MY SUMMER VACATION: VAN HALEN
photo credit: Jay Nanda/San Antonio Metal Music Examiner
I am old and married to a kindergarten teacher, therefore I can only go to concerts during SXSW and the sweltering months of summer.
This is my summer vacation (Part I).
WHO: VAN HALEN + KOOL & THE GANG
WHERE: AT&T Center — San Antonio, Texas
WHEN: June 22, 2012
Van Halen was always about Eddie Van Halen’s guitar histrionics and “Diamond” David Lee Roth’s stellar showmanship for me. Sure, Alex Van Halen kept a steady beat and Michael Anthony had the killer back-up vocals, but it was always about Eddie and Dave. So, this latest reformation proved enticing. I never cared for Van Hagar, even though I was a big fan of Sammy’s preceding solo work such as Three Lock Box and Standing Hampton. Nope, for me it was all about Diamond Dave. Give me Dave or give me nothing.
I am sad to report that I would have almost preferred nothing.
David Lee Roth’s performance last Friday night in front of 15,000 sweaty Texans was so horrendous that it made me feel embarrassed for him and bad for the Van Halen clan. My unsolicited advice for Eddie Van Halen is to dump Roth and go the Journey route. You know, hire a young buck who has the pipes, the timing, and the stamina to keep up with the rest of the guys in the band.
Of course, it took me quite a few songs before I came to this realization. I went into the concert with high hopes that I could re-live my senior year in high school (1984, natch) via 3/4 of one of the greatest hard rock and (back then) heavy metal bands of all time. I had prime seats, just rocked out to a stellar Kool & The Gang set, and was pumped to see Dave for the first time in 28 years.
Things kicked off promisingly enough when Alex Van Halen stealthily bestrode his drum stool while Eddie casually sauntered out, crunching the opening licks to “Unchained.” The entire AT&T Center seemed to explode with anticipation upon Diamond Dave’s entrance. Oh, and then Wolfie took his perch in the corner by Alex’s drum kit, but no one noticed.
The AT&T Center sounded like a One Direction concert with screams so loud that Dave’s vocals were occasionally drowned out. Or, that’s what I thought was happening.
The good will from the crowd carried on to the next classic, “Runnin’ With The Devil.” All of the sudden, Wolfie stepped down and started getting into the one-note bass intro. Across stage, Daddy Van Halen and son exchanged huge grins. It’s readily apparent that dad loves playing with son and the chemistry exudes outward to the audience. I have a feeling the “Fatty Ding Dongs” slags around here are going to be fewer and farther between from now on.
Next the band did something that I just don’t understand from such a legendary rock band; they started playing tracks off their newest record too early in the set. Seems pretty obvious — lure your old school, hardcore fans in with a big handful of the classics and then sprinkle in some newer cuts. Why turn off your core audience within the first 15 minutes?
And it was a very noticeable lull. “She’s The Woman” from the newest record, A Different Kind Of Truth; followed by “Romeo Delight” from one of the weakest VH albums, Women And Children First; and “Tattoo” from ADKOT. Suddenly, what started off as a raucous affair turned into time to check my e-mails and take pictures of the monitor guy off to the side of the stage. Not a good sign.
The party vibe was quickly reactivated with “Everybody Wants Some!!” At least, that was what I assumed until I started actually paying closer attention to what was going on. David Lee Roth was coming in late on every line. And not just a beat behind, but three or four beats, if he was even coming in at all. And when he did come in, he was screeching the notes.
Believe me, I understand that when one gets older, shit stops working as well as it used to do. I could not imagine trying to be a singer and being able to keep the pipes clean for 30 years. The natural wear-and-tear alone would make it seemingly impossible for most normal humans. Guys like Rob Halford and Ronnie James Dio are (and were) the exception to the natural rule of law. Mix in a partying lifestyle and one’s voice is sure to take a dive. But that’s more about hitting the notes and should have nothing to do with coming in on time. Or actually singing the right parts. Or forgetting massive chunks of lyrics.
At this point, I looked over at my buddy and long-time metalhead, Ray Seggern, and we both shrugged our shoulders. What was happening up on stage was really fucking embarrassing.
Upon reflection, I likened it to last season’s Texas Longhorn football team, my alma mater. They started off with a handful of cupcake teams (Rice, BYU, UCLA, and Iowa State), spanked most of them, were undeservedly ranked #10 in the country as a result, only to be ceremoniously destroyed by #1 Oklahoma 55-17.
This was Van Halen to a tee. They start off with some cupcakes, which I devoured because I wanted them to rock it like it was 1984 all over again. They tricked me with some newer material which I was not as familiar with so, therefore, could not truly criticize DLR since I was not intimately familiar with the tunes. But then, when the big one(s) came up — in this case it was “Everybody Wants Some!!” followed by “Somebody Get Me A Doctor” — I could almost feel the veneer peeling away. The mask had been yanked off and it revealed a horrifying sight – a monster band without a real vocalist.
Sure, Dave slid across his specialized wooden dance square and he attempted a few spin-kicks and he performed some goofy microphone stand swordplay, but it seemed to reek of desperation.
And the fucking stories!
I can appreciate a humorous frontman as much as the next person. It’s nice to break up the headbanging with funny points of view, a good joke here and there, or even a strong political opinion if it is well-thought out. But I honestly have no idea what the hell Dave was spouting out. He would start off on a story, drop off of it mid-way through, and then completely forget about it. There was something he told Wolfie about not making the same mistakes he made that seemed better confined to an online web therapist. Finally, his five-minute-plus pre-“Ice Cream Man” segment, backed with some nonsensical wide-screen video presentation about his fucking dog, left me baffled and had a few audience members literally screaming, “Play some fucking music!”
Bottom line for me is that it was horrible. Dave, that is, was horrible.
The rest of the band killed it. Eddie, 57, looked great and played phenomenally. He appeared very healthy and seemed as if he was truly enjoying himself on-stage. Alex, 59, played like a 25-year-old, and is still the same, bizarre character he was 30 years ago. And, Wolfie? He fucking nailed everything. Great rock bassist. Excellent backing vocals. The kid’s got skills.
Again, more unsolicited advice: if I were Edward Van Halen I would seriously consider going into my studio to crank out some dark, twisted ambient soundscapes ala early Explosions In The Sky or Beware The Safety. He proved he could do it during his solo and, quite frankly, I thought that portion of it blew away “Eruption.”
Second, ditch Dave. It pains me to say that, but if you want to keep Van Halen alive you have to finally sever those ties. Find some new young blood, like Journey did with Amel Pineda, accept your legacy status, and continue on while still respecting your back catalogue. Kool and The Gang only has four (out of 11) original members and an entirely new, young singer and they still fucking killed it!
Sorry, Dave. The party’s over.
Thanks to my friend, Jay Nanda, for the VH pic! He took much better shots than the one above despite being almost an entire football field’s length away from the stage due to the band’s restrictions. This one, however, perfectly encapsulates how I feel about VH right now. The VH clan is in sync while DLR just seems constipated and confused.