Van Halen at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday November 13, 2007.
Where do I begin? Words can not express the depth of the feelings that I have for this night- but I will try. Folks were telling me that I may have been getting too psyched up for this show (i.e.-counting down the days, hours, etc.) and there could be a “letdown”. “What if they are not good?”- I was asked. My immediate answer was “Are you crazy-this is going to be great!!!” Well folks this was better than great. My expectations were blown away. They shattered them. Honestly- this was the most I have ever spent for a ticket (almost $100) and without a doubt, I will be back to the Garden, if they come back, and will pay the same $100.
For one night, the sold out Garden (and I mean packedlikethistight) forgot about their daily issues. There was no talk of the subprime meltdown, no talk of oil prices, no disasters, no nothing- just letting all of that stuff go away for more than 2 hours. It was one big party. It was like we were in “TV Land”- a place where the past comes alive- except this was no re-run- this was LIVE and LOUD!! This was not a night to be missed if you love Van Halen. I will equate this to sports- if your team wins a championship or makes the playoffs- you have to realize that achieving that status is not automatic every year and you must treasure those moments. So being a teenage back in the early 1980’s and going to the Garden as much as we could to see Van Halen- I never thought I would have to wait almost a quarter of a century to see them again. And yes the line-up has changed over the years- but as Diamond Dave pointed out to the crowd -“This version of Van Halen contains three originals and one Inevitable”.
Let me take you through the anticipation. On Monday night I could not sleep, actually so excited, nervous, etc. you would have thought that I was going to be in Wolfgang’s shoes. (Big shoes- which he filled admirably). But there was another side to it- I have told everyone the best live shows I have ever seen- have been with the Roth-lead Van Halen. My credibility was on the line- what if the 6 other friends who were coming with me- didn’t like it? I believe for all of them this was their first time to see them live. We all met at Harrington’s, a block away from the Garden, for “pre-game” festivities. I could tell we were “back in Kansas, Toto” because the faces we saw had a few wrinkles, some gray hairs, and everyone was there for the same reason. The place was packed and no matter if you bumped into someone, folks just smiled and said no problem- they knew what lied ahead. Of course at around 8:00 p.m. I was getting itchy and wanted to head in doors. We left around 8:20 and headed down the alley towards “Oz”. We get to our seats and there is that same buzz that I had experienced back in the 1980’s. I started talking to the folks behind us asking them if they were “psyched” for the show. I informed everyone around me that there would be no sitting down tonight. I’m thinking VH will be coming on around 9:00.
Then without warning as we were all milling about, the lights go out at 8:45 and BOOM, Eddie’s guitar starts out with their version of The Kinks classic “You Really Got Me”. The wait was over!! The lights come on and there they are!! There’s Eddie, near the drum set as always with his bro, shirtless and raring to go. The Garden explodes as Roth belts out “Girl you really…”. There he is, Diamond Dave back at home again in front of his hometown. Both Dave and Eddie are in better shape now than 20+ years ago. Then your eyes roll to see where Wolfgang is. There’s Eddie and Valerie’s son to the left of the stage, all 17 years young, playing bass-standing in Michael Anthony’s spot. And then there is Wolfgang’s uncle behind the skins and POUNDING away is Alex Van Halen. He has not changed a bit and ranks up in the top 5 drummers of all time. The stage is set up like the letter “S”. There was a walkup ramp to the left of Alex that wrapped around him on the right and then at stage level, it went from right to left and ended with a curl-which had the effect of forming a “pit” for all those lucky folks sitting there. No one is sitting!! My dream is coming true and then I hear the opening chords to “I’m the One” and I can hardly contain my excitement. The air-guitaring starts-and its not just me mind you. They keep it going with tunes from VH 1 and head into “Running with the Devil”. Right then and there, my worrying about the others enjoying the show, STOPPED. There was no way you could not be “in the moment”.
The “moment” continued the whole night. The fourth song in the set was their first obscure song-but not to a Halen die hard- the best and last song on side 1of Women & Children First-(very under-rated album in my opinion- it kills me to see J&R selling it for like $4.99) “Romeo Delight”. “Save it please I can’t take it anymore.. I’m taking whiskey to the party tonight”. The crowd is singing in unison. Then the “analyst” in me starts to scope the stage to see if I sense any bad “body language” between Eddie and Dave. I don’t see it, it looks like they are enjoying themselves. I continued to look for it and there was a moment during “Pretty Woman” where Dave forgot where he was and the words also and stated firmly “I forgot the bleeping words”. I immediately looked for a reaction but again nothing. They just kept rolling. OK so what were the highlights, you ask? The whole show-but if I have to pick- the following songs could have been heard by folks walking on the street outside the Garden and they were: “Unchained”, “And the Cradle will Rock”, “Hot For Teacher”, “Panama” and “Ain’t Talking About Love”. The song that I liked the best that night was “Little Dreamer” a bluesy tune from their first album.
During the beginning of “So this is Love” from Fair Warning- Wolfgang is basically by himself playing the opening notes and Dave is taking a step back and shaking his head and says to the audience “Looks like someone has been practicing” and he heads towards Eddie and both of them are gleaming with pride as they watch the young buck. The band was so tight that they looked like they were jamming in their garage and you could sense their love of music and it didn’t matter to them that there were 17,000 plus looking on. It’s all about the music, period end of story. Of course, as us older folks remember, going to shows- there is always the drum and guitar solos. Now some use this as an opportunity to go to the bathroom or start chatting. But not this night! Alex is first and his drum skills are incredible and he has the crowd going and at the very end his brother leans into the microphone and states “You don’t get any better than that”. Seven more words than just the usual “thanks” from Eddie, so you know how much they love and respect each other’s ability. Then what else can you say about Eddie’s playing ability? I am no guitarist but have yet to see or hear anyone that can produce the quality he can, when he is on. During his solo, Wolfgang stood behind his uncle, and everyone once in a while- Alex and Wolfgang would blend in as the lights shined on them-and then would disappear- and it was back to Eddie. Very cool. The was a never ending smile on Eddie’s face, as he looked on with a father’s pride, at the sight of his son playing with him. (Going back to sports, I played on a winning championship softball team with my father and that is one thing I cherish a lot). This night was about forgetting all your worries for a few hours.
This night was about recognizing, appreciating and not taking for granted the things that mean a lot to you. For me, it was all about the music of Van Halen. I did not want the night to end and I had to go back after all the fans had exited the Garden and buy a tee-shirt, which I’ll probably never wear or wash and am contemplating how to frame it. One of my dreams had come to fruition. Thank you Dave, Eddie, Alex and Wolfgang!! \m/ \m/