Welcome to the first, and almost certainly LAST Battle of the Journey Live Albums. My previous top five Journey songs list could probably be a top ten now that has some entirely different songs on it. I’ve listened to a lot of the bands’ material since that time, and have grown to be a big fan of their live work. When they’re live, Journey’s ON - consummate performers who rarely miss a note. Steve Perry’s vocals come down to earth from their incredibly high, almost alien-sounding studio counterparts. Journey actually manages to “rock” on stage. Fast paced, driving-beats – the whole nine yards.
What we have here first is “Captured,” a double-album released in 1981, recorded during the previous year’s tour in support of the album “Departure.” This live collection marked founding member Gregg Rolie’s last participation with the band.
Its opponent? The recent release “Live in Houston 1981: The Escape Tour.” On the heels of their now legendary album “Escape” with new keyboardist and songwriter Jonathan Cain, Journey is starting to become a true chart favorite. The crowd’s a little more screamy-giddy, and there’s more in the way of slower, sappier songs. They can still speed it up and rock like before, though. “Houston” was also recorded on video and shown on MTV at the time. With this album came a DVD release of the concert as well.
Let’s see what we have to work with on “Captured” first, shall we?Track listing
1 – Majestic (0:41)
2 – Where Were You (3:22)
3 – Just the Same Way (3:37)
4 – Line of Fire (3:25)
5 – Lights (3:30)
6 – Stay Awhile (3:15)
7 – Too Late (3:41)
8 – Dixie Highway (6:51)
9 – Feeling That Way (3:14)
10 – Anytime (4:27)
11 – Do You Recall (3:26)
12 – Walks Like a Lady (7:05)
13 – La Do Da (7:02)
14 – Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’ (5:14)
15 – Wheel in the Sky (5:03)
16 – Any Way You Want It (3:39)
17 – The Party’s Over (Hopelessly In Love) (3:43)
“Majestic” is a small instrumental piece used to open the show which quickly and cleanly segues to the awesome opener, “Where Were You.” They’ve used this other times to open concerts, and it’s a great way to build up to the excitement, with the instruments joining in gradually and Steve Perry running out when things reach a fever pitch. Things plow on ‘til we slow down with “Lights” and the resulting two songs. They’re performed with a zeal that makes it more bouncy and fun than their album counterparts, which is a perfect way to change paces without totally bogging things down. “Too Late” is a highlight as well – a version that surpasses its recorded version.
Where this album loses points are the tracks that devolve into jam/improvisation sessions. When you got the crowd in the palm of your hand, it feels weird slowing down for some self-congratulatory wankery. Ooh, you can play the drums fast. FREE BIRD!!! Or something.
The set concludes with a studio track, which is among my top 3 favorite Journey tunes of all time, “The Party’s Over.” It bears mentioning the tracks that make up this album come from three different venues – the Montreal Forum, Tokyo, and Cobo Hall in my home state of Michigan. The album was broken up into two records initially, so the fading out and change of locale (albeit unannounced) sort of hurts the pace as well.
Now on to “Live in Houston:”Track listing
1 – Escape (5:35)
2 – Line of Fire (3:13)
3 – Lights (2:58)
4 – Stay Awhile (3:00)
5 – Open Arms (3:15)
6 – Mother Father (5:20)
7 – Jonathan Cain Solo (1:54)
8 – Who’s Cryin’ Now (5:39)
9 – Where Were You (4:19)
10 – Steve Smith Solo (3:51)
11 – Dead or Alive (4:01)
12 – Don’t Stop Believin’ (4:07)
13 – Stone in Love (5:14)
14 – Keep on Runnin’ (4:01)
15 – Neal Schon Solo (1:59)
16 – Wheel in the Sky (6:05)
17 – Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’ (4:38)
18 – Any Way You Want It (3:46)
19 – The Party’s Over (Hopelessly In Love) (4:06)
As you can see, peppered in here are the then-new singles that became synonymous with the band over time – “Open Arms,” “Don’t Stop Believin’,” etc. The points off here are pretty straight forward. Of the songs I had never heard before, “Dead or Alive” was awful...“Mother Father” however, made me check out the studio version, and the cut on this album is superior.
The solos get their own tracks here, and check out something – Steve Smith’s their drummer. And he gets nearly FOUR MINUTES. He had a neat little thing that lasts 90 seconds and the crowd went nuts. Then he kept playing…and playing…and playing. Almost made me want to switch on the radio. The rest of the solos keep with the energy of the previous song and lead into the next…and I know Steve’s a respected drummer and all, but for Pete’s sake…
So how do they stack up? What are the scores? Well like how Ed McMahon might have read a young starlet’s star count on “Star Search” (say that three times fast) we have “Captured” in with…
Four and a quarter stars, and “Live in Houston” gets…
Four and a HALF stars! Cue whatever applause and triumphant fanfares you have. Ultimately, while “Captured” is cooler and has a more rockin’ feel, its pacing issues are far more damaging to the album as a cohesive whole than they are in “Houston.” The latter album does have the advantage of being mostly from one show, save for the final track, helping to ease that problem.
Both albums are nearly an hour and twenty minutes long – an incredible blast of incredible performances. Each one’s worth a listen even if you only half-like Journey. But if you have to get just one, it’d ultimately be “Houston.” More accessible to those who only know the band from the radio, anyway. There’s even a set out now that has the DVD and CD audio in one set for about the same price as each of those elements alone, too.