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DVD Review: Journey – Live In Houston 1981, Escape Tour

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You know that there is some bad blood between Steve Perry and his old bandmates when you see no mention of this new concert DVD on the official Journey website. Perry produced the thing and probably hurt some feelings along the way by not asking his old friends for help. This release has garnered huge fanfare because it captures the band at their peak, having just released their first number one album with 1981’s Escape. Like it or not, Journey was the biggest band in the world during most of the 80’s, so it seems rather counter productive for the current incarnation of the band to completely ignore this release. Do they think fans will suddenly turn against them and demand no less than a Steve Perry reunion? Shit, they just might after seeing his performance here.

There are basically two schools of Journey fandom; those who find the current Perry-less version to be an abomination, led by a Perry-wannabe who can’t hold a candle to the real thing; and those who can enjoy both incarnations of the band. I am certainly no card carrying member of the Journey fan club, but I did grow up listening to these guys since junior high school, so I do have many fond memories of these party anthems. I also really enjoyed the Journey 2001 concert DVD, which featured new band members Steve Augeri on vocals and Deen Castronova on drums. Castronova is a phenomenal drummer, and Augeri is about the next best thing to Perry they could have hoped for. Seeing Perry perform these songs in his prime though really accentuates the differences between him and Augeri, but I think they are both great vocalists in their own right.

My favorite Journey period will always be the Infinity and Evolution years that featured Neal Schon’s old Santana bandmate Gregg Rolie. I loved the contrast between his earthy, soulful vocals and Perry’s powerhouse pipes, as well as his great Hammond B3 playing. The music also featured a little more prog elements instead of the pop that started to dominate the later stuff. I pretty much lost interest in the band soon after the Escape album, which is the focus of this show.

Live In Houston 1981 was originally filmed by a then four month old MTV during Journey’s tour in support of their chart topping album Escape. The show was filmed on November 6, 1981 and features their most successful lineup of Steve Perry, Neal Schon, Jonathan Cain, Ross Valory, and Steve Smith. The Escape album is almost performed in its entirety, with only two songs skipped. Departure gets four cuts, and Infinity and Evolution have to share three. Although only covering a four year span of the bands career, most of their biggest hits are here.

The concert kicks off with "Escape", the often overlooked rocker from that album, which made the perfect opening song. They keep the crowd on their feet with the boogie-rock anthem "Line Of Fire", before slowing things way down with three of their biggest power ballads "Lights", "Stay Awhile", and "Open Arms" played in succession. The power and passion of Steve Perry’s voice literally knocks you upside the head. I had almost forgotten how good this guy could sing, which it why it was so easy to give Augeri such props. I bet when Perry was putting this DVD together he was snickering to himself, "Yeah, I’ll show you who the fuck Journey was!".

After the onslaught of ballads, they dusted off "Mother/Father", one of the few Escape tunes that actually didn’t make it into the top forty singles charts. This is one of the heavier songs from that album, and it especially showcases Perry’s vocal range. I guess they wanted to kill all of the ballads in one full sweep, because up next was "Who’s Crying Now". This song starts off in true power-ballad style but eventually gets swept away by some of the most exquisite guitar soloing Neal Schon has ever done. So simple and so heartfelt. Escape definitely had some of Schon’s finest guitar moments.

The fashion on display at this show was vintage early-80’s rock & roll, featuring a sea of muscle tees, short sleeves rolled up to the shoulders, painted-on blue jeans, lamb chop sideburns, and way too many fluorescent colors. Steve Perry starts the show in the standard pair of bulge-enhancing blue jeans, a leopard print tee shirt, and white sneakers – all coordinated by a BLACK TUXEDO JACKET! Just your standard front man attire for the time. Neal Schon wasn’t quite sporting his giant 70’s afro, but had more of the classic Peter Frampton doo going on. Too bad he had already lost that cool Fu Manchu mustache by then.

Following a much too brief Schon guitar solo, they ended the first set, amidst a blaze of pyrotechnics, with the Infinity classic "Wheel In The Sky". If Schon was holding back a little during his solo spot, he definitely took off and ran with his "Wheel In The Sky" solo, showing that he truly is one of the best guitarists in the business. The encore started off with a bluesy performance of "Lovin’ Touchin’, Squeezin’", and ended things with a hyper version of "Anyway You Want It", which saw Perry sprinting from one end of the stage to the next like a madman, but never flubbing a single note.

The production quality was exceptional for a 1981 recording. MTV obviously did a great job filming this concert, and Steve Perry deserves may thanks for finally giving it life. The audio was remixed for 5.1 surround as well as PCM stereo and they both sound clear and powerful. The DVD packaging is impressive and includes, along with the DVD, a 16-page color booklet, and a full-length CD of the same concert. The CD also includes one additional song, "The Party’s Over", which only appears briefly during the DVD’s credits. The special features include the Escape TV promo, a slide show, the originally aired closing credits, and interviews with the band.

Not only is this DVD/CD package a great bargain, but it captured a remarkable Journey performance. Perry, Schon, and Smith, especially, all gave career performances this night. Will the attention from this DVD inspire Perry to come out of hiding for a new album, or tour, or possibly a Journey reunion? Although the band seems pretty content with their current situation, the money that a reunion tour could fetch sounds pretty enticing. I guess it depends on whether Perry’s rebuilt hip could withstand the rigors of a tour. Reunion or not, this DVD is highly recommended.

Set List
Escape
Line of Fire
Lights
Stay Awhile
Open Arms
Mother, Father
Who’s Cryin’ Now
Where Were You
Dead or Alive
Don’t Stop Believin’
Stone in Love
Keep on Runnin’
Wheel in the Sky
Lovin’, Touchin’ Squeezin’
Anyway You Want It

Performance 10/10
Production 8/10

Read all of my DVD concert reviews at Roy’s Reviews
edited:CMP

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About Paul Roy

  • http://rockandreel.blogspot.com/ justin Kreutzmann

    Can’t stop believing.
    I still think Herbie Herbert was cooler than any of the guys in the band!

  • raising hand

    CastronovO…

  • Matt

    I think the bad blood might also be fostered by Perry’s omission of the Arrival and Generations CDs, as well as the Arrival 2001 DVD on the discography on this package.

  • http://home.comcast.net/~proy1/ Paul Roy

    Tks raising hand, I’ll correct it on my site. Maybe if the editor sees this he can correct it here too.

  • Lee

    Very nicely done!

  • Ane

    You took the words right outta my mouth!! WOW! What a DVD!!!!!!!!

  • JED

    Perry has already said his hip is 100%…it’s his voice that probably wouldn’t endure the strain of a 6 month tour and he certainly can’t sing like he used to, as this is fairly obvious on 1994’s For The Love Of Strange Medicine and Journey’s last album with Perry, Trial By Fire in ’96. Not that his voice was bad on these recordings…just raspier and at a lower register.

  • Deena

    The power and passion of Steve Perry’s voice literally knocks you upside the head. I had almost forgotten how good this guy could sing, which it why it was so easy to give Augeri such props. I bet when Perry was putting this DVD together he was snickering to himself, “Yeah, I’ll show you who the fuck Journey was!”.
    ===========================================
    You got that right!!!!!!!!!!!! And if and I mean if SP was thinking that he had every right!!

  • Joyce

    No matter how hard the new Steve A. tries, he will never be remotely close to the voice!!! Steve Perry is in alot of true Journey fans the best singer ever. And at 57 I bet he could still rock a arena for 6 months. I would love a reunion tour with the original 5 (starting in 1978).

  • CD

    Not performing can be bad for the voice. Many an artist has suffered from social phobia including Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and Donny Osmond. Who cares if you can’t sing all the old stuff up to snuff. An artist can always make some new material and continue on.