As far as attending concerts goes, I don’t get around much anymore. I caught two last year and that was a busy year for me. Even when it’s someone I still have fond memories for like Carlos Santana, any thought I might have of catching him live lasts up to the point where I see Santana is doing a duet with Justin Bieber and then it’s, “Eh, never mind” all over again.
When the semi-classic line-up of Van Halen kicks off a tour after the release of their first “new” album since 1984 some 28 years ago, there were be grown men weeping with joy as they furiously shred power chords and hammering riffs on air guitar as they scream their way through “And The Cradle Will Rock” one more time.
Unlike most fans I don’t have a rooting interest in the battle between the David Lee Roth vs Sammy Hagar eras of the band. Both guys brought their own strengths and weaknesses to the show. Roth was the consummate cock-rocker all sass, swagger and rock god sex appeal in spandex. Who cared if he didn’t have the greatest voice and couldn’t sing a ballad if you waterboarded him. Roth never wanted to sing silly love songs. Like the man said, He ain’t talkin’ ’bout love. Which meant he was talking about drinking, partying and fucking,
Hagar could sing ballads and he could rock out too. Just not like Diamond Dave and for that he will always be Roger Moore to Roth’s Sean Connery: a competent replacement, but never as good as the original. Hagar was in Van Halen as long as Roth was and had even more hits, yet he’ll always be the second wife and not as loved as the first.
I got no gripe with the reconstituted back-to-the-future version of Van Halen. Eddie gave original bassist Michael Anthony the shaft by opting to replace him with his son Wolfgang instead. Anthony’s backing vocals was the secret weapon of the Van Halen sound and when Van Halen Reloaded hit the stage in 2007 they were still using Anthony’s taped vocals. It’s reported that Wolfie is now filling his predecessor’s role on that score as well so presumably when they go live this time they can leave the old tapes at home.
That doesn’t mean everything old isn’t still going to be old. Hagar told Rolling Stone the “new” album is primarily made up of material that goes back decades. Playing this week at the Cafe Wha? club for a selected group of music critics and insiders the band blazed through a set list of songs from the classic era and ignored everything that followed 1984 (and yes, that means your shit too, Gary Cherone). “She’s the Woman” comes off the album being released in February and it’s roots trace back to 1976 with parts of it showing up on “Mean Street.”
Hagar spilled the beans to Rolling Stone, “I heard this record is old outtakes from the old days. I mean, stuff from before I even joined the band. I heard this five years ago though. Michael Anthony was curious if his background vocals would wind up on the album. I don’t think it’s a bad idea. It’s kind of interesting. Bob Seger did it, and so did the Rolling Stones. I think it’s an interesting thing to do in your old age if you can’t come up with fresh, good stuff – or you can’t get along. Because from what I heard, they aren’t working with new material. Ed and Dave didn’t actually write new songs. They took old stuff from previous sessions, and then maybe Dave had to go in and add vocals because they just had scat vocals, or even no vocal part at all.”
Okay, so what if the new album really isn’t. So what if five years ago Roth’s voice was pretty much shot and there’s no reason to think he can recapture past glories. So what if Wolfgang Van Halen is just an unproven, but chubbier version of Michael Anthony? So what if Alex Van Halen…ah, he’s the drummer. He can probably still play drums well enough.
The main attraction of Van Halen has always been Edward Van Halen and the insane sounds he can coax and cajole out of his guitar and that’s a good enough a reason to be curious if he can still bring it live. Eddie bounces around on stage better than any 56-year-old man who has survived a bout with lip cancer and sports a replaced hip has a right to be able to.
Neither he or Roth got fat, went bald (though Diamond Dave seems to have grown a sudden fondness for hats) and they don’t look half-dead like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Van Halen is older and slower, but they aren’t a complete hot mess as of yet. I wouldn’t spend a fortune for a ticket, but I’d buy one for them before I would for Chickenfoot (don’t tell me Sammy and Mike wouldn’t come running if Ed invited them back).
There ain’t nothing wrong with longing for your youth. Some guys quit their jobs, buy a Porsche and bang a girl young enough to be their daughter to get through their little mid-life crises. It’s probably better that the pay too much for a ticket to see the desiccated remains of a hard rock band that when in their prime seemed to have more fun that was legal.
Now if you want some real dinosaurs, just remember The Rolling Stones are threatening to tour again. God help us all.
- Reunited Van Halen Play Blazing Show at Tiny NYC Club (rollingstone.com)
- Reunited Van Halen Prep A Different Kind Of Truth, Tour (stereogum.com)
- Music Review: Van Halen Plays Mini-Gig at Cafe Wha? – Review (nytimes.com)
- Van Halen Announces Plans For 2012 (beatcrave.com)