By Kevin Dodds
First off, two things. Number one, this was my second of three VH shows in a row and my second in a 3-day span. So, I had a solid barometer with which to measure the San Antonio show — the ass-kicking Dallas show on 6/20. Number two, this was the first time I took my own son to see Van Halen. He’s almost 10 and plays guitar already and can play quite a bit of VH (it’s a tad scary).
My older brother introduced me to VH, and he was even fortunate enough to meet Ed back in 1992. We lost my brother in 1998, and I named my son after him (he was born in 2002). So, it’s an important part of my family’s life — in the same way that some sports teams are a critical component of a lot of family’s lives, Van Halen is the same way in our family and with our friends. The band is extremely important culturally in some people’s lives. We would be those people.
I watched the Dallas show from the 18th row almost stock still and in awe. For this show, I was — at one point — jumping up and down with my fist in the air screaming “PANAMA!” It was completely different for me. Having seen them just two nights before, my focus was on the band and my son’s reaction. I told him before the show started that at some point we were going to try and get as close as we could on Ed’s side and to be prepared. After Kool & the Gang, we actually walked the route to section 119 for good measure.
I knew the moment the show was going to start — when Alex walked on the stage before the lights even went down. You could just see him right there. The moment he hits the first skin, the lights go down and come up on Alex. Then the classic tremelo bar dive bombs and harmonic screams followed. Then Dave yelled “Let’s go! Let’s go!” to get this autobahn race of a concert started. Into “Unchained” and we’re off.
The opening song went especially long — the extended musical jam in the middle is essentially a new song within a classic song. Ed and Wolfgang go on and on. Someone described this jam section before as similar to live Cream. I completely agree. If you don’t have 100% understanding of the comparison to live Cream — you have some learning to do! That would mean it would be amongst the highest levels of improvised rock jamming in history. The two men that can do it are father and son, just like the father and son watching on from the crowd. Wolfgang is so important it can’t be understated. He makes Ed so happy and proud, and, vindicated, if you know what I mean. It’s heavy stuff — this isn’t light fare or short on good drama. Throw Dave in the mix and it’s unbelievable. And, yeah, that guy on the drums is incredible as well.
“Unchained” segued into “Runnin’ with the Devil” and, as per usual, the entire crowd sang almost every single word. This tune burned fast compared to the opener. Given the lack of space between those two songs, the reaction after RWTD was overwhelming. Ed was having an issue with his mic stand and Dave initially had some trouble with his ear monitors. The mic stand seemed like it started out to be a bit of big deal, big enough where once it was fixed, Dave asked Ed out loud, “Are we alright, now? Everything alright?” Ed nodded and smiled and it was all good. Once Dave’s ear monitors were set, he looked over to the side stage monitor board and said, pointing at his ears, “That sounds perfect” while making the A-OK sign. Divas? Not in this case. Not at this show.
The show barreled on. “Everybody Wants Some” went for well over ten minutes! Dave’s “Illegal Evelyn” rap was hilarious, especially because he pulled Wolf down and addressed him directly during essentially his entire monologue. Wolf was smiling. Dave even told Wolf he was giving him advice because he knew that some day Wolfgang would have a “stellar career” of his own. He said that out loud to the entire crowd. It was a nice moment.
A lot of the crowd were thrown off by “Hear About It Later” — it was cool to see other people’s reactions. I didn’t notice it at all in Dallas, but this was a huge perk up. “Tattoo” and “She’s the Woman” were incredibly strong. I was disappointed a bit to see a lot of people treat “Chinatown” and “Trouble with Never” as bathroom break material. The breakdown middle section of “Trouble with Never” was simply epic. Ed’s feedback with delay, and Alex and Wolfgang’s heavy-steady rhythm parts were the perfect platform for Dave’s monologue, which got an excellent reception from the crowd — they were hanging on his every word. His vocals were strong throughout and his stage presence was second only to Elvis.
I did some filming from my seats in the back turn on the lower prom. But I knew that I had to get my son as close to the stage as we could for him to be totally blown away. “Women in Love” in Dallas was great, but I planned ahead and knew that was the right song and the right time for us to make our move. Obviously, for any 9-year-old, “Women in Love” goes over his head. Nevertheless, we really only missed about 45 seconds of the song. We popped up in section 119 and found a span of open seats much closer to the stage. We settled in for the second half of WIL and realized we were barely 50 feet from the stage, if that. It did work. My son’s eyes got really, really wide! The guys were literally right there. “Ice Cream Man” was again totally epic, but I have to say, the Dallas version of ICM seriously takes the cake. That was absolutely crazy.
We got to watch Ed’s solo from extremely close and I filmed the entire thing. The incredible blessing was the rail right in front of us. I balanced my camera on the rail — no shaky video this time! (You can see what I captured on youtube [user kbd3].) He went on for eight and a half minutes, before kicking into “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love.” I took my son’s picture with the band in the background, but a super nice lady behind us offered to take our picture together. She did an excellent job framing the band between us.
During “Panama,” I finally just completely lost it and was rocking out like I was 12 again. I was literally jumping up and down screaming and yelling. I didn’t decide to do it. It was just time. I was compelled. You HAD to jump up and down!!!
“Jump” in San Antonio was incredible. They started out the song with Dave hugging Eddie pretending to make his arms move while Ed laughed out loud. It is exactly this kind of interaction, when observed from really close, that lets you know just how good these guys are with each other. I mean, my god, Dave and Eddie first started making music together in 1973. Their connection is deep — what they have accomplished together is so significant. It was underlined at the conclusion of the show. I watched my own son look on in pure wonderment at the confetti falling, his face as bright and giddy as I had ever seen it. As the band walked off stage right in front of our faces (we moved even closer for “Jump”), I yelled to my boy, “That’s Eddie Van Halen right there!” I, of course, was acting like the child. As if he didn’t realize that the man was right there! I just had to underscore the fact that we were looking directly at the man that my close friend says is essentially as important as seeing Jimi Hendrix.
The 2012 incarnation of Van Halen is one fantastic thing to behold. At first, those of us going to the last shows were the great unfortunates. We had to wait so damn long. But it’s turned out to be the opposite. We are the incredibly fortunate — the quality of the shows upon the conclusion of the first leg is proving to be nothing short of amazing. What is so incredible is the fact that in this modern era, you’re free to capture what you’re seeing for yourself to rewatch later to affirm what you were seeing when you saw it! If they only, had digital cameras in 1984…
Kevin Dodds is the author of Edward Van Halen: A Definitive Biography.