Sunday, December 02, 2007

1984 All Over Again

I just got home from seeing something I've wished for half my life: Van Halen, complete with David Lee Roth, in concert.  Well, "complete" isn't quite the word, but more on that later.  The last time I saw Van Halen in concert was circa 1990 with the Monsters of Rock tour.  That was during the "Van Hagar" days, with Sammy Hagar on vocals.  Sammy had laryngitis that day, and the headliner part of the show was a disappointment (The Scorpions, who were on just before Van Halen, were great)
Tonight's show was at The Rose Garden Arena, here in Portland, which doesn't have the greatest sound in the world (okay, for concerts, it sucks), but it's the largest venue we have and it was needed.  I got tickets today, from Tickets Unlimited.  Given that I got them day-of-show, I can't complain too much about the bundle of cables hanging in front of us at the corner of the stage, other than to say I can't believe riggers can't come up with a better way to run those things.  Other than the cables, the seats were good.

I'm sorry to report that the band wasn't as tight as they could be.  Diamond Dave seemed to forget the lyrics to a couple of the songs, and there were times when everyone seemed to stumble around on the bridges, trying to find the beat that was there just a minute ago.

Thirty years after a lot of the music they played came out, David Lee Roth can still handle the vocals.  His signature falsetto squeaks came out fewer times, but he's not in his twenties any more.  Just like it was 1984, Roth jumped and kicked regularly throughout the show, showing that the years haven't slowed him down much at all.  He really seemed to enjoy his re-found position as the frontman for a band that helped define rock n' roll in the late seventies and early eighties.

Alex van Halen doesn't look like he's changed since the last time I saw the band in concert.  I think he's wearing the same headband.  A several-minute-long drum solo showed that he's still got it.  Alex has always been a somewhat better than average, but not phenomenal rock drummer.  He hasn't lost anything.

I hardly recognized Eddie van Halen with his short hair and no cigarette hanging out of his mouth.  Oddly, during a long guitar solo, where he was the only one on stage, he started by sitting on the edge of the stage and playing some discordant melody that seemed to wander around aimlessly.  He drifted from that to some of his signature fretboard tapping, but there was nothing about it that seemed any better than things I've seen my neighbor play (my neighbor is a professional guitar player, but he's not Eddie van Halen).  But then he got up, signaled "excuse me a second" to the crowd, and went over to the control pedals.  Stomp, stomp, stomp, he reset the pedals, jammed a chord, and his guitar screamed.  From there, he went on a frenetic romp that included stealing one of Alex's drum sticks and using it to hammer the strings right over the Humbucker pickup.  After discarding the drumstick into the crowd, he fell into more fretboard tapping, this time showing us that he is still Eddie van Halen, guitar hero.

Eddie, Alex, Dave and... who?

The biggest surprise of the night was Wolfgang van Halen, son of Eddie and Valerie Bertinelli. Sixteen year old "Wolfie" has replaced founding band member Michael Anthony as the bassist.  I feared that Eddie's choice to put his teenage son on stage in place of the veteran Anthony meant that the senior van Halen had "jumped the shark."  It was not the case.  I guess growing up van Halen means that you've got the music already in you, and it sure came out.  The biggest surprise of the biggest surprise was that young van Halen harmonizes with his father to sound just like Eddie and Michael did in 1976.  Hey, hey, hey!

Even though the overall synergy of the band wasn't as good as I'd hoped, I still had a great time.  I snapped some pics of the show with my phone camera.  I'll put them up as soon as I can extract them from my piece-of-crap Samsung SPH-900.  The tour has been extended into 2008, and tickets for the second leg of the show have just gone on sale.  This must mean that David and Eddie aren't fighting, and things are going well.  Considering all the sold-out shows on the roster, I'm sure the money is good, and welcomed by a band that has faltered for years without a solid frontman.  Hopefully they keep it together long enough to produce another album.  I can hope, right?

Update for the a.m.

I got some sleep, and decided there was more: I have to say that I miss rock concerts.  I've been to a few over the last few years, all of them here in Portland.  I don't know if things are the same elsewhere, but this "assigned seating" is for the birds.  It should be an option for the bleachers, but GA on the floor should be available, too.  I've mentioned this to a few people, and it seems that the advent of "mosh pits" where people have gotten seriously hurt by spun-up slam dancers made promoters think twice about  general admission tickets.  I hate to sound like an old man, but "back in my day" the worst you had to worry about most nights was getting elbowed in the face while people on the rail dove for guitar picks that came flying off the stage.  I loved the feeling of being packed in, waving back and forth with the crowd, everyone moving as one giant, band-adoring entity.  At the aforementioned Monsters of Rock tour, I remember hollering to my buddy Jac, standing right next to me.  "Check it out!"  We were packed in so tight I could pick both feet off the floor and not fall down.  More than once, girls I'd never met before asked to climb up on my shoulders to get the perfect view.  Being tall has its advantages, I guess.  None of them ever took their tops off while sitting on my shoulders, but I saw it happen a few feet from me.  I can't imagine that happening at last night's concert at all.

Last night, as at many other concerts I've been to in recent years, security guards made sure that no one leaves their assigned seat area.  Stand in front of your seat and you're fine.  God forbid you should move over into that somewhat larger, completely unused space ten feet to the left because you feel the urge to let loose and dance.  Some guy with a flashlight will appear immediately and hustle you back to your seat, saying, "Stay there or leave."  They don't seem to care if you're getting drunk or smoking a spliff, just don't do any of it outside of your designated space.

I've got to put a call out to the guy who was standing right in front of us.  About every fifteen minutes, on cue, he would let out the most horrendous stink I've encountered in years.  I don't know what he ate before the concert, but it obviously died a horrible death and was taking its revenge.  Listen up, buddy: the restroom is at the top of the stairs.  Do us all a favor and go take a crap.

Okay, enough of that.  Van Halen is back together again, at least the most important parts.  Rock concerts, at least here in Portland, are lame.  I've got to start going somewhere else, like Seattle or The Gorge.  There's nothing else to say.  Back in my day, things were better.

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