A look at the upgraded 1979 Fresno footage
Posted by Scott Gilbert, VHND’s bootleg connoisseur, 4/20/10
Recently, the VHND brought you the first of two installments on the recently released upgrades of Van Halen’s performances at the Selland Arena in Fresno, California from September 22nd, 1978 (23 total minutes of footage)and March 25th, 1979 (32 minutes). We recounted the captivating story of the filmer, D.L. Johnson and learned the tricks and methods he incorporated to capture and transfer these historical recordings. Since so little footage from the first two tours actually exists in the hands of collectors and absolutely *zero* footage currently exists on retail shelves from this era for the dyed-in-the-wool Van Halen fans to purchase, this footage is an even more precious piece of history that chronicles their rise to Rock Royalty.
Utilizing the sights and sounds that were preserved by DJ’s tapes, we’re finally able to see just how powerful and ground breaking Van Halen truly was. Though each member of the band played an intricate part in building the Van Halen Dynasty, it was Edward Van Halen’s molten guitar mastery and boyish grin combined with David Lee Roth’s raw, animal stage presence and “Pied Piper-esque” ability to lead his audience on the journey of his choosing that truly catapulted the band to the top. This week, we’ll add footage from the second show from March of 1979 to our menu and place it under the microscope to reveal the many nuggets of Van Halen lore that are stored within their prized frames.
Van Halen were like caged animals on stage during their first tour. Limited to a brief 30 to 40 minute slot each night (often sabotaged by the envious headline acts who dreaded following their younger, more aggressive upstarts), it’s obvious that the band members were just getting into their collective groove by the sets all too abrupt end. Fortunately, this would soon change.
In 1979, on the eve of the release of their second album, Van Halen kicked off their “1979 World Vacation” tour in a familiar locale: the Selland Arena in Fresno, California. On this special night, Van Halen owned the stage and once again, thanks to D.L. Johnson, we are able to relive this night, “…Live in front of your naked steaming eyes!”
In the previous video from 1978, we were treated to seeing Eddie playing the original, “Frankenstrat” in its original black and white striped pattern, before he added the more recognizable coat of red paint and added reflectors, quarters and the Floyd Rose to its road-worn construction. After putting “old faithful” through its paces during, what many fans have described as one of the dirtiest, raunchiest versions of “Eruption” ever captured on tape or film, the sonic dive-bombs and over-extended string bends had taken their toll on his instrument. It’s at this point that Eddie reaches back into his original effects rack which consisted of a World War 1 bomb housing, and cranks the dial on his Echoplex tape echo unit to create the looping, almost “war siren” like sound at the end of the classic solo. He is then handed the classic “Shark” Ibanez Destroyer to launch into their current hit, “You Really Got Me”. This guitar was originally given to Eddie by Chris Holmes of the metal band W.A.S.P. in the early 70s. Eddie decided he wanted to do some customizing to the guitar and took a chainsaw to the body, both creating its unique design and, according to Eddie himself, ruining the sound of the guitar. You wouldn’t know that from listening to the multitude of songs he recorded on their first album as well as the amazing tone in the live video from 1978!
With the addition of the 1979 footage, Eddie Disciples are treated to seeing Edward using a wider variety of his early, classic axes. As the show opens we see Eddie playing the white Charvel Star guitar before it was painted black with his trademark white stripes for the 1980 tour.
The latter videos in the series from ‘79 show Edward playing a true rarity: The Charvel Destroyer guitar he had his friend, John Sterry, carve into the form of a dragon biting a snake. This guitar was featured prominently on the cover of the January 1981 issue of Guitar World Magazine and Eddie spoke about the guitar in the April 1980 Guitar Player cover story as well. To the Edward Van Halen aficionado, these live glimpses of their hero playing the legendary guitars most young strummers (like myself) grew up seeing in the pages of CREEM, Hit Parader, Circus and Guitar Player Magazines (just to name a select few), hearing these iconic instruments being put through their paces by the master on stage is likened to a spiritual revival! It’s nothing short of a divine experience.
As a band, we can see a much more confident and cocky David Lee Roth (if that’s even possible!) in what can only be described as “Monkey Hour”. He’s a fireball of energy, delivering a performance he had honed from years of watching the moves of Jim Dandy of Black Oak Arkansas, but taking it several leaps further. The sharp-eyed observer will notice that after opening the show in red with silver, sequined spandex pants, “Diamond Dave” returns to the stage after Michael’s bass solo wearing bright yellow and black pants and a blue shirt slung over his shoulders and then coming out for their closing encore in a full length, silver hooded robe that he quickly throws off to reveal studded, silver pants and criss-crossed suspenders as he launches into their staple closer, “You Really Got Me”. This aspect of Roth’s showmanship is testament to his awareness and mastery of the theatrical, “Razzle-Dazzle” aspect of his performance. Utilizing his microphone cable as a bullwhip, executing spine-crushing backbends and gyrating his way across the stage, he is truly the consummate “Toastmaster General of the Immoral Majority”!
The initial headlining performance also sees the early development of Dave’s onstage rap that became just as much of a staple of every Van Halen show as the other instrumental solo spots of the night. In 1978, Dave’s story telling is more scripted than improv; more of a song lead-in than the interactive banter with his minions. His delivery is much more scripted and streamlined. This was most likely Dave creating the nucleus of the “Diamond Dave” role while also only having a limited amount of time on stage to deliver. In 1979, the “Dave Solo” was nearly honed to an art form all to itself. During their first tour in ’78, time was of the essence. But when they were headlining in ’79, they had all the time in the world and it’s clear that Van Halen succeeded in packing their sets full of energy, intensity and unbridled power!
In the first clip from this week’s video feature from 1979, we start off with a 8mm film reel that was never included on the circulating copies of the footage from March 25th, 1979. According to the taper, it was left out due to, “…camera operator incompetence!” None the less, here we have the earliest live version of “Light Up the Sky” that has ever circulated among collectors! We’re also treated to a rambunctious version of “Running with the Devil” in which both Dave and Michael Anthony provide a classic array of trademark yelps and screams as only they could deliver.
1) Light Up The Sky / Running With The Devil
(Part 1 is somewhat out of focus. Eddie’s playing the white Charvel Star guitar):
Another aspect of early Van Halen live shows that was all but abandoned in the post-Roth era were the extended jams that were intermixed throughout the show. In the 1978 footage, we see the band go into a bluesy jam in the middle of “You Really Got Me”, showing Eddie and Alex’s early influence of bands like Cream, extending a segment of a song and just building off of it on the fly. In 1979, we can see this with the percussion jam in the middle of “Feel Your Love Tonight” as just one example. The band members climb the drum riser and surround Alex, each grabbing a stick and banging on a drum as Alex breaks down a rhythm. This was just another example in a long line of spots in the Van Halen show that left the fans enraptured, on their feet and wanting more. It was the spectacle. The excitement. The show was the main event and you were part of it!
2) On Fire / Bass Solo / Feel Your Love Tonight
(Clearer footage than part 1. Eddie’s playing the Shark & Dragon guitar)
Eddie’s solo in 1979 is quite unique in that this was the tour when “Spanish Fly” was the “new” solo, so instead of incorporating “Eruption” into his guitar spotlight, he utilized the structure of the nylon stringed, acoustic solo on record and morphed it into almost what you might call. “Eruption: Part 2”. Pulling out some of the riffs he utilized in the club days and combining it with his Hendrix inspired feedback frenzy, grinding his guitar against the wall of speakers, we’re witness to a variation of Ed’s guitar solo that was never to be heard again.
3) Aint Talkin’ `Bout Love / Eruption / D.O.A.
Even though the camera is focused more on Eddie and Dave, it is evident that Michael Anthony seems to be much more animated and active on stage as well. Possibly, it was the previous years worth of touring which had seemingly taught him the differences between the art of performing on the club stage versus performing on the BIG stage.
Alex, as always, is a powerhouse behind the kit. In the ’78 footage, we get a slight glimpse of Alex’s show closing drum barrage with his drum sticks ablaze, but it’s mostly blocked by fans standing and blocking the video of the lens. Unfortunately, due to the camera angle of the ’79 footage, Alex is mostly obscured from view. Nonetheless, you can not deny the thunderous drive of the elder Van Halen’s back beat!
We could go on for hours and recant the event, dissecting each frame to uncover more and more gems, which in all honesty is what drives the collector to be “completeists” and gather every possible known piece of footage in existence. Those who were there can smell the air, feel the pulse of the arena piercing their bodies as a smile crosses their lips. Those who weren’t there are given a brief window into a time when rock ‘n roll was still unpredictable, exciting and fresh. There was nothing “Put On” about Van Halen. There was nothing “Corporate” about Van Halen. The members of the band were just like you: The Fan. It’s hard to believe this footage was shot over three decades ago and yet it’s still as fresh, relevant and enthralling today as it was then. Van Halen’s music truly stands the test of time in any form. This footage is a testament to that fact.