Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Brutal Review of a Van Halen Show

I went to go see Van Halen when they came to Charlotte in 1998. That was when Gary Cherone was the lead singer. They opened with "Unchained" and it didn't get much better from there. When I'm asked to name the worst concert I have ever been to then I usually name this concert. This is something coming from a person who attended a Doobie Brothers and Chicago combined concert in the late 90's. "Detached" would be a polite way of describing the attitude from the band that night. I was about done when I realized there were synthesizer sounds coming from the stage and there was no one actually playing the synthesizer. It's not like Van Halen are poor, they can afford a touring keyboard player I'm sure. They just chose not to hire one, because why the fuck would they do that? This isn't the first time Van Halen played backup music in concert, including one time here in Greensboro. 

Right now, David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen hate each other. It's not a big deal because it has been quite a few years since Van Halen was a band, instead of a group of musicians who choose to play together in front of fans for money. They turned the corner from a band to a group of musicians who play music in front of their fans for money around the mid-90's, right after they fired Sammy Hagar, but not really, then decided they may want David Lee Roth back, but not really, but here is Gary Cherone, and then really who gives a shit let's just tour with David Lee Roth, but after we briefly get back together with Sammy Hagar. Now the band has again chosen David Lee Roth as their lead singer. The fans want David Lee Roth? They get him, they just don't get much else when they see Van Halen in concert. So here is a review of Van Halen at Red Rocks and it's brutal, but funny. 

Roth isn't a good vocalist, there's no doubt about that. Isolate his vocals and it makes you gain respect for his ability to put on a show and then wonder why he sounds so odd at times. So it's not surprising that his vocals didn't age well. He wasn't ever going to be Freddie Mercury. If a band hates each other and goes on tour to line their pockets or give fans a chance to see them, at least put on a good performance. 

The pioneering blues metal band Van Halen – anchored by the mighty Van Halen brothers Eddie and Alex – once bridged the gap between pop and metal. They defined a sound. Today, they remain as loud as ever, but their tired rock has reached its sell-by date.

I thought back in 1998 the band sounded tired in concert. I can't imagine how they sound now without Michael Anthony. And yes, Wolfgang Van Halen gets by well in this review, but I have no interest in seeing a person who wasn't born when David Lee Roth left the band originally performing on stage. Even if his last name is Van Halen too.

Even with a stellar setlist that included hits, deep cuts and some of the pioneering band’s most compelling riffs, the show fell spectacularly flat on Monday.

This reminds me, the first thing Gary Cherone did on stage when I saw the band in 1998 was do the "devil horns" thing that Elaine used to do on "Seinfeld." Maybe it felt like a "rock" thing to do. I don't know where the fuck Van Halen finds these guys. Well, they find them in other rock bands like Extreme...

If there was any star, it was Eddie’s 24-year-old son, Wolfgang, whose dynamic bass built a rich backdrop for his dad’s expressive guitar.

Maybe Eddie Van Halen is having the rest of the band perform shittily so his son looks better?

But Roth’s struggle eclipsed all moments of glory. If the consummate showman is troubled by blown lyrics and missed notes, he very likely spiraled into a deep funk late Monday. But Diamond Dave, who rotated through a rainbow of sparkling outfits at Red Rocks, has always been more flash than substance. With his fresh Japanese tattoos peeking from beneath his sleeveless vest, the 60-year-old did his best Jazzercise kicks all night while gasping and chanting every third word.

I love everything about this paragraph.

1. The knock against Roth for blowing lyrics (lyrics? How the hell can you blow Van Halen lyrics? It's not like they write 10 verses like Bob Dylan) and missing notes. 

2. The mention of Roth's sparkling outfits. He's the Madonna of rock. Wardrobe change!

3. "fresh Japanese tattoos..." Making it sound like Roth gets tattoos in order to seem younger.

4. "Jazzercise kicks..." But they are, they are Jazzercise kicks.

“Running … pant … devil … pant … whaaah!”

At least he sang the chorus. If you listen to the isolated vocal take he only sang the chorus as part of the background vocals on the album version of the song.

In one of the strangest moments ever for Red Rocks, Roth strummed an acoustic slide and blasted into a harmonica as he relayed the boring details from a decades-ago night with Ozzy Osbourne.

And now the drunken party boy who wants to act like he just came fresh off the beach to sing a few songs, Sammy Hagar, doesn't sound so bad does he? He may hawk some tequila, but at least he's not relaying stories about hanging out with one of the Nelson twins after a show one night.

Like him or not, it seems implausible that Roth can make it another 30-plus shows to Van Halen’s end-of-tour homecoming at L.A.’s Hollywood Bowl in October. 

Brutal. I swore off Van Halen after the 1998 show, so I feel very bad for those who are duped into buying tickets on this tour. It may not be so bad at times, but it seems like you gotta catch Roth on a good night.

While he never dropped his gape-mouth grin, Roth could not hide the fact that his voice is shattered after the tour’s first eight shows.

Given the fact Van Halen doesn't use that many different instruments on a song in the studio and didn't want to waste their time hiring a keyboardist a few tours ago, it wouldn't surprise me if they just had Roth's vocals dubbed in and he stood up on stage and pranced around for the entire show. They get paid either way, right?

And yes, when I saw Van Halen in '98 the piano intro to "Right Now" was played while the band just stood there on stage. There was a piano playing, but clearly no one was playing it.

Maybe it’s time to take a page from the Journey playbook and start trolling Manila nightclubs for a singer who can hit those sustained notes. 

(The reviewer drops the mic and walks away)

It's not that this is a funny comment, but Van Halen is currently touring with a lead singer the guitarist admits he doesn't like and who doesn't like him. The comment is funny because this would be something the band would do, because after all, why play with a guy who can't hit the notes and they hate when they could put some puppet strings on a complete stranger and have him sing karaoke on stage? It's not out of the realm that Van Halen would do this, so it's funny in a "Shit, they may do that in the future" type of way.

Eddie, graying a bit and casual in jeans and sneakers, joined his son in rescuing the spluttering Roth many a time, offering strong harmonies on every song, including rock-solid vocal arcs inside “Beautiful Girls” and “Ain’t Talking About Love.”

I'm betting $100 these vocals were supported by some form of background dubbing as well. If they will dub instruments in, why not dub a few vocals too? Plus, I'm supposed to believe a 60-year old guy who has had a third of tongue removed is throwing around some strong harmonies on stage? Not so sure about that one.

Touring in support of their first-ever live album with Roth – “Toyko Dome Live in Concert” – the band stormed through 25 songs in about two-and-a-half hours. 

Absent a reunion tour with a reunion album behind it, the idea of touring behind a live album always makes me chuckle. It's the lowest form of collecting cash by touring behind an album that is a recording of a previous tour. And yes, I attended the Rolling Stones "No Security" tour and don't regret it. I knew it was a cheap way to tour, but wanted to see the Stones. I have no regrets, but do recognize the whole "touring behind a live album" is the quickest and most effective way to do as little work as possible and separate a fool from his money.

The crowd thinned considerably about halfway through the show.

The reviewer didn't put a "thinning hair" joke in here. I wish he had. Such a missed opportunity.

Eddie and his older brother Alex on drums make an all-time team. Adding the younger Wolfgang has created an even more vibrant dynamic. The Van Halen family vibe was buoyed by Eddie’s apparent high spirits. He’s obviously stoked to be playing with his son and brother. Eddie roamed the stage on Monday, joining his brother on the sculpted steel drum platform and laughing with his old pal Roth. Those days of alcohol-fueled acrimony between Eddie and Roth seem distant.

Except for the part where they don't like each other.

If there were any fiery moments, they came late in the show with Eddie’s turbulent licks in Unchained” and their unique – yet straight off the album – take on the Kinks’ bluesy “You Really Got Me.” Roth played the drum major on the closer “Panama” twirling his mic stand like a baton and leaping maniacally in the encore “Jump.”

Probably doing Jazzercise kicks.

The lesson here is that if you plan on seeing a band in concert, try to decide if you just want to see that band play live or you actually expect that band to sound good live. I learned my lesson concerning Van Halen quite a few years ago. Maybe they were just having a bad night, but they were the worst band I have seen in concert and I have seen Kevin Bacon's band in concert. They were really good actually. One wouldn't think The Bacon Brothers would be better than Van Halen.