REVIEW: Journey – Live in Houston: Escape Tour 1981 (CD/DVD set)

Christmas gift review!  This one came from my sister and husband Melvin.

JOURNEY – Live in Houston: Escape Tour 1981 (2006 Columbia CD/DVD set)

Released in 2006, the Live in Houston CD/DVD set by Journey chronicles the band at their peak.  This is a vintage MTV concert finally released for sale. Opening with the brand new title track from the brand new album Escape was a good idea.  Its fast paced pyrotechnics fire up the crowd appropriately.  Steve Perry is resplendent in his tuxedo jacket, jeans, and animal-print T-shirt.  Now this is a fucking concert.  If the guy couldn’t sing like the angels, then he couldn’t get away with that shit, but it’s Steve Fucking Perry.  At his peak.  A great frontman with the classic voice.  His vocal acrobatics rival the furious fretwork of his bandmate Neal Schon.  Personally, I think Bon Jovi owes a lot to Steve Perry’s schtick.

Not letting up, the opening salvo is concluded with “Line of Fire” before it’s time for the ballads.  It’s a great little rock boogie that gives the band a chance to play hard.  Perry then informs the band that they are recording a live MTV special (as if you couldn’t tell by Schon’s MTV T-shirt).  If that can’t get a crowd screaming for “Lights”, nothing will.  This kind of song isn’t my thing really, but it is always a pleasure listening to Steve sing.  Live, he’s that much more entrancing.  Superhuman, really.  “Lights” merges with the ballad “Stay Awhile”, which I think is the better song.  Listen to that fucker sing!  Then it’s time for a new ballad, “Open Arms”.  This is where I step out to pee.

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Neal Schon’s favourite new song from Escape was “Mother, Father”, a dramatic heavy ballad.  Perry kicks this song in the ass, but it’s the anthemic chorus that you can’t forget.  And people — Steve Perry hits every single one of the high notes at the end.  Every. Single. One.

New kid Jon Cain takes a moment for a piano solo, while Steve Perry no doubt drinks something cold and soothing!  I like that Jon tucked his sleeveless animal print shirt into his jeans.  Gotta look presentable, of course.  New ballad “Who’s Cryin’ Now” is greeted by high pitched screams, indicating the crowd really know this one.  Perry has lost the tux jacket, revealing that he is not a T-shirt tucker.  Schon’s solo is epic, in how it builds from one simple melody into something completely different and blazingly fast.

The crowd goes nuts for the rocker “Where Were You”, on which drummer Steve Smith absolutely blows the doors off.  I love watching him play with classic grip.  He’s the next member to get a solo, and I can’t help but notice he has tucked his T-shirt into his jeans.  Interesting.  I didn’t expect that from the drummer.  The solo is a scorcher, leading directly into the new rocker “Dead Or Alive”.  Steve Perry looks a lot more awkward dancing to this one, but his voice leaves no doubt.  Nobody else could sing the song the way Perry did.  Nobody.

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Steve announces from the stage that Escape just went #1 in the US a mere three weeks before.  The crowd then goes insane for the opening keys of “Don’t Stop Believin'”.  As on the album, I love Steve Smith’s cymbal work; it’s just overpowered by the live sound of the band.  You can tell that the sound wasn’t tampered with, as Neal hits a bum note in the solo and it was left in.  The lush backing vocals seem to be provided live by Schon, Valory and Cain.  Then it’s time for “Stone In Love”, another newbie.  This hard rock classic features Jonathan Cain abandoning the keyboards and joining the frontline on guitar.  This allows Schon the ability to throw in more solos and licks; meanwhile when piano is needed, Steve Perry jumps behind the keys!  Then it’s time for “Keep On Runnin'”, again with Cain up front on guitar.  It’s another solid rock song, although a bit of a throw-away compared to the rest of Escape.  Schon then gets his chance to solo, as a lead in to “Wheel in the Sky”.  It’s a note-perfect live version, and full of energy.

For encores, it’s the annoying “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'” and “Anyway You Want It”.  The only good thing about “Lovin’, Touchin'” is the guitar solo with some tasty slide for added flavor.  “Anyway You Want It” is ragged.  It’s a hard song to sing to begin with, but Perry is running around so much that it’s bound to fall apart at times.   It’s a magnificent finish.

The CD version has a bonus track: “The Party’s Over (Hopelessly in Love)”.  I don’t know why it’s not on the DVD version.  I think it’s one of Journey’s best also-rans.  Maybe the film had deteriorated too much to use for that one song?  Who knows.  Anyway (you want it), you can get it on CD.

It’s also worth pointing out that three songs (“Don’t Stop Believin'”, “Open Arms”, and “Who’s Cryin’ Now”) were all re-released on the remastered Escape CD.  So if you’re browsing at the store thinking, “Hey, look, it’s Escape with bonus tracks, I need that,”…no you don’t.  Just get this.  Always better to have the full concert!

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The bonus interviews are pretty neat.  Members discuss how they found their way into Journey via manager Herbie Herbert.  Neal Schon is almost hilariously young looking.  Perry sports the shadow of a moustache, appearing as if he would have had trouble growing a full one.  Bassist Ross Valory speaks of the band’s earlier preference for instrumental music, supplanted by a switch to vocal songs.  The interviews are broken up topically and are made up from a variety of sources. In the section about touring, Steve Perry reveals that after being driven around everywhere in a limo, when he gets home from the road he feels like he’s forgotten how to drive!  It’s worth it, though: all their best songs were written on the road.

The DVD also includes a photo slide show that nobody will watch.  It’s only a minute or two long.  Some of these pics, I’ve seen before.  Neal Schon does make great “guitar faces”, possibly the best ever.  The original TV ad for the Escape album is hilarious in its 80’s cheesiness.

4/5 stars

4 comments

  1. My problem with Journey has been there studio records esp the 80s output of getting time and time again fooled by Schon and him telling me the young metal head ‘yeah the guitars are at the forefront” blah blah blah I mean wtf were they thinking with Raised on Radio…!
    Now the live Greatest Hits set I got and that’s a good disc but they always seem to be boil over into sap ville a little too much for my liking.
    Now that HSAS record Schon did with Hagar the guitars are cranked! But hey my grumble! I’m sure with this being live it’s a great mix of songs etc and the performances are top notch no doubt but I dunno I think I would dig the audio of it more than the vid…..

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