From The Washington Post:
By Dave McKenna
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, November 3, 2007
As sure as the rivers will flow and the sun will rise, David Lee Roth will get canned from Van Halen. Again, that is — just as he was canned in 1985.But for more than two hours at Verizon Center on Thursday, Roth was in the fold, and the giggles were back. By the time Roth yelled, “We’re back! I heard you missed us!,” as Eddie Van Halen plucked the golden riff that carries “Hot for Teacher,” it was clear that hard rock was never more fun than when these guys were making it together.
Roth, now 52, described the current Van Halen lineup as “three-quarters original and one-quarter inevitable,” the originals being himself and Eddie and Alex Van Halen. The inevitable is ingenue bassist Wolfgang Van Halen, the teenage son of the onetime “It” couple Eddie Van Halen and Valerie Bertinelli. (During a brief walk-through of the arena, proud mom Bertinelli, now a spokeswoman for Jenny Craig, got more cheers than the Van Halen dirigibles that floated above the crowd just before showtime.)
The night had flaws, for sure. The sound mix was often horrendous, with Wolfgang’s bass muddy from first note to last. And although every audience member knew every word and how and when it should be sung, Roth occasionally seemed lost: He missed every vocal cue on “Jump,” rendering perhaps the band’s trademark tune unlistenable.
But the minuses got pancaked by the pluses. The old guys were far fitter than tabloid reports indicated. Since the first parting with Roth, Eddie has survived: oral cancer, a hip replacement, the breakups of his marriage and his partnerships with Sammy Hagar and original bassist Michael Anthony, and enough trips to rehab to embarrass Lindsay Lohan. He didn’t even show up at Van Halen’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction this year, reportedly because of health issues. But here he was at 52 shirtless and so ripped you could see every tendon in his upper body whenever he launched himself off the drum riser for any of his countless flying split kicks.
Eddie’s fingers can still walk, too. For “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love,” he nailed the solo break that, back in 1978, announced him to the pop world. By now, other folks have adopted his fret-tapping, hyper-fast playing style, and even surpassed him in technique. Then again, Picasso wasn’t the only guy ever to paint a bent nose: Eddie introduced tapping to the dirtball masses and thereby changed the way electric guitar was played.
Roth, too, flaunted a physique that can come only from a diet of tofu and pull-ups. Roth let his Dirty Dave side hold court for most of the night. He told the crowd he was “lookin’ for my own Hannah Montana!” during “Running With the Devil.” He stuffed a fan’s cellphone into his leather pants during “Everybody Wants Some,” then launched into a monologue that had him telling an imaginary partner to “Lose the dress, keep the shoes.” All in fun, mind you.
Roth dropped the nutty act only briefly, while introducing “Ice Cream Man,” as he recounted how great life was when he first joined the band in the early 1970s and they charged $1 a head to play local house parties.
The band’s melding of gaiety and ingenuity was clearest during “Panama.” While Roth frolicked and led the crowd in a screamalong of the title, Eddie and Wolfgang sang falsetto harmonies. Like much of the band’s vintage output, it mixed the power-chord crunch of the heaviest metal with the high-lonesome angst of bluegrass. Nobody before or since ever made such a sound.
I have seen Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth each in concert before – just never together. My first Eddie experience was during the Van Hagar Right Here Right Now Tour of 1993, and I saw Roth about a decade later with his own band performing a killer set of classic Van Halen songs, much like the set I saw last night.
So finally, after 22 years, and a couple of false starts, Eddie and Dave were able to set aside their many differences and regroup the original Van Halen, well almost, and embark on this short North American tour. The almost factor, as we all know, comes from the fact that Eddie unceremoniously dismissed original Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony from the band, in favor of his 16-year-old prodigy son Wolfgang – also the son of 70’s TV icon Valerie Bertinelli.
Now this has really rubbed me, and obviously many other long-time Van Halen fans, the wrong way. If it took 22 years, and damn near an act of God, to get Dave and Eddie to tour together again, at least put the original band together again. It is just so rare to have such a legendary band, with a 30-year history, have the opportunity to tour with the original lineup while they are still near the top of their game. Rush and Aerosmith are about the only other good examples.
Besides, I really wanted to see Anthony play that Jack Daniels bass solo while swilling a bottle of said beverage.
Well, this didn’t really detract too many of us fans from wanting to see the old-school Van Halen again. Eddie was fresh out of rehab, with a new set of veneers, and looking fitter than ever. Wolfe had honed his bass skills, and vocals, to match just about anything Anthony ever laid to vinyl. Alex was still the drum monster he has always been. And Roth could transform into that old Diamond Dave, minus the long hair and flying splits, at the drop of a dime.
I went online to purchase my tickets the minute they went on sale, and was only able to score a couple of nosebleed seats for the Verizon Center show. It sold out in a manner of hours. At least I was directly facing the stage, although about a hundred rows up – so it seemed. I think they were the same shitty seats I had for that one Washington Capitols hockey game I attended.
Ky-Mani Marley, yet another Bob Marley son to carry on the family tradition, served as opening act for this show, and he and his talented reggae band laid down a very impressive 30-minute set. But did you hear what I just said? A reggae band opening for Van Halen? World’s preeminent hard rock band, Van Halen? I wasn’t the only one with a puzzled look smacked across my face either. I’d just rather see these guys headlining in a club, instead of opening an arena rock concert.
As the crew finished readying the stage for Van Halen, the anticipation in the crowd was building to a frenzy. Finally, the arena lights were killed and a massive swirl of colored spot lights were met by Eddie’s massive wall of guitar. A few seconds later the band hit the stage running with their famous Kinks’ cover “You Really Got Me”.
The stage was very modestly designed and the centerpiece was a huge S-shaped ramp that started above, behind, and to the right of Alex’s drum kit, snaked its way around to the middle of the stage, and completed the bottom of the curve about 15 rows out into the audience. A single, huge video screen stretched across the entire back of the stage, which helped us less fortunate ticket holders. The light show was not all that spectacular either, with the only real spark coming from a cool green laser light display, but even that got old after being used in the same manner over and over again. I expected a little better.
That big S-ramp turned out to be a pretty big waste of scenery as well, since Roth was the only one to occasionally took a stroll out into the audience section, to rub elbows with the fans. Wolfgang, on a couple of occasions, made his way up to the top level, such as when he opened “Runnin’ With the Devil” with those thunderous bass notes, but for some reason Eddie’s guitar setup was wired, and his movement was severely restricted by this huge guitar chord that he kept getting tangled in. He only ever made it a few feet out over the audience during his guitar solo towards the end of the set.
The setlist was pretty much a Roth-era Van Halen fan’s wet dream. Every song but two from their legendary debut album was trotted out this night, and most of the best songs from each of the other five albums, up through 1984, were also performed. Before the show was over, 24 songs, along with extended drum and guitar solos from the brothers Van Halen would be performed, bringing the concert running time to over two hours.
Eddie’s live guitar playing can get pretty sloppy at times – sloppy like Hendrix and Page could be. Not bad company. I’m quite sure Eddie could knock out spot-on versions of each of these songs if he chose to, but he will get caught up in energy and vibe of the show and just let it fly with faster tempos, extra notes, missed notes, whatever feels right at the time. You’ll be waiting to hear a famous riff played a certain way, and Eddie will slightly change it around or deemphasize a main component. Take “Hot for Teacher” for example. It sounded damn near twice as fast as the already breakneck pace of the original version, but I think that the band just got caught up with the overwhelming crowd response and the heat of the moment.
I was surprised at how good young Wolfgang sounded on Michael Anthony’s famous harmony vocal parts. He sounded almost TOO good, which had me wondering if some kind of recorded vocal tracks might be involved. Who knows?. He and Eddie would usually team up on the parts, and they sounded excellent throughout the show. Diamond Dave was also in fine form this night. His vocals have held up very well, and he was as charismatic and engaging as ever – although his karate kicks are not quite as high as they once used to be.
The sound at the Verizon Center was not very good. I’m not sure if that can mostly be attributed to a bad sound mix, poor building acoustics, or the fact that I was almost in the top row of the arena. Probably a combination of all of them. I have mostly attended amphitheater, club, and theater shows this year, where the sound has typically been very good, so my ears could be a little bit biased against this hockey arena mix.
All in all, it was an amazing experience to finally see the original (almost) Van Halen in concert for the first time. Eddie and Dave seemed to display genuine camaraderie up there on stage together, so who knows where this tour may lead them. One more good Van Halen album would certainly be nice though.
01. You Really Got Me
02. I’m the One
03. Runnin’ With the Devil
04. Romeo Delight
05. Somebody Get Me a Doctor
06. Beautiful Girls
07. Dance the Night Away
08. Atomic Punk
09. Everybody Wants Some
10. So This Is Love?
11. Mean Street
12. Pretty Woman
13. Drum Solo
15. I’ll Wait
16. And the Cradle Will Rock
17. Hot for Teacher
18. Little Dreamer
19. Little Guitars
20. Jamie’s Cryin’
21. Ice Cream Man
23. Guitar Solo
24. Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love