Van Halen Concert Review
Well, cross a really big one off the ol’ bucket list.
Anyone that knows me even remotely well knows that I’m a massive Van Halen fan.
As an 11 year old in 1986, my first exposure to the band was the Sammy Hagar-led era with the 5150 album. I remember being over at my friend Jamie’s place as I often was back at that time, and he brought out this cassette (OMG I’m old!) and told me I had to listen to this album. He was pretty revved up about it, and given that we have almost identical musical tastes, I was instantly hooked. Edward Van Halen’s guitar playing and Hagar as a pretty talented singer made VH my insta-favorite.
Not too long after that, I was back over at Jamie’s one day, and he says, “Remember Van Halen and 5150? Well, you have to hear this!”, and he played Hot For Teacher (from the album 1984) for me.
“It’s the same band! It’s the same guitar player!” he says.
We listened to the entire 1984 album, and then Jamie has one more surprise for me. He puts VH’s first album in, and from the moment Alex Van Halen’s drum fill burst through the speakers, only to be eclipsed by the string bending screams and whammy bar dive bombs of Edward’s now signature solo “Eruption”, my jaw not only dropped but went through the floor and the foundation. Like so many other people that were first exposed to EVH’s innovative playing in that solo that put him and the rest of Van Halen on the map, I’d never heard guitar played like that before – and I wanted more.
The two of us quickly tracked down every Van Halen album made, and from that solo on, Van Halen has basically been the soundtrack for my life. Everyone has a favorite band, and VH is the one I connected most strongly with. At 15 and 16, Jamie and I started a band – you guessed – playing mostly Van Halen cover tunes. A VH song comes on the radio or shuffles on my phone, and within the first couple notes I’ll tell you what the song is. I know them all frontwards and backwards.
They don’t come to Winnipeg very often, but I was fortunate enough to see Van Halen in concert twice – both times with Sammy Hagar as the vocalist. Once in 1991 in support of the F.U.C.K. album, and again in 2004 as they toured for the Best Of Both Worlds compilation album. 1991’s concert was outstanding. 2004’s… not so much as Eddie was battling the bottle and the band was not getting along well, but it provided one of my greatest musically-related moments ever, as we were sitting on the side of the arena on Eddie’s side of the stage, close to the front, and as Eddie stepped out to talk to a guitar tech, a bunch of us saw him and I called at him and waved, and he looked at me, smiled, and nodded and waved back. Pretty cool.
But that VH Holy Grail was still out there. I’ve always wanted to see Van Halen with David Lee Roth as the frontman. With Sammy Hagar, other than “Jump” and “Panama” the early VH catalog was basically ignored. Sammy didn’t want to play Roth’s songs, so I never got to here those older songs in a live setting. As the band was having issues (both with finding and keeping a new singer, as well as with Eddie’s health and rehab stints), I didn’t think it was ever going to happen.
But it did. Last night, May 13th, 2012. The Mighty Van Halen descended down upon Winnipeg, their heavy swagger tearing the doors off their hinges, their power kicking over every seat in the arena, their aural assault blasting our faces off, and their sexy dragon magic (learn the lyrics, folks!) consuming the MTS Centre.
It’s odd, but I really don’t have words to describe just how freaking awesome this experience was. I went with my lovely wife Stephanie and long-time best buddy Geoff (who also played in the aforementioned band), and while the two of them – in addition to Geoff’s tremendous air drumming – cheered and screamed their way through the show, I was oddly silent for the most part, just sitting there focusing on the music, just wanting to let every drop of Van Halen – both new and old – sink in and just take in the experience. It might not ever happen again, and I wanted to feel every moment of it. I cheered after the songs were over, and laughed at some of Roth’s antics, but for the most part, I just sat there and let the music just beat the crap out of me. And it was amazing.
Kool And The Gang opened up for Van Halen, and while we all thought that was an odd combination (but there’s some kind of relationship with Roth there) they were actually pretty impressive. They are one of those bands where they play a song and you go “Oh, I didn’t know they did this one!”, but they were musically very tight, good performers, and the music was actually very good. They actually made me want to buy one of their CD’s.
Their gear was torn down, and as we were waiting, a MTS Centre staff member was close to our seats, and he mentioned when the band was scheduled to go on, so we knew when to get ready. We were commenting it was really warm in the arena, and we watched as the crew quickly installed a wooden dance floor on the stage and carefully wiped down and mopped/dried the stage steps. This was apparently all requested by Roth, who needed the floor to do some of his schtick, and asked the venue personnel to ensure “there was no moving air” in the arena. We all had no idea why.
So, we waited, and between bands the venue was playing some generic music to get us all entertained. Usually what the venue will then do right before the headliners come on is stop the music and cut the lights – that’s the unwritten code and the signal that the main event is going to start.
But, as with everything else Van Halen, they march to their own drummer, and the lights stayed down while the house music continued to play, and a short time later, the music just abruptly stopped, the lights hit the drum riser and Alex Van Halen opened up with an absolute sonic salvo of crushing drums, leading into EVH crushing the opening riff of their classic hit and fan favorite “Unchained”, and Geoff and I got blown right out of our chairs. This was one of the songs we were dying to hear, and for this to be the opening tune just knocked our socks off. The crowd (which I’ll put around 8-9,000) went NUTS and the band took that energy and threw it all right back at us and then some.
Here’s the full set list, with some random comments thrown in.
Runnin With The Devil
– An awesome opening shot. Two classic powerhouse tunes that primed the crowd for the rest of the night.
She’s The Woman
– A classic-era song reworked for the new album “A Different Kind Of Truth”. Sounded great!
– This was awesome in the sense that while the band stayed with the Roth version of the VH catalog, this is a song that was rarely played live, so to get this was an awesome surprise.
– The first single off the new album. A lot of people hated on this song, but the more I listen to it, the better it gets. The whole song is one giant hook that reels you right in. Like the rest of the “new” material, this song sounds awesome live. It’s a classic-style stong with a more modern sound, and that combination is simply stunning.
Everybody Wants Some
Somebody Get Me A Doctor
– Another classic duo that are crowd favorites, and the band demolished these two songs. Just powerful and amazing.
-Another one of the new album’s tracks that should show everyone that Edward Van Halen is, using wrestling terms, the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be. He just amazed during this song.
Hear About It Later
– Yet another classic from the same album as “Unchained”, and another massive crowd favorite. I’m so happy I got to hear this one live. Wolfgang was amazing with the background vocals.
– A classic cover (of their cover?) of Roy Orbison’s timeless piece. Roth was a little too camp and didn’t sing much here, which took away from Edward and Wolfgang’s backup vocals, but the band sounded amazing.
– A signature of the Van Halen live experience, both Eddie and Alex play solos to give the rest of the band a break. Historically, Alex just played the drums on his own, pounding out various cool beats mixed with amazing fills, rolls, and rumbles. For this show though, Alex played along to a musical accompaniment, which was more like a jazz track, with trumpets and such, but he still found a way to throw his amazing technical ability behind some great sounding drum work. Very enjoyable!
You Really Got Me
– Again, another redo of a cover song from their first album. As with some of the older, really popular songs, Dave turned into a showman and the singing came second, which took away from the whole, but the rest of the band was busy kicking our asses!
Trouble With Never
– Another track from the new album that sounded great live!
Dance The Night Away
– An absolute classic and one of my favorites. Dave really sang this one and the harmonies from everyone was just tremendous. really well done!
– A keyboard-intense song from the 1984 album, I was hoping they would play this one and they did! The band played to a keyboard track, and I can’t stress the following enough; the way the band sounded on this song – the mix, the updated sound compared with almost 30 years ago, the power, the tone, the perfect vocals… this was the sleeper song of the night and was probably my favorite of all the songs played. I can’t put it into words, but this song with updated sound and the way the band played it literally gave me goosebumps and I was simply entranced. I could listen to that sound for the rest of my life and I would die an extremely happy man. It was musical Nirvana, Zen, alignment with the stars, whatever you want to call it, but it was absolutely beautiful and I never wanted it to end.
Hot For Teacher
– The band absolutelty nailed this timeless hit. It sounded great! The drums were off the hook and crowd just lost their minds for this song. Geoff nailed the air drums, and even Stephanie was head banging. Great times!
Women In Love
Outta Love Again
– Another trio of classics that sounded amazing with the updated sound. I’m so glad I got to hear these songs played live.
Ice Cream Man
– This was Dave’s turn to shine. The rest of the band left the stage and Dave came out with his Gibson Hummingbird electric/acoustic, and noodled around, teasing us with some bars from the new track “Stay Frosty” before heading back into some strumming and telling us stories about him and his dogs while a giant video played in the background of his dogs sheep and cattle herding. This was the musical version of a wrestling “rest hold”, another break to let the band prep for the last run of the night. Dave segued from his strumming into “Ice Cream Man”, playing a bit before the rest of the band kicked in (and kicked our faces in). What a great, fun song.
– The band went right into Panama, and everyone was on point for this one. This classic just sounded amazing and the crowd was right fired up.
– The energy kept on going, even though the band toned it down. The rest of the band left the stage as King Edward The First played a good solid 6-7 minutes, fingers smoking all over the fret board, more dizzying whammy dives, squealing harmonics, incredible runs, and of course, his signature spots Cathedral and Eruption. All through the show, the band had a MASSIVE video screen showing the band playing all night long, and for 95% of the solo the camera was zoomed in on Eddie’s guitar and we could see every pick, bend, and tap and every moment of the solo. It was absolutely glorious, and anyone that has ever questioned Eddie’s ability as a result of his issues should be taken out back and be shot. Edward is back and better than ever, and last night he reminded us once again exactly why he is the undisputed king of rock guitar.
Ain’t Talkin Bout Love
– Another all time favorite. With renewed energy following the response to Ed’s solo, the band blistered on this one and not only blasted our faces off but grabbed us by the hair and slammed us into the floor. Then they kicked us all in the back of the head while we were down. ATBL sounded amazing.
And, without fanfare, without the lights going down and the band walking off-stage and all of us screaming our heads off for an encore, the band simply rode the wave of energy and Dave yelled “Winnipeg, do you guys want an encore?”
No, Dave, we don’t. We’re just screaming because someone kicked us in the shins (or we’re happy about the beating we took during ATBL) and the cheering went to 11, and the band launched into their all-time classic hit “Jump”. The arena was rocking, the band was amazing, and although there was a distinct lack of pyro all night long, this one ended with a giant explosion of confetti and everyone went apeshit.
Some Thoughts On The Band
Van Halen is back, baby! They’re back, and they haven’t lost a damned step. This was an expensive show to go to ($165.00 per ticket) but with the chance to see DLR, there was no way I was going to turn this down.
Wolfgang Van Halen: Don’t let anyone hate on WVH. This kid is the real f’n deal. He is an absolute BEAST on the bass, and while he doesn’t sound like Michael Anthony, he sounds like WVH and he hits all the notes. He appears to be flawless, and he injects a new life into this band. I’m glad I got to see him play. Truly great.
Alex Van Halen: What can you say about AVH? He’s quiet in front of the camera, but on stage the man is a freaking machine. His timing still is and always has been impeccable. I think he’s always been underrated as a drummer, and he sounded just incredible at this show. I can listen to him play all day long.
David Lee Roth: The only weak link in the band. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not because DLR “can’t” sing. He never has been the greatest singer, even back in the early days, but has always been a tremendous showman, and that’s his calling. It’s more because he “didn’t” sing. I want to make this very clear: when he *chose* to sing, he was incredible. He can still do it. he can still sing all the old songs, and he sounds amazing on the new songs. It’s just that he’s a showman first and foremost, and sometimes during the giant hit songs he would play around a bit and massage the lyrics and timing, and it was hard to sing along because he was doing his own thing. That took away from the show a little, especially because Wolfgang and Edward were sticking to the script and singing the regular backups, so it sounded out of place at times. He had a couple great one-liners too: at one point someone threw something up on the stage, and DLR – without breaking stride in the song – told the fan “Don’t throw your garbage on the stage, throw your girlfriend up here instead!” Another time between songs, he was talking and a female fan got his attention. I have no idea what she said, but DLR comes back with: “I’m old enough to be your father! By the way, you look a little familiar!” But make no bones about it: DLR still has the chops and I’m so happy to see I got to see him live.
Edward Van Halen: I can’t say anything else that I haven’t already said about EVH. He looked strong and healthy, he looked happy, and he absolutely KILLED each and every song he played. His solo was outstanding, and you can tell that he absolutely loves playing music with his son. I’m so very glad to have seen him live one more time. Just truly amazing, and there will never be another better or more innovative guitar player than EVH.
This is a band that is happy to be back on the scene, and it shows in the way they play and the way they conduct themselves. There are always rumors about EVH and DLR being able to get along, but these guys are happy and it shows. There were a couple times where they just took a break in the middle of a song and just riffed both vocally and on the guitar while WVH and AVH just held down the bottom end of the song. It was really a sight to see. The classic VH songs from Roth’s first run with the band sound truly amazing and timeless with the band’s modern sounds, and “I’ll Wait” was one of those time-stopping moments that I never want to stop living. The songs from the new album fit in perfectly with the classic songs and sound even better live than they do on the album.
Even being older (with the exception of Wolfgang), all of these guys were born to do what they do, and this was an awesome, awesome night for me. I’ll remember this show for years and years to come. I’ll give this one a 9.5 out of 10. Truly spectacular, and if you get a chance to see them, please do. You won’t regret it.