It was perhaps a warm evening in November when Journey recorded the concert presented on the new Journey Live In Houston 1981 DVD/CD release. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know for sure, but there is a huge stadium full of people packed together and rocking around non-stop for an hour and a half. Hot and sweaty rock ‘n roll… music to get your blood pumping.
It’s a cold night as I write this review. It’s winter, and my little space heater is blowing. I’m watching a little slice of music history that has now been digitally captured for all to enjoy. Although I’m separated from this event by over two decades, it’s very easy to get sucked into what’s happening on stage.
But temperature aside, my credentials for writing a review on a Journey DVD are perhaps not as solid as some might like. After all, I was a child of the 80s, but I was not a college intramural frisbee-golf champion of the 80s. In fact, some of my experience with Journey is inherited from my older siblings, as they saw fit to get me up to speed early in life.
Credential #1: My sister had a maroon Chrysler LeBaron with a stock 8-track tape player in the dash. Since these were really only fashionable for about seven weeks during a slow fall in the late 70s, she wisely saw fit to “future-proof” it with a normal cassette tape adapter. The tape I remember most fondly from this period (except for a SWEET! mix tape that I stole and still have as my only surviving cassette) is Escape by Journey. This wasn’t out of the ordinary, I guess. Everyone had a copy of Escape. It sold by the truckload. But we had one too, and it saw some brutal use.
Credential #2: I have had, at one time or another, all of the following: acid-washed jeans; a perm; a Coca-Cola rugby shirt; rolled up jeans; rolled up shirt sleeves and turned-up collar; penny loafers; flourescent Converse hi-tops (HIGH tops…) with even more absurdly flourescent shoelaces; and I wanted a pair of parachute pants but never got them. (I just needed to get this last item off my chest after years of carrying around this resentment. I’m trying to learn to let the wounds heal). All of this is simply to say that as I see the men of Journey on this DVD, run around on stage in their too-tight blue jeans and muscle tees, all while sporting impressively large hair stylings, I forgive them. We’ve all been there, and there is nothing wrong with admitting that, yes, it really was fashionable at one point in time, blind as we were to the concept of dignity.
Credential #3: My sister went on to college, but my brother did his best to make sure that the Journey was still rocking our house. Raised on Radio did it’s best to temporarily fool us into thinking that Steve’s solo album, Street Talk, wasn’t signalling the end of something. But it was… and I still blame my brother for just standing around like a dumbass and not doing anything about it.
At this point, some of you are probably thinking to yourself or others “Yeah, this is great, but are you actually going to review this new live package? You promised a review, and you’re not exactly delivering. And quit knocking 80s fashion; it’s a hard habit to break.” The reason that my memories are making a surprise appearance in this here review, is that’s just what Journey does to people. This show is almost a quarter-century old. That’s a long freaking time. But Journey’s music has perenially either been winning new fans just now discovering the band, or else reminding others about how good arena rock in the 80’s could be. To like Journey is to reminisce. The band’s lineup is not going to win any longevity awards, but their output continues to last, despite the current work (or lack thereof) of any of the members.
First, the details. This is a two-disc set, consisting of DVD and CD versions of the concert. The track order and length are the same for each, although the CD contains an extra song at the end, “The Party’s Over (Hopelessly In Love).” The band’s previous live album, Captured was in support of their Frontiers record. The song selection on this release is actually quite a bit different, enough so that it’s worth it for the audio alone, even for those who already have another official live album. Escape was and is the band’s best-selling album to date, and contains enough hits on its own to change the feel of a live show. Understandably, this show is very Escape-heavy, but that’s all for the better.
It should be noted that most of this material is previously unreleased. A handful of songs were featured on the DVD version of their greatest hits release. Filmed as a live concert for the then-fledgling music channel MTV (perhaps you’ve heard of them), the concert has seen sporadic showings on cable, but this is the first proper release of the concert in its entirety to consumers.
The energy of this concert is something not to be missed. I made the mistake of first listening to the audio CD before tackling the video. Although the audio-only version is great, you miss all the visual energy from the group. It’s almost a problem that the band sounds so good; it’s near-studio quality with textured applause, which is easy to take for granted as another Journey record. But popping in the DVD, you realize that they really are just that good. You can see them, and watch how tightly they interact as one musical unit. Neal, Jonathan and drummer Steve Smith all get turns at the token “solo”, which although horrible rock cliches now, seem a little more genuine for back then. And they’re also worked in as bridge material to tracks, so it’s overall nice to watch them show off what they can do. And Steve Perry… The man was not only an amazing rock vocalist, but a very energetic and engaging frontman to boot.
The video quality of the show is quite good. The only thing really dating it is the fashion. (Sorry… I’ll let it go now). The lighting is great, camera movement is unobtrusive, and stage and camera hands are generally unseen. There were only a couple of very minor glitches at the beginning of the show (we’re talking very minor, nothing to worry about at all), but the source tape has been kept in excellent condition and thankfully is now digitally intact. And whether planned or not, the pause when changing layers on the disc is positioned during the encore break, which is the absolute best place for something like that to occur.
The audio for this release is very clean. I have a feeling it was probably always intended for both a video and audio release, as it seems to be mixed very much like an album release (part of this could be due to the updated remastering, so I’ll never really know). Whether due to good editing, both video and audio, or just a tightly scripted stage show, there is little pause throughout the entire show. No set or wardrobe changes, no noticable instrument changes or technical switches; even the encore is (probably artificially) truncated down to an appreciative cheering section and then jumps right back into the music.
I actually wish that I could think of something to complain about with this review, because I almost feel like it’s not objective of me to do otherwise. But there really isn’t anything to complain about. The band is tight, the songs are classic, the video and audio are clean… If I really had to pick something, it’s that the DVD extras are nothing to get too excited about. There is a very brief album promo video, as well as a photo slideshow set to a short audio clip. The interviews are interesting, but not horribly engaging. In the end, it’s just a great concert, and that’s all you need to expect and/or worry about. This is classic enough stuff to last another quarter-century.