Van Halen: The Review (long)

As mentioned in this doomed, rambling OP, last night I got to see the opening show of Van Halen’s tour, their first in nine years with Sammy Hagar (after their unfortuate attempts to reinstate David Lee Roth and to add new blood with Gary Cherone).

Seats: Sucked. We were in the back corner of the lower arena, underneath the lip of the upper arena, preventing us (and especially the tall buddy of mine who went with me) from seeing the top of the stage set. These seats really should not have been included in the top ticket price.

Stage: Excellent! The stage itself was based on the familiar Van Halen logo, with the loops as walkways and some of the crowd inside the loops, like U2 did with the “Heart” on their last tour. (I was inside the heart for that one. You can’t win them all.) A large video screen in a landmine-looking thing was high up on center stage, complete with some rarely-used scaffolding.

Band: Sammy and Mike, of course, don’t appear to have aged a single day. (How can Sammy Hagar age?) Camera close-ups of Alex reveal that the years are catching up to him a bit. Eddie, on the other hand, looks like he hasn’t aged a day–since 1984. He has reached back past the glasses and sensible T-shirts of their last few tours, this time appearing shirtless in cargo pants and a Yorkie-style topknot.

The most remarkable thing about the band, though, is its energy. I saw them in 1995, and compared to that show, the sheer amount of running around, playing to the crowd, and generally enjoying themselves is immeasurably greater. Whatever their differences, these folks have clearly missed playing music in front of an adoring crowd this size.

Opening: “Jump”. I generally think Sammy does a good job with the DLR-era material, but this one always just seems to be missing something. Still, it brought the crowd into a frenzy.

–Can’t point to any specific songs, but the overall energy and joy that the band put into every one of them was powerful.

–Eddie’s solo, which was (of course) long and masturbatory, but still worth the price of admission. Like the band or not, the man revolutionized the electric guitar like very few before or since.

–“Right Now” included clips on the video screen from the song’s video. The video had a clip that said, “Right Now, nothing is more expensive than regret.” The video then had a picture of a condom; the show’s version had a picture of George W. Bush.

–Explaining to the people who bought our extra tickets, aged 21 and 22, why they weren’t seeing the teased hair and bad 80s clothes they expected to see. While there were certainly unfortunate hairstyles with both band and audience over the years, I explained, Van Halen was not at all a “hair band”. They didn’t really fit in with the metal bands of the era, nor with the pop stars; they really sort of did their own thing, for better or for worse, and it usually worked.

–“Ain’t Talkin’ 'Bout Love” and “Panama” were obvious closers to the main set and encore, respectively, but they were respectively followed by “Right Now” and “When It’s Love”. “Right Now” had the video clips that distracted from the band (understandably–it is one of my favorite videos ever), and “When It’s Love” just brought some of the energy back down.

–The keyboard parts being done as backing tracks. I know they’ve done this for a long time, but I still think it wouldn’t be that much trouble to have some live keyboards.

–Like I said, I saw them in 1995, and this show was very similar. Of course, they haven’t really had much new material in the meantime, and expecting a band to reinvent itself with every tour is a bit much. This isn’t really even a complaint, because both shows kicked ass–it’s more of a hope that if this reunion sticks, they try to move forward with it rather than rely on the past.

Overall? A hell of a show from a hell of a band, picking up where it left off.

I’d love to go see them when they come to Dallas. VH with Sammy has always been one of my favorite bands ever.

Unfortunately, none of my friends feel similar, and while I’ll go to the movies alone, going to a concert alone is just too pathetic even for me to deal with. Oh well.