Van Halen with Kool & the Gang
May 1, 2012
By Jeb Wright
Unchained | Runnin’ with the Devil | She’s the Woman | Romeo Delight | Tattoo | Everybody Wants Some | Somebody Get Me a Doctor | China Town | Hear About It Later | Oh Pretty Woman | Drum Solo | You Really Got Me | The Trouble with Never | Dance the Night Away | I’ll Wait | Hot For Teacher | Women in Love | Girl Gone Bad | Beautiful Girls | Ice Cream Man | Panama | Guitar Solo Featuring Eruption/Spanish Fly/Cathedral | Aint Talkin’ ‘Bout Love | Jump
It was nearly thirty years ago, on August 7, 1982, when I attended my first real rock concert at Kansas City’s then state of the art Kemper Arena. I turned 16 years old only a few days before and went with my best friend and her mother. Months before, we went to a record store in Lawrence, Kansas where a huge crowd had stayed up all night partying and waiting for the doors to open to buy tickets. We showed up at 7AM, walked over passed out bodies, got a good place in line and walked out with 14th row seats for around twelve bucks a ticket. Now, three decades later, Van Halen with Diamond David Lee Roth were preparing to rock Tulsa, Oklahoma to the core…but not before a little disco music.
For the naysayer out there, and I was one of them, Kool & the Gang were a great choice for an opening act. Sure, it was different, and not what one would expect to see, or hear, at a Van Halen concert but, somehow, it worked. Considering that the band looked and sounded great, and that their last four songs were “Jungle Boogie,” “Ladies Night,” “Get Down on It” and “Celebration,” you can see why they were so enjoyable. After the last crowd led “yahoo” from “Celebration,” the band asked the crowd, “Are you ready for Van Halen? Are you ready for Diamond Dave?” The reposonce left no doubt that the Tusa-ites in attendance were, indeed, ready to rock and roll.
Van Halen took the stage and wasted no time in getting the crowd on their feet, as they pumped out “Unchained” from their classic hard rocking album Fair Warning. What followed was 21 more songs, a drum solo, a guitar solo and a video of David Lee Roth training his dogs – yep, we can’t make shit like that up. Before the canine lesson, which came later in the show, Van Halen gave the youngsters in the crowd a lesson about what a rock concert should be like and took their old fans down memory lane, all the while cranking out three new songs from their critically acclaimed new release A Different Kind of Truth.
I suppose the elephant in the room is the absence of original bass player Michael Anthony, who has been replaced by Edward Van Halen’s son, Wolfgang. Ed and Wolf did a great job with the backing vocals, yet true VH hardcore fans missed Anthony’s sweet spot high harmonies in places. At the end of the day, as much as this writer loves Michael Anthony, he must admit that Wolfgang Van Halen is the real deal. Some complain that nepotism may have got him the gig, but the young man’s god given talent, poise and workman like attitude have allowed him to keep his position on stage. This kid can play, as he proved when standing alongside his pops and matching the elder Van Halen’s guitar riff to “China Town” on his bass. The bottom line here is that you can’t blame the kid for being in the band and, in fact, one must give him kudos as he performed well and, along with Edward, did a great job, vocally.
No true Van Halen concert is complete without a little showboating by Diamond Dave, and tonight was no exception. Dave’s rock star attitude was filled to the brim as he told a twenty-something attractive female in the front row, during “Everybody Wants Some,” “I made a sex tape back in 1982 and, back then, I was damn sexy. In fact…I could be your daddy!” Later in the show, before “Dance the Night Away” the outgoing front man told the crowd, “I was getting a little rest on the tour bus earlier. When I got up it was dark. I went to take two Advil and a glass of water. I accidentally took a handful of pain pills and four shots of vodka. It can happen to any one.”
Dave’s shtick kept going as he welcomed everyone to Van Halen High School before the band performed “I’ll Wait” stating the opening sounded like “graduation music.” He kept the theme going before the band went into “Hot for Teacher” exclaiming, “If you’re at Van Halen High School then there are some simple rules…like smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em. Also, if you’re a Spanish speaking major, then Van Halen High is not for you. You need to go to Panama, which is four songs down and to your right.”
After 30 years, Dave is not as swave and sexy as he was back in the day, but one had to admit he still looked, and acted like a rock star. While he slushed his way, lyrically, through a few songs it was no issue as he’s been doing that since the first tour back in 1978! His vocal skills were more than acceptable; however, he struggled during three songs, “Jump,” “Beautiful Girls” and, most notably, “Dance the Night Away.” While it would be tough for the rest of the band to do, they may want to consider dropping down a step to accommodate for what a life spent as a lead singer of a hard rock band can do to one’s vocal chords. At the end of the day, however, Roth is at home next to Ed. Being the front man for Van Halen seems to be where he is at his best.
Surprise set inclusions for this night included “Women in Love” from Van Halen II, the tap harmonic intro played flawlessly by the virtuoso guitarist, and “Girl Gone Bad” from 1984. Hearing “Romeo’s Delight” was a great thrill, as that is the song VH began the concert I saw some 10,950 days before. The best of the new tunes was, hands down, “She’s the Woman” with “China Town” taking second place.
At this point in the review, I have hardly mentioned Brother’s Van Halen. It must be said that while Van Halen may be able to change bass players, and even a lead singer, and get away with it, the two bookends that MUST be there are brother’s Ed and Alex.
Alex has aged, but with years has come a perfection of his craft. All night long, the elder Van Halen pounded the skins, keeping perfect time, adding creative flourishes and delivering a unique drum solo that was accompanied by jazz music. While he didn’t set his drums on fire, he still played at the top of his game.
Thirty years ago, Ed was known as “Eddie” and was playing his Frankenstein striped guitar, running and sliding across the stage and doing that cool ass double leg kick all night long. He had flowing long hair down to the middle of his back and a wide toothed grin on his face. In 2012, his hair is short, he no longer runs and kicks, but his playing is spot on perfect and his boyish smile is still there. Perhaps it is a sign that hell hath froze over, as he even appeared to enjoy sharing the stage with David Lee Roth, a man he once said he was going to, “kick in the balls” the next time he saw him and the man who inspired the term “Lead Singer’s Disease” or, more simply put, “LSD.”
As a witness to VH in 2012, I am uniquely able to answer the burning questions the fans want to know. Was Michael Anthony missed? Yes, but more out of nostalgia than out of functionality. Was the band less energetic on stage? Of course they were, but Roth still managed the splits, an over the head kick and enough dancing to burn off a weeks worth of calories. Did he deliver vocally? Well, mostly. There were a few rough moments but they didn’t tarnish the show. Did the new songs go over well? Hell yeah! “China Town” and “She’s the Woman” fit right in with the classic tunes.
The bottom line is that the mighty Van Halen are back. The band delivered with an amazing set list and an eye-popping stage show that featured one of rock’s best front men and one of the most influential guitar players of all time.
If this band comes anywhere near your town, (I traveled over two hours to see them, so what’s your excuse?) then the only reason for not seeing them live is if the show is already sold out.
Let’s just hope I don’t have to wait 10,000+ more days to see Dave and Ed share the stage again.