With the departure of founding father Gregg Rolie, and the acquisition of Jonathan Cain from The Babys, Journey has firmly established itself as one of the rock giants of the world.
The San Francisco group blazed through Poplar Creek September 3 and 4, before attacking Alpine Valley September 5 and 6. Along with the supporting act, Point Blank, Journey easily sold more tickets than any other major act that has passed through this area during the 1981 summer concert season.
Both Poplar Creek performances were astonishing. Each Journey member is a dedicated pro and an expert in his respective ability.
Matching the band's own dedication to their work are the fans who worship Journey loyally - album after album, show after show. And indeed, it is amazing how people react, song after song.
As previously mentioned, Jonathan Cain's addition as keyboard replacement for Journey founding member Rolie (who currently has a project with Carlos Santana in the works) - has spelled nothing but success for a band that has grown quite accustomed to that word over the last three and a half years.
The new album, Escape, is a premium chunk of rock 'n' roll vinyl. Cain's versatility as a songwriter, rhythm guitarist and keyboardist has helped create Journey's best "Steve Perry Era" album since the breakthrough, Infinity, three years ago.
Speaking of Mr. Perry, memories of his onstage awkwardness during his first tour with the band (March, 1978 - Aragon) are all but forgotten when compared to his electrifying presence of late.
He is a natural singer whose clean, high tones allow for the lyrics to be felt, as well as heard. Journey seems to be everything for the man; and this attitude carries through to the other musicians.
Although old fans may disagree (meaning first three albums) - Perry is unquestionably the visual, confident leader that critics claim Journey lacked before his arrival.
Perfection is a possible adjective that could be used to describe the live playing of Don't Stop Believin' and Stone in Love (two Escape songs that have quickly become FM radio staples).
Lead guitar Neal Schon's tasty string work is the mark of true inborn talent. His bits were dazzling; especially the little opening slot of Don't Stop Believin'.
The back-beat due of drummer Steve Smith and original bassist Ross Valory set the pace for Keep on Runnin', a real rocker that allowed Schon some space to really go wild.
Journey is equally capable of tasteful melody; and the heartening Lights came across very smoothly. Perry's eyes showed his emotion as he asked the smiling audience to join along in the chorus (they voluntarily did on several other occasions).
Cain got a chance to step up front and lead the band; singing Too Far Gone, a powerful, hard rockin' number he wrote for The Babys' final album, On The Edge. The other Journeymen seemed to enjoy seeing their new buddy get into the song.
Neal Schon again demonstrated his guitar finesse during an instrumental section. He and Cain stood alone on stage; the new keyboardist filling the background with a quiet flow - an excellent accompaniment for Neal's soaring leads. Watch for an upcoming Neal Schon solo LP which also features keyboard whiz Jan Hammer.
During Escape's big hit Who's Crying Now, Journey displayed studio perfect harmonizing. They fit the pieces of this fine love song together into a neat careful arrangement.
After a mind-blowing Dixie Highway, and the Steve Perry penned Hopelessly In Love (both are featured on Journey's double-live, Captured) - the band broke into a no keyboards/heavy metal version of the Infinity classic, Wheel in The Sky. The screaming throng demanded more and were treated to three consecutive encores which included the monster Evolution hit Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'.
Preceding Journey's near two-hour/20 song set were Texas hard rockers, Point Blank. They played a sloppy, hour-long set on opening night at Poplar Creek; but were much better the following night, when they played only forty minutes.
Original lead singer John O'Daniel is gone and has been replaced by the less Southern-sounding Bubba Keith. The end result has been a Top 40 single, Nicole, and a semi-hit new album, American Excess.
Remaining from the original lineup (first album - 1976) are lead guitarists Kim Davis and Rusty Burns. They both still kick it out loud and clear, but seem to have lost the zest they employed in their late 70s performances.
In any event, Point Blank was completely overshadowed by the expertise of Journey; who in Jonathan Cain's own words in a recent interview, ". . . may just be the next big thing since the Who or the Stones."
© Ken Keenen for Night Rock Magazine, October 1981, Transcribed by Kate