Somebody Got Him a Doctor!
Van Halen’s August 23rd Hersheypark Stadium date was cancelled due to David Lee Roth suffering from the flu and the doctor recommending he rest his throat. However, we’re hearing that all 19 remaining dates on the summer tour are still on, with the tour finale set for Oct. 4 at the Hollywood Bowl in Hollywood, Calif.
Van Halen performs at the Darien Lake Performing Arts Center in New York tomorrow (Tuesday). Here’s an article from Buffalo.com that serves as a preview for Van Halen’s show there.
Being a Van Halen fan is not unlike being a fan of the Bills or the Sabres.
They make you fall in love with them. And then they break your heart.
The love, for fans of dynamic hard rock music in general and the electric guitar in particular, came easy in the case of Van Halen. Ask a Deadhead where they were and what they were doing when they heard that Jerry Garcia had died, and they’ll answer in a heartbeat; Ask a guitar player where they were and what they were doing the first time they heard Eddie Van Halen play “Eruption,” and they’ll do the same.
Me? I was in the process of turning 12, and was sitting at my girlfriend’s house in Clifton Park. She had purchased the debut Van Halen album for me as a birthday gift, and we placed the vinyl on her father’s “hi-fi console” – as much a piece of furniture as it was a beast of a stereo system – and cranked it up.
I was already in love with the guitar – George Harrison, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore and Alex Lifeson were my players of choice – but when “Eruption” came on the stereo that day, the game was changed. It was definitely love. Or something an awful lot like it.
It stayed love for a good while, too, until singer David Lee Roth got it in his head to pursue a Vaudeville-like solo career, and Van Halen drafted former Montrose singer Sammy Hagar to take Roth’s place. Power ballads followed shortly thereafter. It felt a lot like discovering that your girlfriend was cheating on you with the singer from Loverboy, or something equally preposterous. Sure, the guitar playing and drumming were still great, and no reasonable soul could make the argument that Hagar is anything other than an incredibly powerful singer, but still – something was off. Van Halen’s kick had gone wide right.
Years of infighting; struggles with alcoholism and drug addiction by Eddie Van Halen and his brother, drummer, Alex; Hagar’s departure and return, the interim filled by the aberration that was Extreme vocalist Gary Cherone; Eddie’s fight against oral cancer; the replacement of original bassist/vocalist Michael Anthony with Eddie’s son, Wolfgang; and the serious mudslinging in the press between all concerned, save Wolfgang – all deepened the sense of betrayal felt by the long-suffering fan.
Because of this, the return of most of the original lineup with the 2012 album “A Different Kind of Truth,” a subsequent tour, which included an extremely entertaining 2012 stop at First Niagara Center, and a general feeling that, hey, this VH soap opera might have a happy ending after all, acted as salve to the true fan’s wounds.
The new “Tokyo Dome Live in Concert” release reveals the present-day version of VH – Eddie, Alex, Wolfgang and DLR – to be an absolute powerhouse. One can quibble a bit with Roth’s singing, but in the end, he’s always been a showman of the first order, and since the band’s birth, Roth concentrated as much on his acrobatics as he did the replication of the studio versions of these much-loved songs. It is what it is, then.
When the band arrives for a show at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Darien Lake with Kenny Wayne Shepherd, what we’re likely to get is similar to what’s happening on “Tokyo Dome Live in Concert” – an older Van Halen that still packs a punch.
Let’s take a look at the different eras of the Van Halen saga, and whittle them down to what’s essential, and what is decidedly less so.
Van Halen Mark I: The prime era (1974 – 1985)
Members: David Lee Roth, Alex Van Halen, Eddie Van Halen and Michael Anthony.
Lowdown: Guitar pyrotechnics meet massive hooks and killer vocal harmonies.
What you must have: All of it. The six albums released by the original band – “Van Halen,” “Van Halen II,” “Women & Children First,” “Fair Warning,” “Diver Down,” “1984” – represent the finest heavy rock ’n’ roll and party music of the era. With the possible exception of the dated and cheesy (But still, you kinda like it, don’t you?) “Jump,” there’s not a bum note to be found anywhere in this part of the catalog.
What you must avoid: Nothing.
Van Halen Mark II: The Van Hagar years (1986 – 1996 )
Members: Michael Anthony, Sammy Hagar, Alex Van Halen and Eddie Van Halen.
Lowdown: Van Halen embraces pop, gains a more-than-able singer, but loses a bit of its sense of wild abandon.
What you must have: Take all of the Van Hagar-era albums – “5150,” “OU812,” “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge,” “Balance” and “Live: Right Here Right Now” – and boil them down to one killer playlist numbering less than 20 tunes. Mine would run something like this: “5150,” “Get Up,” “Why Can’t This Be Love” – it’s a little bit cheesy, but it’s nicely displayed – “Cabo Wabo,” “Black & Blue,” “A Apolitical Blues,” “Poundcake,” “Judgement Day,” “The Seventh Seal,” “Don’t Tell Me What Love Can Do,” “Amsterdam,” “Aftershock,” “Feelin’.”
What you must avoid: Everything not on the above playlist. Also, we’ll throw in the whole “Van Halen III” album, which found Extreme singer Gary Cherone attempting to fill in for the temporarily departed Hagar, and succeeding only in contributing to the very worst VH album of them all. You should skip that one. Seriously. Let’s all just pretend it never happened.
Van Halen Mark III: The Wolfgang years (2009 – present)
Members: Eddie Van Halen, left, Wolfgang Van Halen, David Lee Roth and Alex Van Halen.
Lowdown: As close to a return to prime form as we could reasonably hope.
What you must have: “A Different Kind of Truth,” an incredibly strong and on-point Van Halen album from start to finish. Sure, much of the material had been kicking around since the “Mark I” days, but these rerecorded versions are pretty close to mind-blowing.
What you must avoid: If you would prefer to remember Roth the way he was in the ’80s – a lion-maned acrobat and comedian rolled into one, with a strong and soulful voice – you might want to avoid the “Tokyo Dome Live in Concert” album. Roth isn’t awful here, but the sort of singing he’s doing nowadays doesn’t work as well without the visual element.
That said, all the haters who have never forgiven Eddie for kicking Michael Anthony out of the band should listen to this live document at least once – Wolfgang’s bass playing and vocal harmonies are pretty great throughout.
There you have it. Not a bad 35-plus years of work.