Well, as they sing in their new song “China Town”, “It’s all happening downtown” and in Philly last night it was. The Van Halen show was the place to be. I was lucky enough to secure 8th row floor seats during the presale.
It was a chance for us 40-somethings (and 50-somethings) to let loose and remember our youth. The sound of Van Halen is eternal summer, blasting music from a Camaro at a parking lot party....
It is amazing that 3 of the members are now in their late 50’s . David Lee Roth can’t hit all of the high notes and his kicks and spins are nothing like the old days, but he is still the hammy showman. At times a little more “soft shoe” than rock n roll .
Eddie Van Halen never stops smiling. His son Wolf’s confidence has grown as a performer and musician since the last tour and it really shows. .
Alex Van Halen holds it all down hammering away on the drums keeping the solid and sometimes complex beat.
Believe or not the opening act was the R&B/soul outfit Kool &the Gang. A surprise choice for sure engineered by David Lee Roth. Apparently Roth saw them at a festival show last summer and was impressed by their performance. I wonder if I was the only person who was wondering why original singer JT Taylor was not present. Lol.
The pre concert music was a series of odd choices of rap and modern R&B tunes. Usually you want to be pumped up for a hard rock concert by hearing Aerosmith, Deep Purple, maybe even playing some Montrose to honor the passing of Ronnie Montrose would have been nice…
The band hit the stage just after 9pm as Eddie ripped into the iconic opening riff to “Unchained”. The pace was quick and the band then followed with “Runnin With the Devil”.
They then launched into the first new song of the night “She’s the Woman”. The guitar and bass interplay between Eddie and his son Wolf was particularly strong on this one.
Then came the first surprise of the night. The band has definitely been playing some deeper cuts on this tour. At this point in the set they performed “The Full Bug” from their “Diver Down” album.
To be truthful, I don’t think there is anything particular strong about the song, but longtime fans on the chat boards were ecstatic. I would have preferred to hear a different track from that album such as “Little Guitars”, “Secrets” or even their other Kinks cover “Where Have all the Good Times Gone”.
From there the band jumped into the first single from the new cd , “Tattoo”. Catchy and fun but didn’t stand out in the set.
Then DLR put on his explorer hat and the jungle drums of “Everybody Wants so Some” began. If you think too hard it can be a little disconcerting hearing a 57-year-old man sing these lyrics, but, hey, Mick Jagger is still singing “Satisfaction”.
The band kept up the brisk pace playing the VH II classic “Somebody Get me a Doctor”. It was on tracks like this you got to see how much Wolfgang Van Halen has grown stronger with his backing vocals.
One of the hottest tracks on the new cd is “China Town”. The band ripped thru it at a furious pace a times Roth seemed to have some trouble keeping up.
I was thrilled to hear the flanged intro of “Hear About it Later’, maybe my favorite VH song.
“Pretty Woman” is a nice cover but probably could be dropped in favor of an original tune...
Alex Van Halen transitioned into his drum solo. Alex took a page out Neil Peart’s book by incorporating samples into his solo. So in essence he was playing along to a Brazilian sounding track.
A little surprising and disappointing from one of rock’s best drummers. He did keep the solo brief.
The band played another song that they have to play ever concert “You really Got Me”. They do a great version but I really don’t need to hear it again.
The new song “The Trouble With Never” has grown on me and it sounded good last night.
“Dance the Night Away” always sounded like the Beach Boys meets Grand Funk (not a bad thing). The band performed a decent version of it, but it may be a little too pop for the live setting.
“I’ll Wait” is actually one of my favorite VH songs. I was one of the fans that thought it was cool when they expanded their music palette and started using keyboards. Live it really doesn’t do much for. The band plays along to a pre-recorded keyboard track that is pretty stiff. They could probably drop it from the set these days.
It was with the next song where the concert really caught fire in my opinion. The Alex Van Halen double bass drum intro assault signaled “Hot For Teacher”. The band really meshed and the audience ate it up as Roth yelled “say you missed us!” He also said it featured one of the best endings in the history of rock. A that point who could argue!
The first VH I ever bought was "Van Halen II", so I played it front to back. It was great to hear Eddie play the opening harmonics infused opening of “Women in Love”. It was awesome to hear it live.
The guys weren’t letting up at that point. In the days before cd’s you actually had to turn over a record or tape to hear side 2. “Girl Gone Bad” was near the end of side 2 on “1984” so many may have overlooked it, but it is a relentless track and one of my favorites. Ironically during the song a drunk “girl”, er, woman, did "go bad" and breached security and moved to a seat down in front of me. The staff asked to see her ticket and she pushed them away . The female staff had to try and forceable remove her from the seat and push her back up the steps to her seat!
“Old frumpy woman gone bad” just doesn’t have the same ring to it!
"Women in Love"/"Girl Gone Bad"
Next up was the eternal sunshine that is “Beautiful Girls”. One of Eddie’s best riffs, it went down great.
One of the best surprises of the night was DLR’s intro to “Ice Cream Man”. He strolled out of the darkness with his acoustic guitar as a video of him training and playing with his sheep/herding dogs was played on the big screen.
The DLR of old would have spouted some obnoxious tale of some risque conquest, but tonight he spoke of his love for his dogs and his passion for raising them as well having them compete! It actually really humanized the guy some. He has always come across as more persona than person, one of the reason’s they finally kicked him out of the band the first time. It was cool to see a different side of Diamond Dave.
When the band came in the song exploded.
David Lee Roth and his sheep dogs/Border Collies
From there Dave “eased the seat back” and took us for a ride in “Panama”. (no rope swingin here).
Eddie Van Halen reminded us why he’s is one of the most unique guitarist to ever live. Of course his solo started with “Eruption”. I heard it branch out into the “Mean Street” intro riff and then into the volume swells of Diver Down’s “Cathedral”.
To take us home, the guys rocked “Ain’t talking Bout Love” and had us all shouting the “Hey Hey Hey Hey” coda with them.
What else could they finish with except “Jump”, their only number one single. Again the keyboards were “canned” and Eddie stuck to riffing on the guitar as confetti rained down on the stage. If you could bottle joy, it might sound like this.....
Then it was goodnight. The guys sent us out into the night smiling and humming our favorite tunes…
[All photos by Todd N. from the 8th row; Video is from various YouTube sources]