On March 21st, 2012 I drove thirty kilometres or so to my local arena to see Van Halen. I had seen the band in Montreal about five years previous and had a great time at the show so I was anxious for another chance to see Van Halen (almost) as they were intended to be seen.
I say that because, c’mon, Sammy Hagar? Yeah, I know he was in the band longer than David Lee Roth but I think all but the most die-hard fans would instantly concede that VH ain’t really VH without rock and roll’s biggest party clown at the helm, am I right? The quotable quotes, the preening around in buttless chaps, that perfect ’70’s rock scream emanating from underneath that perfect ’70’s hairstyle…
Meanwhile, the “(almost)” refers to the tragic exclusion of Michael Anthony on bass and especially backup vocals. Sure, his replacement Wolfgang Van Halen had no trouble mimicking Anthony’s E E E E E E E E E E E bass stylings, nor did the young rock spawn seem to have a problem accurately lip-synching to his predecessor’s canned harmonies but the show would have been that much better with rock’s greatest backup vocalist in tow. That said, I thought David Lee Roth’s comment that the band is “three-quarters original and one quarter inevitable” was cute enough.
Van Halen has a history of bringing along great but mis-matched opening acts; a strategy that made them look that much better following a quality act that their audience had little interest in. I’m not sure if it still works in this inclusitory era of aesthetics; I really enjoyed Kool & The Gang’s opening set and it seemed like everyone else did too. Nothing wrong with a healthy dose of disco funk before an evening of pop/grind distortion.
When the headliners hit the stage it was crowd-pleasing hit after crowd-pleasing hit – Runnin’ With The Devil, Everybody Wants Some, Ice Cream Man, Hot For Teacher – and all of it delivered poorly by the obviously bored David Lee Roth. When I saw the band last time he was nailing all of his parts and the crowd was eating it up. However after a few years touring the hits DLR was obviously feeling the need to change things up, a lot.
You know how Bob Dylan shifts his melodies around, holds his lines back and spits them out in a stream three beats too late or a two chords early, such that one can barely recognize what song he’s singing? Well, that’s what Roth was doing all night, and while I love when Dylan does it I sure hated hearing DLR do it. Iconic bars were going by empty, only for the maned man to crush a whole verse into the space of a single lyric.
But that’s okay. I focused in on the guitar wizardry and left the venue feeling like I got my money’s worth in spite of David Lee Roth, and really I’d still rather hear him butcher the songs than hear Sammy Hagar (or Gary Cherone for that matter) sing the songs correctly.