Two reviews from Friday nights, Van Halen show in Buffalo, NY…
Roth-led Van Halen Roars Back in Town with High-powered Rock
By Jeff Miers
Eddie Van Halen arrived on stage at the First Niagara Center on Friday night with a huge grin plastered to his face. That grin stayed put for the next two hours, as the revered, iconic guitarist led his brother Alex and son Wolfgang through a rapid-fire set of stone-cold classics, a handful from Van Halen’s new effort, “A Different Kind of Truth,” and a select few deep cuts culled from the VH catalog.
For the first time in 28 years, Van Halen played Buffalo with original singer David Lee Roth manning the front of the stage. Roth appeared more than pleased to be back in the position he passed on to Sammy Hagar in the mid-1980s.
Though, at 57, Roth has trouble hitting the highest of the high notes he mapped rather handily as a young man, on Friday, he worked the stage like an overly caffeinated hybrid of Mick Jagger and Al Jolson. Roth is a hoot and a holler, a song and dance man with a streak of vaudeville schmaltz a mile wide, and a performer willing and able to tread the fine line between ironic implication and straight-up rock ’n’ roll passion.
Taking the stage with its take on the Kinks classic “You Really Got Me Now,” Van Halen tore it up as if the intervening years with Hagar in the house had never even taken place. They played nary a note of music from the Hagar tenure, instead playing a 20-plus song set from its Rothera albums. No one who’d coughed up money for a ticket to the show seemed to mind a bit.
Roth worked the stage in newsboy cap, leather pants, scarf and ubertight waistcoat, an outfit as charmingly bizarre as the man himself. The singer pretty much killed it up until the point of “Romeo Delight,” a song from the “Women and Children First” album that burns by at a dizzying tempo. Here, Roth had trouble catching up to Alex Van Halen’s insistent grove. But as he’d do at various points over the course of the two-hour set, Roth covered for himself quite well—it often appeared as if he viewed all of this as just a grand excuse for a party, and hey, how about that guitar player, folks?
Eddie Van Halen has a lot to smile about these days. He’s recovered from hip replacement surgery and a bout with cancer that necessitated the removal of a portion of his tongue. He also seems to have conquered the demons that were clearly plaguing him when the band briefly reunited with Hagar for a 2004 tour that included a Buffalo date. Back then, Eddie appeared disoriented, disheveled, out of it, his peerless guitar playing reduced to a muddled mess.
Not so on Friday, when the guitarist simply nailed everything he attempted, from the volume-knob swells and speed-drill picking that punctuate the solo during “Somebody Get Me a Doctor,” to the dizzying virtuosity evident in his right-hand fretboard tapping legato bursts — the new song “China Town” commenced with one of these frenzied etudes, as did the old favorite “Hot for Teacher.”
The latter offered the rowdy (considering what appeared to be a median age of 40), packed house a master-class in Van Halen-isms—the ridiculously virtuosic Alex Van Halen drum intro; Eddie’s buoyant fretboard-tapping motif atop his brother’s machine-gun swing; and Roth’s witticisms, double-entendres and soulful swagger.
Essentially a big band jazz tune played as face-melting metal, Friday night’s “Hot for Teacher” drove home the differences between Van Halen and the countless bands who’ve attempted to rip them off over the years — this stuff swings, is lithe and moves with a dancer’s grace. It is not, despite its heaviness, music for meatheads.
Of the new songs from “A Different Kind of Truth” performed on Friday, the strongest was the progressive hard rock/pop nugget “The Trouble With Never.” The song offered ample opportunity for a display of Eddie and Wolfgang’s prowess in the vocal harmony department. The father-son duo sounded wonderful together, with Wolfgang handling the high harmony formerly the terrain of his predecessor in the band, original member Michael Anthony.
Though video evidence from the band’s first reunion with Roth in 2007 suggests that the then 16-year-old Wolfgang was a bit tentative on stage; at 20, he’s owning his gig, big time. His bass playing was consistently solid, in lockstep with his uncle Alex, and sometimes mirrored his father’s fleet-fingered virtuosity. And his harmony vocals — from “Dance the Night Away” to “Hear About It Later,” “(Oh) Pretty Woman” to “Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love” — were right on the money.
The Van Halen “lifers” — hard-core fans who’d been waiting for decades to see the Roth-led band on the concert stage—were treated to a pair of “deep cuts” toward the end of the set. “Women in Love,” a gem buried on side two of the “Van Halen II” album, was performed in all of its harmony-laden glory, and featured — surprise, surprise! — an absolutely brilliant guitar solo.
Eddie’s extended rendition of themes emerging from his “Eruption” solo provided one of the show’s highest highs. The guitarist has lost absolutely nothing in terms of technique, and gained much in terms of soulfulness, phrasing, taste and maturity.
Many were surely scratching their heads over the inclusion, at Roth’s behest, of funk-soul-disco-R&B collective Kool & the Gang on Friday’s Van Halen bill. But the band offered the perfect appetizer for the main course of Van Halen music, working the crowd with masterful showmanship, and by set’s end, turning First Niagara Center into a dance party.
Led by founder/bassist Robert “Kool” Bell, and fronted by singer/ guitarist and Lackawanna native Shawn McQuiller, the 11-piece ensemble played a hit-packed set that included R&B-disco classics like “Fresh,” “Ladies Night” and “Celebration.” Roth’s hunch was right on target — Kool & the Gang was the perfect band to get the party started.
Van Halen Shows Buffalo How To Party
By David Hens
“My dear boy, do you ask a fish how it swims? Or a bird how it flies? No sirree, you don’t. They do it because they were born to do it.” – Bill, the candy store owner, in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
I quote Mel Stuart’s 1971 children’s classic “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” because, if last night’s ostentatious 22-song set from Van Halen at First Niagara Center showed us anything, it’s that Eddie Van Halen was born to play the axe at screeching volume.
From the opening gut-punch of “You Really Got Me,” it was clear that we were witnessing a new Eddie, a revitalized legend rising from the ashes of substance abuse to reclaim the glory that comes with being a guitar god.
As always, his right hand did the talking, and the capacity crowd soaked up every incendiary riff he threw at them. Staples such as “Unchained,” “Hot for Teacher,” and “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” crackled with every bit of Southern California ribaldry we expect from the group who lit up the Starwood during the late 1970s.
Given that this tour marks the first time since 1984 that the band has promoted a new album with original vocalist David Lee Roth, the expectations are certainly high, but all four members brought their A-game to Buffalo.
“Diamond” Dave prances across the stage like a modern-day Vaudevillian whose sole purpose is to entertain to no end, and he’s simply a blast to watch. Whether it was twirling a baton or giving the crowd a 12-second glimpse of his Mexican dancing skills, the guy still knows how to give ‘em hell across the board.
Of course, we’re bound to hear complaints regarding his inability to yowl as if it was 1978, but such a criticism is, in my opinion, unfair. He’s 56, and his vocal range can’t be expected to remain the same forever, so his performance last night was killer in every aspect.
If you’re someone who is going to waste their breath pointing out how he doesn’t sound like he used to, I have news for you. He doesn’t. Nor should he, because this is a new era, and the guys are too busy promoting a supreme new album to be bothered with petty detractors.
Speaking of “A Different Kind of Truth,” tracks such as “She’s the Woman,” “China Town,” and “The Trouble With Never” really come alive on stage, and even the underwhelming first single “Tattoo” manages to transcend its radio-friendly charm to become quite engaging.
With Wolfgang Van Halen finally settling into his duties on bass, the 2012 version of Van Halen feels right on every level, because the egos have been shoved aside, and they’re enjoying each other’s company once again.
Say what you will about the departure of Michael Anthony, but he’s missed less and less every time they set foot on stage. Wolfgang and Alex Van Halen form a mighty rhythm section that anchors the ship at every turn, while rounding out a fully realized group in the process.
Both the guitar and drum solos were mouth-wateringly awesome in their own way, and even Dave’s soliloquy about his beloved dogs before “Ice Cream Man” was enough to keep the gathered on their feet.
Having funk outfit Kool and the Gang open the show with party anthems such as “Ladies Night,” “Get Down on It,” and “Celebration” was an interesting choice, but one that ultimately set the tone for an evening predicated on grandiose amusement.
The fact that Roth himself hand-picked them to be the warm-up act shows his affinity for the party atmosphere, and, needless to say, Buffalo was ready to answer the call.
*This review was brought to you by the year 2012.
Here’s the set list:
1. You Really Got Me
2. Runnin’ With the Devil
3. She’s the Woman
4. Romeo Delight
6. Everybody Wants Some!!
7. Somebody Get Me a Doctor
8. China Town
9. Hear About it Later
10. [Oh!] Pretty Woman
12. The Trouble With Never
13. I’ll Wait
14. Dance the Night Away
15. Hot For Teacher
16. Women in Love
17. Girl Gone Bad
18. Beautiful Girls
20. Ice Cream Man
21. Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love