DOKKEN – Return to the East Live (2018 Frontiers Japan CD/region 2 – DVD set)
Even the most devout Dokken fan must acknowledge that Don is not the be-all and end-all of singers. A good singer, yes, but never in the top tier. Now that age has taken its toll (as it always does), Don relies on the backup singing of Jeff Pilson, Mick Brown, and George Lynch to hit those high notes. The classic Dokken lineup reunited for some shows in Japan, and even recorded a new song to go with it. Fortunately Dokken were up to the challenge, even with the shortcomings that age creates.
Some of the audience looks too young to have known Dokken when they first rocked Japan back in the 80s, but most are die-hards. Don himself looks cool as a cucumber, with George and Jeff on either side holding down the fort. Most importantly it seems they had a good time. Lynch is simply compelling to watch, as he plays impossible licks while making it look so easy.
There’s no messing around with this setlist. All classic Dokken, all 80s, no filler. They focused on what the fans wanted and they delivered. The band sounded great. Pilson’s all-important bass is given enough room in the mix to be effective. Songs like “It’s Not Love”, “The Hunter” and especially “Alone Again” buzz with electricity. Vocally, with great backup singers like Jeff, the band were able to pull it off. It’s a high energy reunion show. It’s just too bad so many people in the audience spent it on their phones.
The DVD and CD tracklists are, strangely, not in the same order. You can hear some obvious vocal overdubs in places, most notably “Kiss of Death”. There are some sloppy edits on the video. Don’s lips don’t always match the words, and there are annoying graphic overlays, but it’s a good show with plenty of closeups. Jeff Pilson is a dynamo on stage, but Wild Mick has lost nothing over the years either. He hammers on his kit as if he’s still 25 years old! There is little interaction between the members on stage, except for Jeff who is all over the place, including the keyboards. Don grins like a Cheshire cat when George lays down those familiar solos. He picks up the guitar himself for oldies like “Breakin’ the Chains”.
Both the CD and DVD portion have unique bonus content. After the main feature, you will find 45 minutes of behind the scenes footage, directed by Don. Shaky camera work aside, this is fascinating fly-on-the-wall stuff. Chatterbox Don is full of energy, even when losing his fedora hat. Eagle-eyed Trailer Park Boys fans will recognise road manager Tom Mayhue, their nemesis in the Out of the Park series. As the band pick apart the set and put it back together again, you get a real sense that they just wanted to get it right but not at the expense of fun.
You will find two exclusive bonus acoustic songs on the CD. “Heaven Sent” (with congas) and the obscure “Will the Sun Rise” are studio re-recordings, giving both songs a fresh, mellow gleam. That’s not the main feature, however. For obvious reasons, the brand new song “It’s Another Day” is the centrepiece, and as such it is presented as the very first track on the disc. While the live set is undoubtedly a very significant memento for fans, nothing really excites them like a brand new song — their first together as the classic lineup two decades. And it’s a solid B+. Grooving with a head of steam, “It’s Another Day” is very reminiscent of the excellent and underrated Dysfunctional album from 1995.
The Japanese bonus track this time is the early Dokken classic “Paris is Burning” live, which is also on the DVD but not the standard CD or download versions. Don’t you hate when a track is missing that is only on the DVD? Sure you do.
Jeff Pilson says that he wanted Dokken to end (if this is the end) on an up note. “Just a really positive exclamation point to a great career. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”