Saturday, February 02, 2008

Van Halen

I spent Friday night at the Van Halen concert at Pepsi Center with some friends from high school & college - Dominic, Bryan and Steve.

The review
It was a damn good rock 'n' roll show. Depite the various shortcomings which I mention below, it was a great nostalgic blast for the fans of the original VH. There were only 2 hints of the Hagar era: a few guitar solo riffs lifted from 316 and the "5150" tattoo on Eddie's shirtless back. These guys still know how to entertain a crowd even if their stage show doesn't exhibit the manic excess it did back in the day.

The crowd
Ten seconds into the opening song, You Really Got Me, a drunk guy directly behind us took a dive into my buddy Bryan, causing a domino-like chain reaction of people falling and beer spilling. In the process he got his foot stuck in my seat (the kind with the seat bottom that flips up) and spent the next two minutes struggling to yank it out. After that he kept his drunk ass snugly in his own seat until he disappeared about half way through the show. The average age in the arena was about 35-40 years old, but there were a surprising number of teenagers, many of them with their parents. I'd say 75% of the fans were male; it was a definite sausage party.

The set list
The song list was the same as every other show on the tour, which is fine. The played all the hits and dug deep for some surprises like "Little Dreamer" and "Romeo Delight". Every album from the Roth era was represented, with the first album dominating. The true fans were not disappointed. The capped it off with an encore of 1984 and Jump. I was disappointed, just like the last 2 times I saw the band with Hagar, that nobody played keyboards (unless you count the sound stage guy). For "I'll Wait", "Jump" and "And the Cradle Will Rock", keyboard music appeared from the ether while Eddie stood there pretending to play guitar until it was time for the guitar solo.

The sound quality
In a word: disappointing. I don't think acoustics are a strong point at the Pepsi center. "The Can" is a more appropriate name for this place as a concert venue. The sounds were muffled and it was tough to hear the guitar through the din. It was loud, like you'd expect a VH concert to be, but it wasn't ear-splitting, AC/DC-circa-1990 volume I feared it might be. They didn't turn up the amps to 11 this time around, thankfully.

Diamond Dave still puts on a decent show for an over-the-hill rocker, but he certainly can't hold a tune - or a scream - like he used to. He also went into a silly rambling reminiscence of teenage party times for what seemed like 10 minutes, while strumming an acoustic guitar and eventually breaking into "Ice Cream Man".

Ed is skinny and was shirtless all night. He actually looked like he was having fun. His guitar solo was nothing new. It's the same incoherent mix of recycled riffs from Eruption, Little Guitars, Cathedral, Mean Street, and 316 that he's been doing for decades. As a guy behind us said during the solo, "write something new, Ed". Those are some damn impressive riffs, though. And amazing to see how effortless he makes it look.

Grandpa Alex is looking old these days, but he can still keep the beat. He still wears his signature karate-style headband. His drum solo was a furious few mintues of arms and legs pounding the skins and cymbals as fast as humanly possible, but with very little apparent rhythm. The huge gong behind the drum set was just begging to see some action, but sadly went untouched throughout not only the solo, but the entire show.

It's disappointing that Eddie tossed Michael Anthony aside like one his millions of cigarette butts. But I can't hold that against Eddie's son and competent new sidekick. The kid can play bass and sing backup with the best of 'em. Probably sings a lot better than Lee Roth these days. He could use some coaching on his stage presence, though. Not much going on there.

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