Concert Review: Van Halen Overcomes Its Lame DC Fans

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There were WAY too many dudes with tucked in shirts and belts at this show. These were the same folks that stayed seated the entire time. They deserve to be called out for being so lame. One couple, who became visibly irritated every time we exited our row for beers, remained seated until the final song “Jump,” and only upon being cued by a pre-recorded synth intro, did they finally stand and pump their fists. That’s the only observation about the audience I will offer (I hate when the crowd is critiqued in a show review) but again, their lameness begs it. It’s fucking VAN HALEN!! I guess Raytheon had a block of tickets and gave them out to contractors.

Everybody knows Diamond Dave is back in the Van Halen fold, as evidenced by the opening act of Kool and the Gang. I like to think that was his doing. I was really surprised at how the crowd received Kool and the Gang because normally white people go crazy when they hear “Celebrate.” They will without fail immediately cease eating the wedding cake, get up from their tables, and hit the floor with unbridled enthusiasm. So, why not lose your shit when it’s the real deal, horn section and all? This wasn’t Gerry from Top Hat DJ Services spinning “Celebrate,” it was KOOL AND THE MOTHERFUCKING GANG!! You can’t get off your ass for THAT? There’s something wrong with America. OK. I’m done with the lame-o’s that I was surrounded by in section 201.You people bum me out. Kool and the Gang. “Ladies Night.” “Get Down On It.” Choreographed steps and big horns. The shit was tight. Great call on Kool and the Gang, who ever made it.

Van Halen just kind of appeared shortly after. Some dudes came out with floor wax and dust brooms to prep Dave’s dance floor (I’m calling it now, Diamond Dave will be on Dancing With The Stars). No light drop and howls. No waiting and screaming. Alex simply walked up and sat down while the house lights were still on. He fired off a measure and a half of quadruplet bass drum tom thwacks, the lights went out, and immediately perhaps the best stadium show opening riff of all time filled the arena: “Unchained.” Out came my air guitar which I had already drop-tuned to D. Why aren’t bands writing riffs like this today? Maybe if some of these kids today played their glockenspiel progressions on a drop-D guitar through a row of eight EVH stacks? Doubtful.

The sound wasn’t great, which is typical at Verizon Centers? Super boomy and muddy. It didn’t matter. We were attaining the goal we had set for our night no matter how the sound was. David Lee Roth doesn’t appear to have any interest in singing his parts as we know them, either in cadence or melody, which is fine because we were all singing them ourselves, and that is delightfully satisfying when the band is so loud you can’t even hear yourself murder them. He skipped the whole “Hey man that suit is YOOUUU” bit, he skipped over just about all his hilarious lines like “I don’t feel tardy,” although he did reach down between his legs and ease the seat back later in the show. UNCHAINED! How do you follow that? “Running With The Devil,” of course. Got nobody, WAITIN’ AT HOOOOMMME!!!!

For the record I have a wife and two beautiful daughters waiting at home, but I sang that shit like I lived it. It felt great. Like I was jamming WITH Van Halen. I’m not ashamed of the Bro-Down I was a part of at that moment. I shrieked all of Diamond Dave’s “Runnin’ With Devil” jungle screams (he didn’t bother) and then high-fived my “bros” (ok, friends) like I had just scored a game winning touchdown in OT. Next up was “She’s the Woman,” two big hits then a track from the new album. Standard form. No complaints. Our first real taste of just how good this band is going to be tonight, and I mean the band playing behind DLR.

The Van Halen’s are the Von Trapps of rock and roll. Not a dropped note, pitch-perfect harmonies from Eddie and Wolfgang. The only thing we missed about Michael Anthony was his Jack Daniels bass and some of his stage moves. He did make a great samurai. Wolfie doesn’t play it up like Michael, but his musicianship and singing is beyond reproach. This isn’t Linda McCartney up there caterwauling off key. The kid has the gift.  I’m sorry, Michael… this is what happens when you join Chickenfoot. You don’t get to start “Runnin’ With The Devil” anymore (and you have to play in Chickenfoot).

Van Halen plowed forward. Songs from Diver Down, Women and Children First, VH I&II, 1984, even the new track “Tattoo” sounded good in this context. Honestly, I’m not crazy about that tune when I listen to it in my mini-van after I drop the kids off and have a moment to remove “The Complete Usbourne Family Farm Tales” from the CD player and replace it with “A Different Kind of Truth,” but when VH is playing it in front of my me, it becomes something better. It’s a song meant for the arena, not my mini-van.

As a side note, the new Van Halen album is really good. People seem to be surprised by that. This is a band whose original line-up made some of the most distinctive and best American rock and roll ever. The new album holds up to the classic VH efforts, it sounds like an album that might have followed up 1984, if 1984 never had synths, and Sammy Hagar had been arrested and sentenced to life in prison for repeatedly flouting the speed limit.

With David Lee Roth, you have to take the good with the ridiculous.  On this night, the ridiculous came in the form of a monologue about his sheep herding dogs. He even had a video of them playing across the massive drive in movie screen behind him. Sheep herding. Dogs. Pickup trucks. Dave’s wide smile as his dogs run around a large pasture. All part of the preamble to “Ice Cream Man.” It’s pretty fucking funny listening to people hoot and holler in response to musings on sheep herding. I’m serious. I was waiting for the point but must have missed it because I was laughing so hard.  There isn’t any other front man in rock and roll that would even attempt this.

It was also great to see a visibly happy and healthy looking Eddie Van Halen. During his solo you could see everyone leaning in to study his virtuosity, which is a technical as it is experimental. He made noise that Thurston Moore couldn’t have conjured, stuff that sounded like a gigantic rusted robot being re-animated, then switch into his signature fretboard innovations. Despite becoming a style that has been appropriated by so many, nobody can touch this guy. He’s his own genre.

Alex did a latin flavored drum solo with weird horn samples. Think Neil Peart, just with way more groove. He skipped over the “Hot For Teacher” intro solo though, which was a drag and the giant gong behind him was never set ablaze. Oh well. Frankly, I couldn’t keep up. I had been up since 7am, worked all day, but by the time “Jump” came around I was ready to go home. I never really liked that song. If they had finished with “Mean Streets” or “D.O.A” I probably could have pounded some more air drums and doubled up the high harmonies with them, but by that point, the heavy lifting had been done and I still had to wait 25 fucking minutes for Red Line train back to the burbs.

Thank you Van Halen. Please come again.

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