April 9, 2012

Van Halen = Smiles + Enjoyment

If smiling is the barometer for enjoyment, then Van Halen’s recent show at DC’s Verizon Center was pure joy.

Whereas their 2007/2008 reunion tour with David Lee Roth had an odd aura of fragile euphoria, this time around it seemed like a reunion with durable, old friends. If there is one factor that makes this go-round feel more comfortable, it’s Eddie Van Halen. Gone is the “fresh from rehab,” but still walking a tightrope vibe, and in its place is a healthy and genuinely happy seeming Van Halen. Having seen Van Halen on every tour since 1986 (well, I did skip the Gary Cherone tour to nowhere…), what was blatantly obvious almost from the opening number – Unchained – was that this was Ed Van Halen at his all-time best. The man was simply on fire (hey, that was a pun!).

Drummer Alex Van Halen was predictably solid and played with his now almost expected thunderous precision. Wolf Van Halen seemed far more comfortable both on bass and background vocals. Unless you’re still sulking that this isn’t really a reunion because Michael Anthony isn’t in the band, you won’t even miss him. Anthony’s most valuable contribution to Van Halen was always his stellar background harmonies, but Wolf and his dad made up for it as they’ve obviously been practicing. Also obvious was that Michael Anthony secretly toured with Van Halen on the last tour…at least his vocals did…

            (Panama - Verizon Center, Washington, DC - March 28, 2012)

The show’s set list was a good mix of material from their first six albums including most of the essential tracks you’d want to hear, as well as some surprise “deep cuts” like Hang ‘Em High, The Full Bug, and Women In Love. Their new album A Different Kind Of Truth also had fair representation with four tracks. If I had to nit-pick their set list, I just wished they played more songs from Fair Warning, my favorite Van Halen album. As for Eddie’s late-set guitar solo, it was a tour de force of everything you’d expect from him all played with maniacal finesse. However, after 20-plus years of playing the same solo night after night – excerpts of Eruption, Spanish Fly, and Cathedral – it might be nice to hear Ed change things up a bit and improvise more. Again, this is all nit-picking perfection.

...and then there’s Diamond Dave…Live in front of your naked, steaming eyes, the man is everything you’d expect and more. The flashiness, swagger, Joker’s grin, irony in spades, and Hong Kong Fooey kicks are all still perfectly intact and present. To anyone in the audience who walked away from this show saying that Dave’s vocals aren’t what they used to be, I say, “You never heard his voice back in the day.” Dave sounded exactly as you’d expect him to sound – a unique mix of vaudeville, rock god, and calculated “I forgot the fucking words.”

If smiling is the barometer for enjoyment, then I walked out of this concert with a permanent-press Muppet grin on my face.