By Avinash Mittur
June 1st, 2012, Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA: Van Halen is one of the few bands that I can genuinely say had a significant influence on my life. Van Halen I was the first rock album I ever bought, and listening to the album for the first time was a life changing experience. It wasn’t just that Eddie Van Halen’s playing was amazing, or that David Lee Roth’s vocals were so over the top, it was that the songs were so mindnumbingly catchy. It’s still one of my all time favorite albums. A year after buying that album, I was fortunate enough to see Van Halen on their first reunion tour with David Lee Roth. It was the third concert that I ever attended, and it was an great show by any standard. In the four years since that show, my musical tastes have grown and changed, but my love for heavy rock music has remained the same. Last night at the Staples Center, Van Halen once again delivered a fantastic show that is sure to have pleased their fans, both hardcore and casual.
Unfortunately, my friends and I arrived at the venue after the opening act, Kool and the Gang, had finished. I was honestly really looking forward to see them live, as their mix of funk, soul and pop is something that few other groups have managed to successfully recreate since the disco era. Reports on their opening set have been consistently full of praise however, and given that the audience was mostly made up of people who grew up with their music, I’m sure that Kool and the Gang gave a fun time to the attendees at this show.
Right from the very first song, I knew that this Van Halen show would be a bit different than the one I saw last time. Instead of starting with the obvious opener, You Really Got Me, the band busted out Unchained. It was a fantastic start to the show, and showed a band in prime form. Both Eddie and Wolfgang were animated presences onstage, and the two looked truly happy to be there. Wolf’s confidence and stage presence has grown leaps and bounds since the last tour, and one could easily see Eddie feeding off the energy coming from his son. Eddie had a big smile on his face for the full two hours that the band was onstage, and he couldn’t have looked happier to play for this crowd. Dave was easily the most energetic of the band members however. The man was always in motion, constantly dancing and strutting about the stage. Sadly, his voice just couldn’t match up to his level of enthusiasm. Despite being in top form during the first reunion tour, his singing was noticeably strained and off-key throughout the whole show last night. This was most apparent during Runnin’ with the Devil, with Dave coming in off-time and his singing sounding more like yelling.
It’s a good thing that Wolf and Ed did such a phenomenal job on backing vocals then- the two absolutely nailed the band’s signature choruses and harmonies. I can say with utmost confidence that Wolf is doing a great job filling original bassist Michael Anthony’s shoes, and even if having the original guy onstage would be ideal, it’s hard to complain about what I got to see and hear last night. Where Dave’s voice would falter, Ed and Wolf would sound sublime.
The first new song of the night, She’s the Woman, was greeted with a great reception from the sold out audience. Van Halen’s new album, A Different Kind of Truth, has easily taken its place as one of my favorite records of 2012, and I was happy to see the band play four songs from it at this show. Even though Tattoo is my least favorite song off of the new record (hearing it live didn’t change my opinion on it much), I can understand why the band included it in their setlist since it’s the first single from the album. China Town on the other hand, was truly something else. Alex Van Halen’s double bass attack was relentless, and Dave managed to give a great vocal performance on this song. Even though there are a couple other songs off of A Different Kind of Truth I would have liked to have heard, the ones they played were solid and I’m happy that the album was represented well.
The stage setup was minimal, but effective. The band only had their amps, a drum riser and a dance platform for Dave on the stage itself. Behind the band was a giant video screen that allowed everyone to have a good view of the show. Even from my nosebleed seat, I still managed to enjoy the visual part of the show. The sound was also as good as one could ask for at an arena concert. One could hear every instrument perfectly, and the only blemishes to be heard were occasional microphone whistles. No matter where you were in the arena or how cheap your seats were, you would be treated to a truly great show. I paid about thirty dollars for my seat on StubHub, and I feel that I absolutely got my money’s worth. If one wanted to spend top dollar for close seats they could, but one could still spend less than fifty dollars and still receive a long, energetic, visually entertaining show.
Even though the band played pretty much every hit song they ever recorded with David Lee Roth, they still managed to play some rare cuts from their catalog. Two of those rare tracks, Hear About It Later and Women In Love, featured stunning vocals from Wolf and Ed. When it came to the hits, every song was performed to perfection and the audience couldn’t have been happier. Among the many popular songs the band played, the songs from 1984 and the two self-titled records drew the biggest reception from the crowd. The band tore through Hot For Teacher with the energy and wild abandon of a young thrash metal band, and nearly everyone on the floor could be seen standing and moving their bodies to Dance the Night Away. Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love of course, saw nearly everyone in Staples Center sending their fists to the air for its iconic “hey, hey, hey!” ending.
The band mostly went straight from song to song without a break, but occasionally Dave would take the time to speak to the audience for a bit. Simply put, these were some of the strangest monologues I have ever heard a singer give an audience. These included stories about his ex-girlfriend “Illegal Evelyn,” and the dogs on his farm in Indiana. The combination of these random dialogues, his horrible puns (Shreddy Krueger and Wolfstar Galactica?) along with his over the top stage presence was a bit much at times, but he still managed to be an engaging frontman. I really don’t think anyone needs to see a 59 year old man do the splits however. On the instrumental side, Alex gave a surprisingly short drum solo, while Eddie’s guitar solo was as amazing as one could expect. It was far more memorable than the one he gave on the first reunion tour, and nearly everyone in the audience was enthralled for the entire duration of the solo, which included an extended Eruption and Cathedral. His playing was noticeably tighter than the last time the band toured and even if his stage presence was slightly more subdued, he looked to be having so much fun. One couldn’t help but smile when he showed the audience his signature kicks across the stage during Panama.
As the band ended Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love, Dave asked the audience if they really needed to leave the stage for the encore, and the band immediately began the final song of the night, Jump. As confetti blasted into the air and Dave twirled a giant checkered flag, everyone in the Staples Center was having the time of their lives. On an objective level, this concert was much better than the one I saw four years ago. Eddie’s playing was much better this time around, the setlist was better balanced and Wolfgang’s stage presence had vastly improved. Diamond Dave may be more like your creepy uncle Dave these days, but he will always be one of rock music’s best frontmen. All in all, this was a fantastic show for everyone in attendance, and I absolutely encourage anyone who can see this tour to do so.