November 13, 2007 – Madison Square Garden
From Rolling Stone:
There were plenty of reasons to be skeptical walking into last night’s Van Halen concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden. In no particular order: founding bassist Michael Anthony has been kicked to the curb in favor of Eddie Van Halen’s sixteen-year-old son Wolfgang, David Lee Roth’s vocals have sounded more than a bit shaky in recent years and Ed has done little in these past few years except go to rehab and write scores for porn flicks. Yet when the curtain dropped and the band burst into a note-perfect “You Really Got Me” it became clear this was somehow going to work.
It was hard to know where to look first when the show began: a shockingly well-preserved Ed ripping into his guitar, Dave frantically waving a red flag and grinning like a killer clown or Wolfgang, standing confidently on the side of the stage, playing a set consisting entirely of songs written at least seven years before he was born. Ultimately Dave — who reveled in every moment onstage — won out. His voice didn–t sound like it was still 1984, but his vocals were significantly stronger than we’d expected. His signature karate kicks weren’t as high as they used to be and he flubbed his share of lyrics (you’d think he’d at least remember “Pretty Woman”), but his boundless enthusiasm made up for everything.
From 1985 until 2004 Van Halen fans had to wade through endless Sammy Hagar (or, worse, Gary Cherone) songs to get to a handful of Roth-era classics — and even when they came, some other guy was singing them. It was barely tolerable, but it was the only Van Halen we had. On this tour, the events from 1985 to the present have been erased. What remains are what Dave has called “favorites that you’ve been hearing tearing out of the back of a pick-up at the Burger King drive-thru for how many summertimes.” The only problem was that the arena sound system sounded like it was composed of 10,000 pick-up trucks taken from the Burger King drive-thru. Maybe it was just where we were sitting (directly on the side of the stage) but the sound managed to be both ludicrously loud and muffled. Roth’s vocals were often buried. Did Eddie replace the sound guy with his six-year-old nephew Timmy Van Halen?
Shitty sound aside, it’s hard to complain about a show featuring Roth and Eddie Van Halen doing two hours of “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” “Panama,” “Hot for Teacher” and lesser-known gems like “Atomic Punk” and “I’m the One.” Sure, firing Anthony was a shitty move that made the whole evening feel less momentous. But if putting his son onstage is the only way to get Eddie back out there playing these songs, so be it. This is the only Van Halen being offered and it’s better than anything they’ve given us since the first Reagan administration.
Clean. Well-oiled. Smooth. These aren’t words one would have associated with the first coming of the David Lee Roth-fronted Van Halen, but they were the first adjectives that came to mind when the band took to Madison Square Garden’s stage on its much-anticipated reunion tour.
Professionalism is, of course, nothing to be sneezed at, but the members of Van Halen — with the exception of Eddie Van Halen’s bass-playing teenage son, Wolfgang, recruited to replace the unceremoniously dumped Michael Anthony — played their assigned parts so close to the vest this evening as to make a skeptic wonder if they’d been replaced by animatronic doubles.
Roth played up his ringmaster shtick from the opening chords of an undeniably powerful version of “You Really Got Me,” and while there were moments when he recaptured the Borscht Belt-meets Sunset Strip-vivacity of his first stint with the band, the singer’s moves had something of a by-the-book feel to them.
Roth’s singing voice, however, was in top form. Often underrated as a vocalist, he showed off his full range here, segueing easily from crisp pop tenor (the mortar that held together a soaring “Jamie’s Crying”) to lustful faux-blues growl (the linchpin of a gritty “Somebody Get Me a Doctor”).
Eddie Van Halen held up his end of the bargain much of the time, strafing songs like “Atomic Punk” and “Runnin’ With the Devil” with bracing and acrobatic lead lines. The non-stop barrage of technique got in the way on more than one occasion, however, putting an unneeded spin on what should’ve been a straightforward “Hot for Teacher” and sidetracking an otherwise spot-on “Pretty Woman” (on which Roth and Wolfgang traded vocals affably).
The 16-year-old bassist acquitted himself more effectively than naysayers might’ve expected, plowing through the classics with a hereditary flashiness — a marked change from the more brutish, to-the-point playing of his predecessor — particularly on a stinging encore version of “1984.”
While Wolfgang didn’t take a solo turn, both his father and uncle took their customary extended showcases. Those interludes — tailored for diehards in the first place — seemed particularly superfluous at this perf, given the lack of genuine interaction the musicians displayed during the songs that surrounded them. Granted, resurrecting the gang mentality of bygone days would seem a bit disingenuous at this point in Van Halen’s history, but a little bit of sparring would’ve added a few welcome twists to the overly straight path they’re navigating on this trek.
From New York Post:
VAN HALEN’S reunion concert last night at Madison Square Garden could have been the next storyline for the “Back to the Future” movie franchise.
One of the most popular band’s of the ’80s takes a time machine to 2007 to play their old songs for a new generation. That was this deja-vu-all-over-again concert from start to finish. Every song was at least 20 years old, while singer David Lee Roth and guitarist Eddie Van Halen looked youthful (especially if you squinted a little).
The music was still smokin’ hot and not far off the mark from the way you remember it sounding on vinyl: loud and raw, like a party waiting to happen.
The biggest difference between now and the bad old days, when Van Halen was really young, was the absence of anger. Clenched teeth were traded for smiles during this two-hour, 20-plus-song love fest, in which band and fans alike found renewed appreciation for dusty tunes,
Roth clowned his way through the set, with stage gags like hanging his hat off his zipper (more Velcro than arousal) and wielding his mike stand like a ninja warrior. If you let that distract you, you might not notice just how good he sounds backed by his original partners.
As for Eddie’s guitar work, there are few – young or old – who can rip a lead as cleanly and sure-fingered as this 52-year-old.
So, Eddie can really play his ax, and between head-high kicks and kung fu antics, David Lee can really sing. If there was any tension last night, it was only in determining who hit harder during the first few songs.
On the opener and cover of the Kinks classic “You Really Got Me,” Roth was commanding. He looked buff in his ringmaster’s jacket and stitched leather pants, and he was the total applause hound, bowing deeply to the crazed fans. “Running with the Devil” played a little slow for some tastes.
Drummer Alex Van Halen, as always, was the rock that anchored every song, and Eddie’s son Wolfgang mumbled, thumped his bass well, and did a pretty fair job of singing a cover of Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman.”
Roth described the band as “three-quarter original,” with 16-year-old Wolfgang as the “one-fourth inevitable.” Who knew Diamond Dave could do fractions?
The lowest-common-denominator tune had to be “Hot For Teacher.” It was made sexy by Roth’s delivery, and Eddie Van Halen’s boogie guitar riffs made the crowd shimmy.
If there was any complaint about the show, it was how the sequencing of the set has remained static since the tour opener a couple of months ago. The band should consider mixing the tunes up a little to keep it as interesting for themselves as for the fans.