Movie: Back in 1981, ballad rock ruled the airwaves of top twenty FM radio where the slightest hook often meant the difference between becoming a superstar and a wannabe for a plethora of bands all seeking to latch onto the conflicting styles of music as disco was absorbed into the synth-pop New Wave movement, Heavy Metal spawned a whole new generation of headbangers, and MTV had arrived to become the kingmaker of the music world previously reserved for DJ's and music industry executives. Stars like Pat Benatar, bands like ZZ Top and New Order, and even sex kitten bands like Berlin, were making their mark thanks in large part to the cable channel network. Another band arose for the fires of the small New York studio; Journey. Led by vocalist Steve Perry and guitarist Neal Schon, the band came out of nowhere to release their Escape album to an adoring public. The rest of the band included Jonathan Cain on keyboards, Ross Valory on bass, and Steve Smith on drums, the record was one of the greats of the time with such notable hits as Open Arms, Who's Cryin' Now, Don't Stop Believin', Any Way You Want It, and Wheel In The Sky. Thanks in part to a promotional deal with the band, MTV was fortunate enough to capture the band in a concert at Houston's own Summit, the subject of this review of Journey: Live In Houston 1981: The Escape Tour.
The date of the concert was November 6, 1981 and it was a Friday night few would forget. The parking low was packed and all the surrounding lots were full, with people parking on the other side of the freeway when the venue's lot filled up. In recent years, the City of Houston has sold the Summit to the Lakewood church, a very popular church even by modern standards, but back when rock ruled the venue, Journey was extremely well received with scores of groupies on hand trying to capture a glimpse of the band when their tour buses pulled into the stadium.
More than the flavor of the month, the band's music videos were always in heavy rotation, fueling the fires of a hit hungry public. Steve Perry got on stage and did what all great speakers did; he thanked the crowd and mentioned the name of the city to loud cheers, something that has become standard in the intervening years. The band performed a number of hits with some solid solos allowed of the band members to showcase their musical abilities and at least a couple of encores (it was nearly 25 years ago so the details get blurry). The set as presented on the DVD was as follows:
2) Line of Fire
4) Stay Awhile
5) Open Arms
6) Mother, Father
7) Jonathan Cain Solo
8) Who's Cryin' Now
9) Where Were You
10) Steve Smith Solo
11) Dead Or Alive
12) Don't Stop Believin'
13) Stone In Love
14) Keep On Runnin'
15) Neal Schon Solo
16) Wheel In The Sky
17) Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'
18) Anyway You Want It
The CD had a Bonus live track too:
19) The Party's Over (Hopelessly In Love)
In terms of the stage presence for the band, Perry was the most active (as expected of the lead vocalist and front man for the band) but the playing was more than competent and seeing the band that had a number of hits in later years but never were as popular as they were that dark night in Houston, TX, was a lot a fun. Thankfully, the DVD recaptures much of the spirit of that night and comes across as more than a time capsule of a popular band; it comes across as a documentary of what really struck a chord with an audience-a band fully appreciative of the adoration they were receiving from the massive crowd.
Nowadays, bands offer up more clothing changes, better special effects and elaborate pyrotechnics (like Kylie Minogue's many shows) but they usually pale compared to a band in its prime not needing to rely on tricks and other foolishness so much as their talent and hard work. As such a show, I think it was worth rating of Recommended to fans of music and highly recommended to fans of the band itself. They broke up later after all sorts of drama but this was one of the first darlings of the MTV age and they rode it a long way before falling apart to artistic and individual differences.
Picture: Journey: Live In Houston 1981: The Escape Tour was presented in the original 1.33:1 ratio full frame color it was shot in at the Summit in Houston, TX on 11/6/1981. The camera work was okay with numerous cuts to try and present the band as more active than they were with the lion's share of screen time going to Steve Perry. The lighting was simple and it largely worked to convey the mood of the music. There was some grain but the blacks looked clean and if I didn't know better, I'd have thought it looked more recently shot. The minimal pattern noise and other issues were not a problem and the remastering of the concert was very good looking.
Sound: The audio offered up a choice of either a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track or a 2.0 PCM (pulse Code Modulated) track. To my ears, the 5.1 track was superior with some solid separation as remixed by Allan Sides. The band was really playing their songs without the common lip synching that many early concerts had used to sound "better" (more like the albums and tapes). The dynamic range was better than I recall it being on MTV by a wide margin and the roar of the crowd was usually kept to a minimum throughout the songs. In short, it sounded very good for a concert and extremely good compared to other releases from that long ago.
Extras: Unlike so many older concerts, the producers went out of their way to provide some value adding extras. First up was the lengthy music CD included in the two disc set. For the price, that means you get an audio version of the show essentially for free. There were also about 11 minutes of interviews from a variety of sources taken around the time of the concert, a slide show, a short promo reel for the album, and the original credits as they aired on MTV. The set was enclosed in a folding package and had a 16 page booklet with some cool pictures, a picture of a ticket stub from the concert, and some artwork.
Final Thoughts: Journey: Live In Houston 1981: The Escape Tour was not a perfect concert DVD set but it came pretty darned close for those of us who remember Journey when they were at their peak. If you listen to the 80's radio station in any large city in the country, you'll hear Journey all the time given their dominant status at the time of the concert in the early 1980's. The technical matters were all well handled and I appreciated the quality and care that went into making this the best DVD set possible with a surprising array of extras for such an older concert.
Fans of music on DVD might appreciate some of the following selections too:
New Order, Tori Amos, Kylie Minogue, X, Pat Benatar, Selena, Cher, Galaxy 500, Sarah Brightman, Berlin, ZZ Top, Great Kat, Love & Rockets, and Everything But The Girl.