Lethargy hits Munich like a damp cloud most Saturday afternoons. The shops are closed by one, the bars and discotheques won't be jumping 'til dark. If your folks live in town, then Saturday afternoon is a slice of zwetschgendatschi, a cup of coffee and a talk about how the nieces and nephews are growing up. The rootless shuffle in peaceful, sleepy hordes through the town centre or sit by fountains, lie in the park, wait for something to happen
Meanwhile, this particular Saturday afternoon, Nightmare Inc, management and direction company for Journey, America's biggest touring band, as sitting up at the Circus Krone with a positivism and enthusiasm that transcends routine Californian sunnyness.
Like Mao's army marching to a common cause, as the band runs through a sound check, as roadies scuttle, as lighting rigs are strung up, the word in the air is "all praise to the vision and humanity of our leader." Our leader is Walter J. "Herbie" Herbert, president of Nightmare Inc, former guitar roadie for Santana, and mastermind of Journey's rise to prominence.
It was Herbert who pieced the band together when the original Santana imploded, taking guitarist Neal Schon and keyboard player Gregg Rolie with him and adding bassist Ross Valory from The Steve Miller Band. It was Herbert who found singer Steve Perry, whose addition has clearly boosted the band's teen appeal. It was Herbert who launched the Journey merchandising campaign which has since "gone platinum in T shirts" and so on
Herbert, a rotund bundle of energy gifted with the ability to talk any opposition into the ground, waxes almost poetic on the subject of Journey's craftsmanship. Neal Schon believes there is no greater manager in rock 'n' roll. The road crew speak with pride of their involvement. "I had dinner with Perry and Gregg recently," percussion roadie Benny Collins tells me, "and made the mistake of telling somebody that I worked for Journey. Steve and Gregg said 'No you don't. You don't work for Journey. You work with Journey.'"
In fact, I can't find the slightest hint of dissension anywhere. Even the subject of Aynsley Dunbar only brings amused and tolerant smiles. The expatriate English musician was thrown out a year ago for allegedly playing one long drum solo throughout all their concerts and the matter is currently in the law courts.
Irritations, it seems, can only stem from matters outside the family's immediate control, for example, the press. A recent industry spotlight on the group in Billboard magazine has sparked a mini-spate of attacks depicting the band as well-heeled marketing executives. And Neal Schon, who was playing with B.B. King and Elvin Bishop at San Francisco's Fillmore West when he was 14, does not feel like he made it this far on the back of tee-shirt sales. And, of course, he has a point.
"It's always Journey, rich band blah blah blah," he says, "so I've kinda given up talking to the press. And bad reviews, good reviews, it don't make a difference. I see the reaction of the people, man, night after night, and there's nothing jive about that. That is an honest communication between the band and the audience, and is the thing that keeps my motor running'.
"Okay, we have our business trip together, too, but what is wrong with that? We're probably the only band in rock that's not being ripped off. I like money, I like to have it. I like to be able to buy a new guitar when I want one, but that's about it. This band is in it for the music, anything else is secondary."
Still, the secondary affairs are undoubtedly oiling the turnover as Saturday afternoon dribbles into Saturday afternoon and T shirts, buttons, albums and booklets are eagerly consumed. It looks like January sales to me, but the guy in the booth indicates that it's only "so-so" by usual standards.
From the moment the group takes the stage, the crown is up, pumping the air with closed fists and peace signs or holding lighters aloft, doing all the things that audiences are supposed to do while Journey do all the things that a major league hard rock group is supposed to do.
Steve Smith, a much more elementary drummer than Dunbar, slams home a brutal four/four. Steve Perry skips around the front of the stage in a white tail coat, slaps hand to hips, mimes a guitar solo, shakes the outstretched hand to a fan or two.
The sound in the place is abominable; the Circus Krone, unfortunately, was built for lions and tigers and acrobats and not for rock 'n' roll.
But Perry is saddled with words of almost monumental banality: "She walks like a lady/she moves like a lady/she loves like a lady/she cries like a baby." Hey, this is 1980!
All the more unfortunate, too, since Walks Like A Lady is structurally the best song in Journey's set, and one of the few which breaks free of the dynamically unvarying pounding heaviness of the metal syndrome. The record version played to death on German radio is a piece of fluff by comparison with the stage rendition, which begins like southside Chicago blues with fine interplay between Rolie and Schon, progresses through various solos, including a melodic bass feature from Valory and the standard rock work out from Smith, but reaches its highest point in an unaccompanied and cacophonous solo from Schon, extremely free and fast with smears of notes and harmonics punctuated by whip-cracking feedback. Of course, the omnipresent ghost of Jimi Hendrix is waiting in the wings, built on this occasion, I believe he's applauding too.
Meanwhile, the band plays on, and the audience gets crazy. Perry takes over keyboards while Rolie delivers a strong mouth harp solo in Precious Time and the biggest response is for Wheel In The Sky, a kind of singalong which seems tailor-made for the boot stomping element in the German audience. Somehow, I'm left unmoved. Journey's musicianship is quite strong, they'll probably knock the metal crowd at the Rainbow on its collective ear, but being pack leaders of a generally uninspired and unimaginative pack seems, to me at least, like a hollow sort of success.
I say as much to Carl Leighton-Pope, the band's European agent, also along for the ride, who says that the trouble with rock journalists is that they only ever review bands in terms of their own trivial likes and dislikes and are never able to look at a rock band for what it actually is.
I tell him that I think he's absolutely right.
© Melody Maker, 1980