I have been a Van Halen fan almost all my life. My first cassettes were Van Halen 1984, Weird Al in 3D, and the Ghostbusters soundtrack. That was a solid year of tunes. Needless to say things got pretty confusing in 1985 when David Lee Roth left the band and was replaced by Sammy Hagar. It took me until high school to find myself listening to the new Van Hagar. I resumed my love of Van Halen somewhere between the time I received my first guitar for Christmas and the time I learned to play power chords (an embarrassing amount of years later.) I had no interest in playing folk songs, I wanted to play the guitar in a way that made it sound like I was pushing buttons on a spaceship. Eddie Van Halen seemed like a suitable mentor.
I’ve seen Van Halen live many, many times, though mostly with Sammy. I first saw them with Dave at the Staples Center in 2007 and I checked them out again last Friday. The first time was pretty noisy, though probably worse for me as I was about 3 rows from the roof. It was nice to see 3/4 of the original lineup back together, but I couldn’t really hear what was going on. I remember DLR bouncing on a giant microphone and Eddie’s bright new veneers.
This time I’d spent months getting myself amped up to see Van Halen live again. I obsessed over any live footage that made their way to the web, any interviews, any early song leaks. I successfully justified spending over $100 each on tickets to see a band I’ve loved all my life. When the day finally arrived last Friday, I put my head down and sat through a day full of meetings and emerged on the other side of the day ready to sit in Friday evening traffic from Santa Monica to Downtown. It would be worth it.
My seats were a lot better this time around. We arrived as Kool & the Gang started performing. They sounded good, lots of vocal presence, carried every tune the way you remember it from the radio or the last wedding you attended.
Van Halen took to a very bare bones stage which was backed by a giant video screen that promised everyone a great seat for the night. The video screen mostly showed close-ups of the band members, in black and white for the first half of the show, and color for the second half. It was like the Wizard of Oz with really random pieces of clipart flying by every once in a while.
How did it sound? Well Eddie sounded as good as ever, though the P.A. was cranked so loud that it was tough to make out some notes. Alex seemed to be hitting the drums a little lighter than he has in past years, and Wolfgang was a fine pick-bassing sub for Mike Anthony but without those high harmonies. David Lee Roth…
I’m a fan of DLR, maybe more as a character than a lead singer. No one will ever go down in history saying that DLR is an amazing singer, but he is known for being a charismatic showman. That he still is, though he’s simplified the charisma to include a couple sex-related jokes with the crowd and two new Latin dance movies. Any time he did anything almost acrobatic it was highlighted in an instant replay on the huge screen.
Regarding Alex Van Halen, I know it’s 2012 and no one is begging to sit through a drum solo, but I think a pretty large percentage of this crowd would have been cool with a drum solo. Alex’s short solo featuring some weird Latin backing track was… interesting, but I’d rather just hear some straight up drums.
The only time the crowd seemed restless was when the band played a song off the latest album. While songs like “Tattoo” saw huge lines headed for the concessions and rest rooms, Eddie’s guitar solo kept people at their seats. It was nice to see.
One thing, and this is an issue I’ve had with Van Halen for years, what is up with all the covers? Van Halen has more than enough songs that fans want to hear. Throwing three covers into a set seems pretty lame to me. It would have been nice if they’d traded Oh, Pretty Woman, Ice Cream Man, or You Really Got Me for Girl Gone Bad, or Drop Dead Legs. Why not?
I’ll always love Van Halen, especially those Roth-era records, but I don’t know that I need to shell out money on tickets when David Lee Roth is going to sing a third of each song. Maybe if the band comes to their senses and rehires Michael Anthony I’d check it out, but I don’t really see that happening anytime soon.
Check out VH’s opener: Unchained live from the Staples Center
Here’s the setlist:
Runnin’ With the Devil
She’s the Woman
Everybody Wants Some!!
Somebody Get Me a Doctor
Hear About It Later
Oh, Pretty Woman (Roy Orbison cover)
You Really Got Me (The Kinks cover)
The Trouble with Never
Dance the Night Away
And the Cradle Will Rock…
Hot for Teacher
Women In Love
Ice Cream Man (John Brim cover)
Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love