on stage.

The band's name, in fact, was partly Steve Perry's idea.

Kolbfleisch was reading an interview with the Journey vocalist, who "basically hates Bon Jovi," says Kolbfleisch. "He was just going on saying, 'Everything they do, they steal from us, they try to do our vocals and our song arrangements -- they might as well just call themselves "Bon Journey."' So I was like, 'Well ... '"

The band currently includes vocalist Tony DiCesaro, Monroeville-based drummer Ned Lyden and, from Fayette County, guitarist Rich Kendall and bassist Jerry Talbott. Kolbfleisch, also originally from Fayette County, now lives in Brookline and manages the band's booking and Web presence.

Just don't call Bon-Journey a cover band. "A lot of cover bands simply are concerned with getting the essence of a song -- they'll roughly learn it," says Kolbfleisch. "A tribute band, a lot more time goes into getting the proper vocal parts, the instrumentation, the arrangements of some of these songs."

But although DiCesaro has the requisite high emotive voice for this material, Bon-Journey's members don't look particularly like rock stars. And that, they say, is partly the point.

Capturing the look of the original is a major element of most tribute shows: You really gotta be Axl to sing for a G n' R tribute. But can you even really mentally picture what, say, Bon Jovi's bassist looks like?

"If you look at both [Bon Jovi and Journey] right now, they're showing up onstage in jeans and T-shirts," Kolbfleisch says. "They were all pretty much almost invisible musicians. Of course you have Steve Perry in the tailcoat, and some of the really awful things he wore, but there wasn't really an identifiable look, like you have with Guns N' Roses or Zeppelin."

Even without elaborate costumery, Bon-Journey is booked every Friday and Saturday night from here to infinity -- or at least, its Web site shows the band heavily booked until 2009. Just in the past six months, the band has hit Connecticut, New Jersey, Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia and North Carolina. A casino in Florida even tried to book them as an opener ... for Bon Jovi.

That's a lot of extra hours for guys who already work full time. DiCesaro is a chiropractor, for example; Kolbfleisch is a paralegal. "It's a great way to have a release on the weekend, and relax," says Kolbfleisch.

"Granted, it's not something I woke up and aspired to do."

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