Van Halen, Kool & the Gang Toyota Center June 24, 2012
We're two songs into last night's sold-out Van Halen show at the Toyota Center when lead singer David Lee Roth spots three comely ladies in the front row of the house with cameras. In the span of three seconds, he turns into the Diamond Dave we all know from YouTube, the lovable scumbag you wouldn't leave alone with your own grandmother.
"When I die, sprinkle my ashes over 1982," he leers at the gals. It's a great line, quotable, too. Roth was trying to be cute, mentioning one of the best years of his career (Diver Down hit America that April), but he ended up talking to the girls for nearly two minutes.
Have you ever been at an awful party and had to endure listening to an oily pickup artist lay out his wares? Imagine that in front of almost 19,000 people.
But above hearing the man lay mental pipe in the time we all could have heard, say, half of a "You're No Good," it foretold a night that would be maddening, saddening and altogether frustrating. This was the David Lee Roth Show ("Daaaave TeeeVeeee!") and not the Roth-led Van Halen that some of you knew as teens and young drunken angels.
David Lee Roth and the Van Halen Family Band, if you want to call it that.
Yes, it could be said with some exaggeration, and tongue firmly sunken and glued in cheek, that openers/funk legends Kool & the Gang were the main act and that Van Halen played their afterparty. I thought that during the K&TG set jokingly, but as each VH song reeled out, it was like a hellish Nostradorkus prediction.
Seriously, K&TG still give a shit, even if there are only four original members of the group and they rely on younger front men to bring tunes like "Celebration" and "Ladies Night" alive. I never thought I would hear "Jungle Boogie" or "Too Hot" live and alive.
The notion of having a classic funk band opening for a classic rock band seemed dumb to some, but when you think of the influences in the VH and Roth stew, it makes total sense.
Let's start with what was right.
The set list was on point, with the right amount of megahits, himbo anthems and album gems. The rigging and lighting, absolutely beautiful. The video techs helped make infinite, trippy images of the group on the massive screen behind the band.
The presentation was free of the flashback shots that most aging touring groups distract audiences with. The production at the Beach Boys show earlier this month was like watching a concert inside a photo album.
Speaking of photos, the band's lax photo rules are a breath of fresh air in an industry where you can get kicked out of a venue for taking a cellphone picture of a band. They allowed any and all photography, which is why you can see most every date on this tour on YouTube.
The Van Halen Family Band -- Eddie, uncle Alex and son/nephew Wolfgang -- was playing with menacing precision. For his age, Wolfie was in the pocket. Sure, we all miss Michael Anthony, but with Wolf you at least know that it's in reverent hands. His backing vocals aren't terrible, either.
Alex had two short drum solos and mostly kept to himself as per the norm, and those solos seemed very subdued.
As for Eddie, he played with effortless ease and made even world-changing pieces like "Eruption" look like cake. He worked up seven sweaty minutes of finger-tapping bluster and technique that had everyone's mouths agape. That's the Eddie that had been hiding the last tour in 2007/2008. Welcome back. Stay awhile. Release some of that stuff on the floor of 5150.
Now what was wrong?
The backing vocals were the saving grace of the night, which isn't how it should be. That's the only way one could even sing along, if you wanted to attempt to. It disrupted the "groove," so to speak.
Roth was either ahead of the band, behind the band or adding new lyrics and embellishments to nearly every cut, save for maybe "You Really Got Me" and "I'll Wait." VH songs in my opinion aren't built for scat, jiving or whatever the fuck Roth was doing.
Had everyone been on the same page, the new songs wouldn't have suffered as much as they did. February's A Different Kind of Truth is a great rock album, and it deserved better on Sunday.
I wish that on Sunday night, Roth had been at the show the Van Halens were at, because it would have sounded great. He was in an alternate Vegas dimension in front of a million-piece orchestra where he had to fill up two hours of dead air. But with Alex and Eddie onstage, you have to let them breathe and wreck shop.
David Lee Roth is a storyteller, a song-and-dance man and a shamelessly naughty rock god. That's why his legend looms so tall in the minds of most men and women who have ever spent anytime with his VH catalog.
I would pay to see him hold court like William Shatner just did on his traveling Broadway show this past spring, weaving tales nightly about his vast sea of indiscretions and eating the world alive.
But Sunday night he was depriving a band that is firing on all cylinders of wiping the floor with a multigenerational crowd that was rightfully hungry for a revelatory show. I get that Roth is Roth is Roth, and that's how Roth do, but sweet Jesus, do it somewhere else with someone else.
For their part, Wolf and Eddie looked to be having fun, and Eddie and Roth seemed to be able to share air space with each other. Everyone onstage took Roth's antics rather well, God bless them.
What's the solution? Well, the band's current tour hits Dallas tonight and closes in New Orleans Tuesday. Roth has said in one of his video posts that the band is playing great but the touring grind isn't conducive to having fun, so they are taking another break after NOLA.
Seems to me after Sunday night that it's not past press target Eddie to blame for the problems, but it's Roth. But that's just an outsider's view, of course, and I could very well be a slave to a sound a band made in 1976.
Same old story. So do you bring back Sammy Hagar -- fat chance sez everything he has said in the past year and, well, ew -- or do you fold the tent and start fresh? These songs are too fun to lock away. I don't know, and at this point all you can do is wonder whether or not 1982 was in fact the best year in Roth's life.
Ya know, a Roth hologram would at least know the words to "Panama."
Personal Bias: I am a huge Van Halen and Roth fan. I have been since I could crawl and hear sound. But last night's show broke my jaded heart. On the way out, I dreaded having to get back in front of a computer to bag on a band that has been with me since before I could write my own name.
For the past six months, all I have talked about is their new album and this concert, and I watched at least three of the band's concerts from this tour online. When I saw where my seats were last night, I nearly shat my jorts. Old Travis Coates is my homeboy right now. Van Halen will never sound as good live as they sound blaring in your car on your day off or at a house party, or even on a tinny radio in your bathroom.
The Crowd: Like I said, Van Halen spans generations. Right before the show started, half the venue was entranced by the appearance of comedian George Lopez, who was making his way to his seat for the show. For most working comedians, he might as well be Hitler. He even distracted the crowd on the floor from seeing Alex's entrance, but that's not his fault. Ex-wife of Eddie and Wolf's mother Valerie Bertinelli was also in the house. She smelled nice.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Just play the goddamned song."
Random Notebook Dump: Did Diamond Dave really spend three minutes talking about the juicer on his bus, selling lemonade in Indiana, and show us home video footage of his dog? Yes, he did.
VAN HALEN SET LIST
Unchained Runnin' with the Devil She's the Woman Romeo Delight Tattoo Everybody Wants Some!! Somebody Get Me a Doctor China Town Hear About It Later Oh, Pretty Woman
You Really Got Me The Trouble with Never Dance the Night Away I'll Wait And the Cradle Will Rock... Hot for Teacher Women in Love Beautiful Girls
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Ice Cream Man (Roth solo)
Panama Guitar Solo Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love Jump