The Gig: Van Halen w/ Kool And The Gang
Where: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Canada
When: 17 March 2012
In One Word: Zombies
Last night in Toronto nearly 20,000 people — mostly 40 and 50-somethings from Oakville, with assorted mullets, ponytails, forward comb-overs and ill-fitting pre-ripped jeans — crammed inside the Air Canada Centre to see veteran rockstars Van Halen.
This was all about nostalgia, fans reliving their youth — for anybody else under 30, it was like being on the set of The Walking Dead; except these zombies were wearing Van Halen t-shirts, slugging back $15 cups of beer and, in some cases, drooling at the mouth as they clamoured for photo-ops with an Eddie look-a-like who roamed around near the snack bars. These Van Halen walkers were a scary bunch!
It’s over 30 years since Van Halen first rose to prominence with their self-titled debut album in 1978. I was still yet to be born when Van Halen released their sixth (and best) studio album, the synth-injected piece of classic hard rock, 1984 – their last album with original singer David Lee Roth, prior to 2012’s A Different Kind Of Truth.
The Van Halen line-up in 2012 is a bizarre mix of the original and new: David Lee Roth, Alex Van Halen and Eddie Van Halen are joined by Eddie’s son Wolfgang Van Halen on bass. This was not the Van Halen from those 80s music videos. Age and gravity are not forgiving, not least to fast-living rockstars. David Lee Roth still had some energy and charisma but in terms of stage presence think spinning on his heels and almost losing his balance, rather than high jumps and sliding on his knees. Oh, and a weird faux-moonwalk. Eddie and Alex were solid, albeit rooted to the spot, with Eddie rarely stepping too far from his effects pedals. And Wolfgang looked lost up there on the big ACC stage beside his old man, his uncle and DLR — his stage presence consisting of walking up and down the stage stairs while looking off into nowhere. Hmm… maybe Wolfgang had gone into shock after spotting the Eddie look-a-like in the audience being abused by a horde of Van Halen zombie-cougars.
The sound from floor level and the lower reaches was good enough and plenty loud (which I experienced at full force from the floor for the opening songs), but from up near the skies in the press box it all became a gargled noise, with every song sounding the same. [It’s a stadium show, so the loss of sound-quality in high levels is to be expected.] The most impressive thing was the roaring ACC crowd, who were super loud and enjoying every minute.
This concert was an exercise in patience.
For all the enthusiasm of the VH zombies, this was a tired old show. The most grueling moment coming when David Lee Roth preceded to talk about his sheepdogs against the backdrop of a home movie, before going all country as he sang “Ice Cream Man” solo with his acoustic guitar. Brutal. I was thankful that the crowd of 20,000 VH fans were loud enough to drown out DLR for those of us in the upper levels.
A hairy, dull geriatric concert… But wait… Just as I was heading for the exit there was FINALLY one great moment by Eddie after Cartman and the Honky Tonk Kid David Lee Roth got off the stage for five minutes. Yes, Eddie Van Halen lives! Eddie took the spotlight and let-rip with his amazing double-tapping guitar solo skills as he moved to centre stage and performed “Eruption”. It was a hair-on-the-neck-moment; this was the Van Halen that I had hoped to see. Incredible. I watched this solo while standing next to the spotlight guys up on the top floor of the ACC, while they shined the lights on Eddie. If the spotlight had shined on Eddie and his talents more tonight, then this show would have been improved.
I’d seen enough, and because of the notable absence of keyboards — (recorded keys and saxophone had been dubbed over Alex’s earlier drum solo) — I didn’t want to diminish the high of seeing Eddie’s solo by seeing Van Halen play a tired version of my favourite anthem from their catalogue, “Jump”.
Van Halen the band might be tired, old and confused (Wolfgang) but the main man Eddie Van Halen is still alive and tappin’.
© Brian Banks, Editor, Music Vice
11.48am, Monday 19/03/12
Dear Van Halen fans,
Please pause for a moment and take a breath before you need feel the need to comment in retaliation at my review. And, especially to the three people in particular who left comments/emails this morning insulting my family and even threatening me, please get a grip and keep your personal threats to yourself. This is a concert review not a matter of life or death. Seriously.
With this review I was having a bit of fun by comparing a stadium full of concert fans to The Walking Dead hordes of walkers. It was no personal slight. I will be a middle-aged person at a concert one day too. I hope I have better dress sense, but probably not. That’s life.
I do not need to justify having “Jump” as my favourite Van Halen song – however, the reason I like it is because it’s a fun, feel-good song that can get people on their feet. (Like stadiums full of football fans in Europe: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKveIowdV18). When I first got into rock music seriously in my teens I bought a few Van Halen CDs plus many others from other metal and hard rock bands. It was part of my own self-prescribed rock and roll education… an addiction that lives on in me to this day. I get sent a ton of new music every week, but I always return and listen to old bands of many genres and generations on a weekly basis, because the classics never lose their magic. And variety is the spice of life.
The best thing about Van Halen’s music to me has always been the guitar. When I bought my first electric guitar at University it was a heavy metal style guitar, and I would always pick-up the issues with EVH on the cover – I could never come close to pulling-off Eddies solos but it was fun at least to try and to learn about his technique. That is why seeing Eddie Van Halen’s incredible solo at the ACC was the highlight of the night for me. It was the standout moment at an otherwise languid stadium show.
I’m glad if you were a whole lot more entertained, and I did point out how amazingly loud and receptive most the capacity audience was. However, not every lifelong Van Halen fan at the ACC was blown off their feet: one photographer friend of mine Darko Dan who saw Van Halen a dozen times in their prime and photographed them seven times, felt the need to leave after half an hour because of his dislike for DLR and his apathy for this concert. In his words: “you all been duped.”
Yes, I found this concert dull, but I go to shows many nights a week and because I get out a lot that makes me harder to please. I was happy to leave this show on a high after seeing Eddie’s incredible solo. Nothing could have topped that.
Not every artist loses their edge with age and I have no vendetta against older bands. For an example; Iggy Pop is older than any member of Van Halen but his concert in 2010 was one of the most incredible and energetic I have ever seen. Check out that review:
Not every rockstar can still kick it to the grave like Iggy Pop.
– Brian Banks, Editor, Music Vice
Photos of Van Halen at the ACC (click to enlarge from attachment page):
Internet links: Van Halen
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