June 26th, 2012

Loopster Live: Van Halen at the Toyota Center

Sunday night was a test of “righting wrongs” vs. “keeping nostalgia where it belongs—in the past”, as Van Halen took stage with its original lead singer, “Diamond” David Lee Roth. Dave, for many, the poster child for LSD (lead singer disease), left more than a few fans undecided as to whether his presence was a return to Van Halen’s best possible incarnation.

Despite some fondness for some of the Red Rocker’s solo work, I was never a fan of Van Hagar with Hagar’s yelps replacing growls and a new high in banal lyrics. This restoration gave hope to a return to the sound that made Van Halen a scourge for parents of teenagers in the 80’s. RESULTS WERE MIXED.

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The Family Van Halen was instrumentally, in top form. Eddie seemed in good spirits and in an extended solo, proved that he was back to his signature sound. Wolfgang has graduated from apprentice, but still lacks the stage presence that more confidence will bring. Alex performed a brief solo, but was otherwise invisible, if you could ignore a glaring tempo issue. On several songs, Dave sounded eager to bring back the “Crazy From the Heat” era with a lounge ballad pacing, despite Alex’s steady, faster beat. It made for some puzzling, even painful moments. On the other hand, when dialed in, Dave’s tone filled out other vintage songs and returned them to places of honor that “Live: Right Here, Right Now” had stolen from me.

I’m not sure whether to blame the sound guy, band fatigue, or something else for background vocals—which were inconsistent all evening long. Sometimes in sync (again Dave being the likely culprit here), sometimes lost, sometimes just missing that deep punch. I’ll forgive Wolfie his youth again, but Michael Anthony probably deserves more backing vocal credit than many give him. If credit is due, it goes to the crowd eager to sing along.

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As to Dave’s other antics, spinning mike stands, extended chats with the crowd, I’m hoping his next solo work “Soliloquies and Monologues” is a double album. Properly curated, I’m sure he could provide a double album of entertaining material. Sunday night, that material dragged at times. It seemed to me the audience was more restless than Eddie, who appeared genuinely amused to watch Dave talk himself out on a ledge, curious about whether he’d return inside or jump.

Bands of a certain age have taken to giving themselves one or two intermissions. Van Halen is no different in that regard. Dave simply chose to forgo all but the break during Eddie’s solo, which speaks volumes for his showmanship. Your mileage may vary. Was it this?

The Van Halen of yesteryear? No, but neither are we the same fans. For all of the twitter sniping I read, I wager 90% would have happily stayed for another 5 songs if given the chance.

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Production: stage was very open with monitors lifted high to provide 240 degrees of sight lines. Lighting was heavy on reds, with most variation and full illumination coming from the massive video/light wall backing the stage. Clean, simple—it worked.

— Alexander

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