Van Halen - Tokyo Dome in Concert
In their prime, Van Halen never released a live album that featured David Lee Roth on vocals. Why? The answer is multi-faceted... however, one reason, perhaps more than any other, is that David Lee Roth is not a good singer live. Dave is not really a vocalist at all in so much as he is a showman, a front man, a swashbuckler, an outlaw, a pop tart and a media darling -all rolled into one. On stage and in music videos, he was larger than life, outspoken and a true rock star. Yet for all of his coolness, there were equal amounts of vaudeville and Vegas lounge act. Roth was the guy you wanted to go to a party with, hang out with, pick up chicks in a bar with and, truth be told, if you were a 15 year old male in 1982, you wanted to BE David Lee Roth. You wanted his swagger, his attitude, his rebelliousness, his sex appeal and his charm... and the ability to do a flying karate kick. Notice how his singing voice is not on that list! You want to BE Dave, not sound like Dave. Still, there comes a time when bad is no longer cool, it is simply... just... bad.
Back in the day, Dave, at the very least, sounded a bit like the Dave on the record, or in the video, even while he was singing the wrong lyric, messing up the melody or just bullshitting with the crowd. No one seemed to care at the concert because Dave was also the emcee, the main attraction and the life of the party. And we, the audience, were drunk. Really drunk. We were there to see Dave the Entertainer, Eddie the guitar wizard, Michael thumping his Jack Daniels bass and Alex perform his amazing drum solo. In between these attractions there were a couple of hours of kick ass rock and roll songs being blasted through our minds at literally ear-deafening volume. Short of passing out after vomiting all over yourself, there was no way a Van Halen concert was not going to be all about fun.
Fast forward to 2015, and we, the audience, are not as drunk as we were back then. We are now, sigh, grown ups... even grandparents! Most of us are responsible adults who have long forgotten that Dave was a performer and an entertainer instead of a vocalist. That said, let's just get this out in the open and admit that for much of the time on this album, Roth's vocals are pretty bad. It's not always gut-wrenching-horrible bad (sometimes it is, but not always) but it’s still worse than it used to be. Dave struggles, but he does not seem to care that he struggles... which is sooooo David Lee Roth that it almost makes you forgive his shortcomings--almost.
Here's the trouble with DLR's vocal issues: His singing affects the performance of the songs, therefore, it’s an issue. I wonder if Eddie played THIS far off-key, or mistakenly altered as many melodies, or Alex put down the wrong beat, or Wolf played the wrong tune that they could get away with it the way Dave is getting away with it. Dave is being blasted on the Internet about his vocals, but CDs and tickets are selling, don't be fooled! I say this to David Lee Roth: "Dave, you were one of my heroes. I don't need you to be a Sinatra, and I don't need it note-perfect. Just please get a vocal coach, quit smoking whatever it is your smoking and work harder. We don't need it smooth like butter; we'll take Diver Down era caterwauling any day... but people are paying a lot of money to see you ‘live’. All I'm asking is that you do the best to be all you can be."
There is another issue, vocally, that is not discussed nearly as much on the Internet, and that is the band's background vocals. They are acceptable, but not nearly as wonderful as Van Halen tours of the past. The ‘reason why’ brings up another uncomfortable issue... Michael Anthony is not in the band anymore. Look, we all get why, and if we were a proud pop like Eddie, we would want our talented son on stage with us as well. Mikey's addition to the background vocal sound of Van Halen proves to have been very important. One notices how great his past vocal contributions were now that his essence is no longer there. Having such a good support voice behind Dave probably helped things not be so noticeable for Roth as well... possibly even encouraged Dave to hit the correct note from time to time. So, the bottom line here is that Van Halen, on this album, is vocally weaker than what we want them to be.
If you can accept all of what has been mentioned thus far in this review, then I am happy to report that there is a lot of good stuff on this album as well. Eddie and Alex perform well on the album, and the younger Van Halen does a nice job on the bass parts. Musically, this three-piece band is -pardon the VH pun- on fire! Eddie is a natural born Guitar-god, and his two-handed tapping and pull-offs fly through the speakers and remain just as awe-inspiring as they were the first time we heard them. His fragmented chords, harmonics and lickety-split fills add flavor to every song. He is playing stronger now than in over a decade, and he literally shines throughout this concert. Brother Alex plods along, making that kinda cool treble filled drum sound that lets you know who you're listening to from the first few beats. He looks a bit longer in the tooth, but he is still getting the job done! The bass parts were always pretty simple in Van Halen, so Wolf doesn't have to rev up his musical DNA too much to play the parts... but he plays them just fine. The band cranks out the songs with a good vibe and energy, some of the songs coming to life for the first time in many years. These songs need to be played live, and it is awesome to see them all on one concert CD.
The Van Halen bros with the blonde haired dude only did a couple of these gems, and having Dave back makes this a special event, even with the issues discussed earlier in this review. The famous songs evoke the Ghost of Rock Concerts Past and are still a joy to hear. We're talking about "Unchained," "Runnin' with the Devil," "Everybody Wants Some!," "Somebody Get Me a Doctor," "(Oh) Pretty Woman," "Dance the Night Away," "Cradle Will Rock," "Hot For Teacher," "Beautiful Girls," "Ice Cream Man," "Panama," "Ain't Talking Bout Love" and "Jump." It’s some of the lesser played tunes that make the real Van Halen faithful crank this one up. We're talking "I'm the One" from the self-titled debut and "Women in Love" from VHII and "Romeo Delight" from Women and Children First and "Hear About It Later" from Fair Warning. The tunes from the album A Different Kind of Truth, which was the reason for the tour, all come across well and Dave sounds better singing them as he does not have to live up to past performances. "She's the Woman," "Tattoo" and "China Town" all stand up well next to the classics and the fan favorites.
So, I guess to sum this sucker up, Van Halen has issues... but when was the last time this band didn't have issues? Bands with brothers are famous for turmoil, and Van Halen adds to that mix a cocksure, arrogant spotlight stealin' front man making this a recipe for chaos. Yet isn’t it the chaos that makes this band so special? We've watched, listened and read the wars of words and we've sat on the edge of our seats as the larger than life drama of the DLR led VH was paraded before our very eyes. We've been sad when it fell apart and elated when it came back together. We take sides, argue and get emotionally involved in this band. Why? It’s the music... that's why. Ed and Dave, the music, is so much bigger than Ed and Dave, the people. This music is to my generation what the Beatles and the Who were to the one that came before me.
This may not be a perfect album and, as stated, some of the vocals are really pretty bad... but that guitar player... and those solos... and just when you think you've had enough of Roth he does something cool and for a second sounds like the old Dave again---just enough to give him one more chance! The band sounds like they are having fun and they even throw in "Smoke on the Water" during a song (you will have to buy it to learn which one) and Dave adds some corny jokes that still make me laugh. Oh, I WANT to badmouth this album, but when Eddie does that run of famous solos that turns into "Eruption," or Alex plays that intro to "Hot for Teacher," or Wolfgang thumps out Mikey's opening notes in "Runnin' with the Devil" the world is, briefly, a better place. Then Dave sings off-key and it pisses me off until the next solo begins and I go through that emotional ringer all over again!
Van Halen is still a hot mess of sights, sounds, emotions and songs even after all these years down the road. We, the fans, are still there hopeful, forgiving, sometimes angry and always excited to defend this version of VH against Van Hagar. We even have strong emotions over the original logo versus the Sammy era logo. It won't stop either. If Roth stepped down and they got a pretend Roth, the haters would be yelling loudly about that as well no matter how note perfect he was! So, valid point or not, it makes this writer wonder if it was all worth even trying to explain.
There is one point that needs to be made before this review ends, with which everyone in the current band Van Halen as well as everyone involved in the management of the band needs to be very proud of... And this is a HUGE point and is oft overlooked when talking about a live release from this band... Van Halen has made a TRUE live album. Love 'em or hate 'em, THIS is how Van Halen sounds live in the present day. What you hear is really what you get. In this day and age, Dave could have been tweaked and auto-tuned and the album could have been made to sound near-perfect. Van Halen didn't do that. This is who they are and this is how they sound. I rather like that, and I really like that they still have the balls and the rock and roll middle-finger-swagger to do this on their own terms.
At the end of the day, I realize I have waffled back and forth a bit in this review and it is hard not to do so. Parts are great and parts are not so great. Parts are bad and other parts are brilliant. I am emotionally charged about this band, and it makes it very difficult to be objective.
The bottom line is this: If given the choice of Van Halen not being there at all, or this... I take this... with a stern warning to Dave... to quote "Unchained": "Come on Dave, gimmie a break..." to which I can hear an off-pitch Roth screaming back with that big goofy smile..."ONE BREAK!!! Commmmming Up!"
Tokyo Dome in Concert Track List:
- Runnin’ With The Devil
- She’s The Woman
- I’m The One
- Everybody Wants Some!!
- Somebody Get Me A Doctor
- Hear About It Later
- (Oh) Pretty Woman
- Me & You (Drum Solo)
- You Really Got Me
- Dance The Night Away
- I’ll Wait
- Cradle Will Rock
- Hot For Teacher
- Women In Love
- Romeo Delight
- Mean Street
- Beautiful Girls
- Ice Cream Man
- Ain’t Talkin Bout Love
By Jeb Wright
The views of the comments below are not necessarily those of Classic Rock Revisited