Van Halen at the Air Canada Centre, Toronto – Concert review

March 18, 2012

Van Halen at the ACC Toronto - Wolfgang, David Lee Roth, Alex Van Halen - photo Brian Banks, Music Vice
Van Halen entertain “The Walking Dead” inside the Air Canada Centre

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: 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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Brian Banks

Editor and Founder, Music Vice Magazine. Writer. Photographer. Poet. From Scotland. Not Ireland. Proudly based in Toronto, Canada. Rock N' Roll Don't Pay The Rent... 

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22 Responses to Van Halen at the Air Canada Centre, Toronto – Concert review

  1. James Reid on March 18, 2012 at 11:48 pm

    Hahaha… I’m laughing my sides off… great job, spot on!!

  2. Joe on March 19, 2012 at 12:14 am

    You pay for crap seats you get crap sound. This show was an unbelievable show of talent. It may not have been the Van Halen of 80’s but they still bring more energy than most bands in their 20’s. Try reviewing something other than conerts…it’s obviously not your thing.

  3. Matt on March 19, 2012 at 12:31 am

    A biased, smart-assed “review” from another 20 something d***wad that thinks they know all about great music! If “Jump” is your favourite VH tune, then you obviously are not a true fan, and went into this show with blinders on! Don’t give up your day job. What a jerk…………..

  4. mike on March 19, 2012 at 12:41 am

    must have been a good gig

  5. Ivan on March 19, 2012 at 12:43 am

    Yeah, Eddie should have been in the spotlight more and I’ll take Hagar over DLR any day but it didnt matter when we were all singing so loud!!! 😀

    – 31, no mullet, but a proud VH “zombie”! Fun piece.

  6. Carl on March 19, 2012 at 7:11 am

    I was VERY dissapointed in the VH show at the ACC. Dave was off key on almost EVERY song. This is third time I’ve seen them, twice with DLR and once with Sammy.Tickets were outragously priced( 250+ each )for where we were sitting, at FAR end of arena. EDDIE STILL RULES,ALEX ROCKS,WOLFGANG IS A TRUE VH,MAKES BASS PLAYING LOOK EASY. But sadly DAVE fell WAY short.I would LOVE my money back

  7. Vini on March 19, 2012 at 7:35 am

    Obviously, you are not a Van Halen or DLR fan… so why did you get the job of reviewing them? Perhaps you should go back to doing restaurant reviews or whatever it is that you excel at… perhaps washing dishes?

  8. RumNCoke on March 19, 2012 at 10:20 am

    Yeah, these guys are old warhorses but they can still light up a big venue. If you want mumbling indie bands with bad skin and piercings, stay home and watch them on You Tube in your basement.

  9. Jaso on March 19, 2012 at 10:33 am

    What a complete ****** this Brian Banks is! You are neither qualified, nor worthy, to write a review of the mighty VH. They sound amazing on this tour and don’t deserve to be bashed by some young, ignorant moron with a writing job. Eddie and Alex are as good as ever, and Wolfgang is a terrific bass player (his work on “She’s the Woman” and “Chinatown” is stellar). Dave doesn’t have the pipes that he once had, but he sounds very good for his age and is still the best frontman in rock-n-roll. I would suggest finding a different career path, ass clown!

  10. ingrid on March 19, 2012 at 10:46 am

    I was not at the concert, but I cannot understand how this review can be so different — so completely opposite — from the one in the Globe and Mail. Who got it wrong? Shows the value of reviews,I guess.

  11. Patrick on March 19, 2012 at 11:26 am

    Taking shots at the crowd for simply being old seems a little odd when I assume this reviewer will be attending concerts in his 40’s or 50’s. As well, the first part or intro to “Ice Cream Man” is actually accustic and performed soley by DLR. Tough to give a solid review when you are not familiar with the band.


  12. Mike on March 19, 2012 at 11:41 am

    ******** ****** if you go within 50feet of a Van Halen concert again you will be leaving in an ambulence!! i will make sure of it.

  13. Chuck on March 19, 2012 at 11:42 am

    You my very small friend, are a gigantic toolbag. If you had a clue, someone must of given it to you. But, you obviously lost it. Take a look at EVERY OTHER REVIEW that has been written about this tour. You will notice you are the only one to give this show a bad review.. Coincidence? Nope, just a misinformed monkey doin a job he cant.. Next time I want to hear your opinion, I will give it to you beforehand…

  14. Brian Banks on March 19, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    Joe – I was on the floor for the first 3 songs, and mid-level for a couple others then up in the “nose bleeds” for the remainder of the show. Of course the sound is better lower down. The roar of the crowd was incredible from above.

    Matt – It’s a concert review. There are hundreds more on this website which you can find on this very website. I write honestly and creatively and I’m as blunt as I need to be. See my full reply above.

    To everyone else, please see my open reply that I have added to the bottom of the review. Freedom of speech is fine and anyone is welcome to comment but keep your personal threats offline, they will not be published. It is not cool.

  15. JP on March 19, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    This is an Indie Hipster Lovefest site.

    Did anyone really expect a hipster to like the VH Show?

  16. Jennifer on March 19, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    Wow….I can’t believe you had to write a letter to explain this review to some angry diehards…some people clearly have no sense of humor. Mike is a pathetic troll.
    I didn’t feel completely ripped off like Carls comment but I knew what to expect..its not 1979-1984 and its fair for you to say Van Halen is past their best.
    I can appreciate an honest, non-stuffy review and I had a laugh at your zombie analogy and Walking Dead comparison…(how good was last nights finale?!)
    Illegitimi non carborundum Mr Banks.

  17. Lola on March 19, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    Yep, that pretty much sums up how I felt about it. Deeply underwhelming. I expected more from VH and from the fans, frankly. “Zombies” is a good description of all but the 2 hilarious 20 year olds in front of us up in the 300 level. DLR just seemed cranky, angry and a bit pathetic, really. Not a gracious guy.

  18. Rusty on March 19, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    Right on dude….I especially liked the mullet and ponytail remarks..I’am still howling…

  19. Tim2Party on March 19, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    If you went looking for 1978 Van Halen, I suspect you were disappointed

    It was an arena show by a bunch of 50 somethings lucky to still be playing at all, much less commanding am arena stage and audience. It was good for what it was.

    I was not offended by your zombie analogy. I realized it was an small attempt at humor on your part. It actually came across as more of a still born attempt in it’s delivery though.

    …And As far as your Iggy comment. Not a very good comparison. I saw Iggy a few years ago. He did’nt rock that hard lol

  20. Mike on March 19, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    Don’t listen to the haters and sad morons, this review is hilarious! The first paragraph is GOLD:

    “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…”

    You had me splitting my sides! This is way better than the bog standard pieces posted at the Globe and Mail and other websites. Anyone can pander to the fans like that with a passing rundown of the songs and key events… it takes BALLS to write with this kind of honesty and humour and to express an actual opinion about the performance. This a true review. Way to go man, incisive writing!

  21. Tim2Party on March 19, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    Spending half of a review discussing the appearance of the audience is incisive?

    Boy, tThe meaning of that word sure is not what it used to be LOL

  22. Joanne on March 19, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Maybe he was looking for “sharp” not “incisive”. Fun story, I was not offended either.

    I was actually pretty disappointed in the show myself too. Tickets were definitely overpriced. DLR was pretty obnoxious, danced badly and forgot some of the words to “You Really Got Me”. Our 15 year old actually had more fun than us.

    – Joanne