On March 25th 1979, two days after the release of their second album, Van Halen kicked off their very first headlining tour!
On the first world tour a year earlier, Van Halen were like caged animals on stage, touring as the opening act for Black Sabbath and Journey. 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 set’s all too abrupt end. Fortunately, this would soon change.
Dubbed the “1979 World Vacation” tour – their stage setup boasted 33 tons of equipment including a 22 ton 10,000 watt sound system and 10 tons and 444,000 watts of lighting. The road crew consisted of a 24-person technical team and a personal security team. The band used two custom coaches, a Lear jet, and three 44-foot semi-trucks to move the production from city to city.
Rabid Van Halen fans rivaled the band’s own tales of destruction demolishing eight stage barricades in the first six weeks of the tour.
Alex was now regularly lighting his drum kit on fire. Just before the final encore each night, lighter fluid was applied to all of his drumheads. His drum tech would then hand him a pair of mallets soaked in fluid and lit. The effect was nothing short of spectacular. One night, however, a little too much fluid was used and Alex lit himself fire. The effect was retired by tour’s end.
The World Vacation kicked off in a familiar locale – the Selland Arena in Fresno, California. On this special night, Van Halen owned the stage. Thanks to D.L. Johnson, who smuggled in his 8mm video camera, as well as his stereo audio recorder, we are able to relive this night, “…Live in front of your naked steaming eyes!” Watch the historic footage below.
On Fire / Bass Solo / Feel Your Love Tonight /Aint Talkin’ `Bout Love / Guitar Solo / D.O.A. / You Really Got Me
About this footage:
In this 1979 footage, Eddie Disciples are treated to seeing 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.
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!
A great 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!
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.
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.