Saturday, September 19, 2015

C'mon Dave, Give Us a Break!

I was having dinner with a friend on Labor Day when he asked if I was interested in attending the Van Halen  concert scheduled for Sept. 15.  He had a pair of tickets and his original guest bailed out.  I immediately accepted, amused and then a bit taken aback that I would actually be going to this show.  I would not have gone on my own.  I mean, I like VH and all, was a big fan of 'em back in elementary and junior high.  I got their first album (on cassette) when I was eleven from a Columbia Music House promotion.  You remember them, get twelve albums for a penny? Just buy three more albums in a year or something like that.  You just had to make sure you indicated on a special card that you didn't want the "Selection of the Month", or else you'd find something from say, ABBA in your mailbox.

When I first heard "Eruption" on that tape, well, I went crazy.  Guitar wizardry like nothing I'd ever encountered.  Instant fan. Became an air guitarin' fool.  Van Halen is a seriously good debut, not one weak track, and still sounds fresh.  I followed the guys for many years afterward, including when Sammy Hagar took David Lee Roth's place in '85.  They still rocked, but there was also lots of Top 40 fodder.  "Finish What Ya Started" was the nadir for me.

As time passed, Van Halen would eventually occupy that part of my brain reserved for undiluted nostalgia. They would become a band that would always have a warm place in my memories, much like Journey, REO Speedwagon, and other arena rockers from that era.  I never listened to them for technique or nuance.  But Eddie Van Halen, we knew he was a genius.  Self taught maestro who never even learned to sight read.  Master of the "tapping" technique.  His sound is trademarked, best represented on that first album but present all the way through the catalog, even when former Extreme front man Gary Cherone became lead singer #3 for one album and tour, music with which I am only somewhat familiar.

Eddie is over sixty now and can still shred like a maniac.  At the concert he performed a medley of VH instrumentals, including "Eruption" and the beautiful "Cathedral" - always a favorite.  His time in the spotlight was easily the highlight of the evening (brother Alex also got a not too shabby drum solo earlier in the set).  Eddie plays insanely complicated notes up and down the neck of his axe, and I love how he periodically looks up and smiles at the crowd, like a kid trying to impress his friends.  He really seems to enjoy his work, and never flails around the stage like a fiend.

That's left to Roth, as flamboyant and arrogant as ever.  His antics during the show at the hilariously corporately named Perfect Vodka Ampitheater in West Palm Beach (formerly Coral Sky, a far better name.  Can you imagine if Preparation H sponsored the venue?) were even more out of control than expected.  His ramblings resembled that of a bad comedian, or some verbose derelict on the subway, the sort you make a studied effort to avoid.  DLR always dropped smarmy comments during the songs ("I like the way the line runs down the back of your stockings", "You'll get some leg tonight for sure!"), but at this show he added far more, stream of consciousness of a quite lewd variety.  At one point he sat down, broke out a harmonica (quite good, have to admit) and told stories of how he met James Brown at the MTV Video Awards.  Mostly, he was incoherent.  He talked so much that some guys in our section quoted the line from "Unchained", the bit when where a sound engineer deadpans, "C'mon Dave give us a break!"

DLR did jump around and changed his costumes several times.  He can still twirl the microphone stand like a pro.  Thankfully, he did not attempt any leaps off Marshall stacks or other gravity defying splits.  That would've been even less pretty than what I did witness.  The man's voice held up better than expected, though he forgot the words more than once, and had the damndest time singing the stoccato "Catch as catch" lines from "Little Guitars".

In all, a fun evening.  I ate braished rib tip tacos and washed them down with a Due South Cat 5 brew (don't ask how much it cost).  Kenny Wayne Shepherd was the opening act, offering blistering versions of "Voodoo Chile" and the early Fleetwood Mac scorcher "Oh Well".   The crowd was mostly in their 40s and older, though there were more younger ones than expected.  The friend who gave me the tix is a guy I've known since kindergarten.  He still has long hair and replicas of Eddie's guitars in his living room.  A guy who is just as cool now as he was when bassist Michael Anthony was still with VH (Eddie's son Wolfgang plucks the strings now).  These days, Anthony tours with Hagar in a supergroup called Chickenfoot and markets his own hot sauce with the very-Van Halen like tagline "It's so hot, you'll need two assholes!".

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