By Kevin Dodds
Sunday night was my third Van Halen concert in five days. There is no point in writing from any other perspective than that – I cannot pretend I didn’t see the Dallas and San Antonio shows and review the Houston show in a bubble. I say that with one big “however,” though…
On Sunday night in Houston, my family – the Dodds family – represented with three generations present at the show. My 75-year-old mother, my older sister, me, and my 9-year-old son were all there together. My sister took me to my first VH concert ever in 1984 in Houston. My mom finally got to see what it was all about for herself after all these years. And my son – well, he had the experience of a lifetime (wait for it).
I haven’t mentioned Kool & the Gang in any of my reviews yet, so I feel I must give them props. What a tight band – tons of soul and lots of fun. Their new younger lead singer is phenomenal. They were very well received at all three shows, but especially in Houston. Hearing “Celebrate” live just before Van Halen comes on was a great idea.
I was principally excited for my mom when the lights went down. She already really enjoyed K&G – she was standing up and clapping and dancing! My sister hadn’t been to a concert in a while (she is truly a bona fide Houston concert veteran) and she got a big kick out of the opening “Unchained.” The band once again was all over the extended middle section, especially Ed and Wolf.
When Dave first started singing, I noticed immediately that he was struggling a bit. His voice did crack slightly a few times during “Unchained” and “Runnin’ with the Devil.” I was worried that he wouldn’t be able to recover and that the entire show would be affected. It was not. By the time “She’s the Woman” kicked in, Dave’s voice found it’s spot and he was on. Later in the show, I was very close and saw Dave visibly coughing between some lines. I have to tell you, three shows in five days wore me out – and I was simply an attending fan. To be up there under the lights belting it out with 57-year-old lungs has to be incredibly difficult. Some could argue that Ed has it easier than Dave in that Ed simply has to plug in his guitar and play. Dave uses his physical body to perform. If he had a nagging cough, that would make his performance in Houston that much more remarkable. I took video for myself and reviewed lots of other footage to confirm what I felt when I was there, and Dave’s voice in fact did weather the night well. (By the way, Houston had a heat index of around 110 degrees that day.) And while I am on the subject, I have to acknowledge that Dave did indeed forget most of the second verse of “Pretty Woman.” He joked his way out of it in typical Dave fashion. So, if you went to the Houston show to see an absolutely perfect rendition of VH doing a Roy Orbison song, there’s a chance you left disappointed.
The set list did not waver for any of the Texas shows, so in that regard, I knew what to expect from the band. For me, there’s no point in picking apart the variations in “Romeo Delight” or “Chinatown” across three shows. However, most of Dave’s standard raps were in fact fairly different at each show which illustrated that he just goes with whatever comes to his mind at the time. During the breakdown in “Trouble with Never,” this is exactly what Dave said:
“So, I’m feeling pretty good about things lately. No particularly good reason for that, didn’t change much. I started juicing. Somebody sent me one of those industrial strength, steel-belted radial, Jack LaLanne things. Put it on the tour bus, didn’t touch it for the first couple of months. Saw some shit on the food channel, thought ‘Hey! I don’t know. I’ll try this.’ Put an apple in it. Like everybody else, put a banana, put a tomato. Things started with fruit, because I figure, like moderation and everything, including moderation. Yeah, only thing worse than being a saint is having to sleep next to one. Can we agree on that? And the trouble with self-improvement is knowing when it’s time to quit. Never had a problem with tryin’. So, this morning, I got up early, broke out my Jack LaLanne juicer and I, I forced a solid, solid aluminum-block Chrysler engine into it, and I put a set of Edelbrok headers and an Iskenderian full-raised overhead camshaft into the juicer. And I put a blower, and I put a hibiscus coupling and equal rubber all the way around, and a Hertz bi-way vertical 8-ball shifter and a picture of Woody Woodpecker, a painting of Marilyn Munster, and an Eddie Van Halen guitar pick and I DRANK THAT MFer DOWN!!!” [The crowd roared with approval and Eddie threw his head back laughing and gave Dave his own bit of applause.] ‘Daddy? What did Mr. Roth mean when he said he put Woody Woodpecker in the blender? Did he really do that?’ ‘NO, WOLFGANG! But he could’ve.’ ‘So, what did he mean if he didn’t really do it?’ ‘Well, he’s simply proving a point. He’s demonstrating the even though you don’t understand a word he just said, it makes perfect sense.’ Yeah! [roaring applause] Selective amnesia is only a heartbeat away!”
That was as pure of a rock and roll moment as you’re ever going to get this year. I know 2012 is a heavy year for concerts – I’ve got quite a few under my belt this year with a lot more than usual to come – but as far as pure, unadulterated rock and roll goes, you won’t get better than that. The show rolled on.
Having seen the show in San Antonio with my son just two nights before, I was content to hang with my mom and sister in our decent seats. But my son was insistent that we try to get closer. He was left reeling a bit in San Antonio after security personnel gave a grown woman a pick right next to him, but wouldn’t give him one (and the woman wouldn’t give up her pick – fair enough). I think in his mind, he was intent on getting that pick. I hesitated, and told him we should just enjoy the show from where we were, by the time “Women in Love” came around, he was pushing me out of my seat so we could get closer. I had never been to the Toyota Center and didn’t know how this was going to work out.
We exited our section and headed a few down to the section closest to the Ed’s corner of the stage. We found a pair of empty seats extremely close to the stage and enjoyed the rest of the show from very close. Even toward the end of the show, I noticed Dave coughing between lines. Nevertheless, his vocal delivery only seemed to get more powerful as the show progressed.
We watched Ed’s solo in awe from very close and its pairing “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” as well as the other of the last few songs. When “Jump” started, inevitably some people got a jump start and headed for the parking garage of death (it took us 45 minutes to get out). With that, my son and I moved in to the second row against the rail even with the front of the stage. What happened next was absolutely crazy.
I was filming “Jump” and my son bumped me quite hard on the arm. I turned toward him and he was holding his hand open. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, he was holding FIVE picks in his hand. A stage tech had seen him, went out of his way to walk over. He gestured toward him to hold out his hand and poured the picks into his hand. I was filming the moment that this happened – I missed the pick hand-off but got a shot of the picks in his open hand and the reaction on his face. (See my video for “Jump” on youtube [user kbd3].) It was one of the single most special moments of our lives – just those five little pieces of plastic. The confetti fell and the flag waved large and the show was over.
When we met back up with my mom and sister, my son was exploding – EXPLODING! He showed the picks to them and they gave him huge hugs. On the way out, my mom gave him a big high-five on the escalators in the parking garage. The band Van Halen has permeated the fiber of our family. Only a few things in life are permanent whether you like it or not. Family is one of those things. And what better kind of family than a Van Halen family?
We’re all part of the Van Halen family, and it’s a damn good family. Until next time…
Kevin Dodds is the author of Edward Van Halen: A Definitive Biography.