A crowd roughly the size (and appearance) of Independence, Missouri, poured into the Sprint Center last Friday night to worship at the altar of once-lusty ’80s guitar rock kings Van Halen, fronted this time around by original bitch-on-the-mic David Lee Roth.
Side note: I would not go see Van Halen unless Diamond Dave was there. I’m pretty sure that man was the main reason my parents wouldn’t let me watch MTV in the ’80s. His persona was so lecherous and trashy that him simply dancing around, doing the scissor kicks in a pair of tights and what not, mooching at the camera, etc etc inspecting women… hell, him just being himself was an affront to moral living. His successor, Sammy Hagar, on the other hand, to me, was just a chubby red dude with a porcine howl. By the time For Unlawful Carnal Kabbage and its flagship video Poundcake came out in 1991, my parents didn’t give a crap what I watched. VH and all those other bands had become so ineffectual by then that watching them made kids hate rock and roll. (Hence the rise of gangsta rap.) So, all that’s to lament how Friday night at the Sprint Center, I made the mistake of expecting Dave to be entertaining — or even really part of the show — but more on that in a minute.
Anyway, before the show, my companion the Ginger Man and I hit the Kansas City Cafe on Grand Street for a few drinks. Hilariously, they had Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo 100% blue agave tequila available. We did shots. Pretty smooth stuff. Then we drank about five beers apiece and did a couple more shots while watching the broadcast of a professional wrestling match that had (again, hilariously) been filmed at the Sprint Center three days prior (Finlay, why must you be such an asshole!?). In addition to wrestling on the flatscreen and really really nice servers, the KC Cafe offered a great deal on an all-you-can-eat buffet targeted specifically at arena goers. For about $12, you get to pop in, eat fast, good food, pop out. Next time I’ll do that instead of wolfing down a gyro from the sad, sad deli across the street, where there was either ketchup or blood on the toilet (or both) and a very sociable roach crawling on the wall.
Ginger and I were pretty lit when we passed through the metal detectors. He, having no worldly possessions, got through fine, but I was stopped because I had car keys and a cigarette lighter, because you don’t see Van Halen without a real lighter — fuck that cell phone glow. Walking around the main level of the tire-shaped arena was like being in a dream. There was a noisy throng of people in denim and black shirts and actual, honest-to-God mullets. There were QuikTrip stands all about the place, selling snacks and syrup-enhanced drinks and bottled water and magazines and nachos and wiper fluid and gas — OK, not all of those things, but there were QuikTrips inside the arena, I swear. And at the resident concession stands, the employees wore black and yellow Sprint polo shirts, making them look like retail-store salesmen who didn’t sign up enough unsuspecting fools for seven-year contracts and were demoted to the arena to sell giant, $7 light beers. We just kept walking and walking. We’d walk one way and get lost, find an ATM, find a bathroom, walk the other way, get lost, need an ATM, a bathroom, and so on. That lasted about 12 minutes, but, man, it felt like hours. We missed opening act Ky-Mani Marley, who couldn’t have played more than 30 minutes, unless he started well in advance of 8 p.m., the start time on the tickets. In one bathroom, I heard a bald man with a goatee (the anti-mullet, apparently) bellowing, “A REGGAE ACT? WHAT KIND OF ACT WAS THAT TO OPEN FOR VAN HALEN!??” That wasn’t as bad as what Ginger was yelling, which was “PANAMAW!” in lieu of “excuse me” anytime he needed to pass through a line of people on his way to an ATM, bathroom, or slushie machine. I started doing it, too. We were officially pumped.
Inside, the arena was crawling with people like a sticky punchbowl overriden with ants. A small dirigible stamped with the VH logo floated overhead with a camera attached to it, maybe 20 feet over the floor. The people on the fifth level of the arena were probably over 100 feet above the floor. Make that 1,000,000 feet. That place is big. Ginger and I had seats on the floor, about four rows back from the large circular thrust that extended from the stage, forming an enclosed pocket right down front for the really important people, who didn’t look important or interesting at all. As Ginger put it, the effect was “MTV VMAs: Lee’s Summit.”
Soon enough, the lights went down, David Lee appeared atop the stage a bullfighter-like jacket waving a flag like he was Jean Fucking Valjean, and the mighty Van Halen launched into “You Really Got Me,” the band’s famousest cover song.
What ensued was rather grotesque, and not in an interesting way. Eddie, shirtles, wiry, shorthaired, clad in camo pants and red high tops, was the star of the show. And he truly is a monster guitar player; he can wring supernatural sounds out of his guitar merely by waving his hands inches over the neck. He had played so hard by the end of the show, curled up and sweating over his guitar that he looked like a barbecued shrimp. His 16-year-old son, Michael Anthony — oops, I mean Wolfgang — meanwhile, held down stage right, doing a pretty good job on backup vox and playing pretty good bass.
Between father and son, DLR stalked about, the whole time smiling so hard his neck muscles looked ready to snap, trilling the final note of each phrase with his patented wild-man-coyote jaw flap, and overall looking about as rock and roll as International Male. The camera projecting images of the band and crowd to the three-story screen behind the stage would occasionally fix on the drummer, only to reveal Sydney Pollack in a wig chugging away tirelessly on the snare and double-kick.
It’s not anyone’s age that was grotesque, it was rather the band’s refusal to be great, to have faith in rock and roll rathen than wallow in their own bloated egos, and constant-victim mentalities. They need to get over themselves, Eddie and David especially. WAAAAAY over themselves. Or maybe they just need to throw down once and for all on stage — I swear I saw DLR mouth a snarling “thank you” to Ed early in the show after the latter had horned in on the former’s microphone for a duet bit. And Eddie Van clearly loves playing on a stage with his little Wolfie Van, but we don’t need to see that. We want a man and his band who will rock out, get wild, get down, wreck shit, and get the girls’ tits out — THAT is the spirit of Van Halen. Not an emaciated, shirtless, middle-aged man fawning over his chubby kid in between guitar licks (at one point, they pawed at each other’s guitars and E. kissed W. on his head).
The most imaginative moment came during the final encore song, “Jump,” when DLR brought a ten-foot long inflatable microphone onto the stage and bounced on it like a retard. What does a ten-foot inflatable microphone have to do with anything?
Well, shit. I’ve gone into righteously indignant young man mode. Sorry, all you old people reading this and hating me. We all already know Van Halen hasn’t rocked in 20 or so years; what am I doing excoriating them for being jaded wankers on stage? They maybe had fun, they played well, and most of the people in the huge crowd saw whatever show they went in wanting to see.
Video footage from Van Halen’s October 26, 2007 show in Kansas City.
Mean Street, Part 1:
Mean Street, Part 2:
Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love:
And The Cradle Will Rock:
Hot For Teacher: