Concert Review – Van Halen at Madison Square Garden on Thurs. Mar. 1, 2012
“The Way Rock and Roll Is Supposed to Be”
Van Halen conquered Madison Square Garden for the second time this week as they brought down the house last night with a combination of tight explosive musicianship from the Van Halen trio and if there is a better showman than David Lee Roth, someone needs to let me in on that ultimately kept secret. Mixing in some of their new songs from their solid album-“A Different Kind of Truth”- along with what Diamond Dave stated-“we’re pulling out the classics tonight” the Garden faithful were treated to a journey down memory lane with some deep cuts but were also reminded that this version of Van Halen still has a lot left in the tank as some of the new songs seem to take the audience by surprise and even though many did not know the words to the new offerings, there was no denying that classic Van Halen sound that we all have become accustomed to and love. As my son’s and I (yes another one of my dreams was fulfilled last night) were leaving the Mecca last night there were many “wow’s” from the audience members as we trickled down the staircase that never seemed to end while someone else was overheard stating that “they were even better than I expected.” That brought a huge smile to my face as I looked over to my boys and they were just as blown away as the rest of the fans despite my “pre-game” hype which started in early January after purchasing the tickets. I could have done damage by building up the excitement on a daily basis by basically counting down the days, hours and minutes (like I do in our household for Christmas) until the gates of our destiny opened but despite my zaniness, my younger son asked as soon as the show was over- “Can we go see them again?” Van Halen showed everyone how rock and roll is supposed to be and from the looks on many of the young faces around (no doubt offspring from the original Van Halen fans) who experienced both a drum solo and guitar solo probably for the first time in their concert going experience picked up a whole new fan base who can now say they have seen the best live band in the history of hard rock.
For anyone who knows me and my love of Van Halen, my vote would have been to make this week a National holiday season to celebrate their coming to their “second” home at the Mecca known as Madison Square Garden (found out earlier this year that Dave grew up near Indianapolis and of course the Van Halen’s are from California). Like I mentioned my two son’s were going-they had no choice- and I informed my wife that even though it was a school night-they were going, so basically after waiting patiently (yeah right) for them to complete their homework right after school we embarked on our journey to New York. Of course I had two self made CD’s that contained 42 Van Halen songs from each of their seven albums blasting for most of the car ride into the city. We did our pre-game ritual of attending the best pizza place in New York-“Freddie’s and Peppers”- and then jumped on the #2 train to enter the land of Oz. Of course you know we were there at 6:30 p.m. despite the fact that Kool & Gang were set to be the openers at 7:30 p.m. Yes that’s right- Kool & The Gang and you know what? They were fantastic and even though the genre’s are different I think the one thing that struck me which they share with Van Halen is their love of music and they performed like they were playing in their garage and it didn’t matter to them if it were 10 people watching or 10,000 in the audience, the music is in them and it shined brightly. Their mixture of R&B, funk, pop and pure dance music made for a most entertaining set and despite initial reservations from my kids, they were pleasantly surprised on how good these guys were. And everyone in the world knows at least one Kool & The Gang song, right? C’mon- “Ladies Night” or “Celebration?” The band worked it, there was a surprising guitar solo, they had the horn sections, two drummers, keyboardist and a bass guitarist, along with singing and dancing that just put a smile on your face.
As Kool & Gang exited and asked the crowd if they were ready for Van Halen and David Lee Roth, I could feel my skin crawling. It was getting closer and I couldn’t take it any more, I wanted Van Halen. The 35-45 minute break to set up the stage seemed like an eternity to me. I watched as the roadies set up the stage, they applied and seemingly nailed in an approximate 17 foot piece of hardwood floor about 7 feet wide like someone forcing in a piece of a puzzle to make it fit. The focus of the crew was this piece of wood as the middle of the stage up a few feet held Alex Van Halen’s massive drum set with black and white speaker stacked two and half high were lined up about 5 sets on both sides of his drums. Set behind these speakers were more powerful and there was this huge black screen behind the stage that (as Dave mentioned) was like those old “drive-in” places that used to show movies outdoors. As it started to get closer to 9:00 p.m. I noticed one of the roadies applying what looked like baby powder sprinkling it very carefully over this plywood floor. Then the lights went out except towards the front of the stage and I thought it’s going to happen now but maybe done purposely we waited with bated breath as the annoying song (it could have been good but I wanted it done) continued to play the instrumental composition. I grabbed my younger son’s head with my hand like I was palming a basketball (which I can not do) and squeezed and said I want it!! Then it happened I saw a figure dart across the stage headed up to the drum set and I saw the sun glasses and knew it was Alex. He was getting in the driver’s seat and turned on the switch to start the engine known as Van Halen as the ever popular-“Unchained”- begins. I see Wolf dart across the stage and stands to the right of his uncle up a few steps to get closer as the oil that churns this machine awaits the gas to ignite the engine into overdrive. There they are- Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth take a leisurely stroll up the steps and on to the stage as the huge riffs to “Unchained” are blaring from every orifice of The Garden. Right off the bat all you see are smiles, Eddie is smiling Dave is well just Dave. Is there anyone cooler than Mr. Roth? I look over at my boy’s and they are air-guitaring just like me- “You say… I can not get there from here baby…then I don’t care where I’m going”- the crowd in unison helps out Dave right off the bat (and yes there were times that he needed a little assistance from the audience and yes he also received superb assistance from Wolf and Eddie on background vocals- they sounded great). As the first song came to an end I felt like I was having an outer body experience as I could not believe that I was there with my own son’s watching the same band that I did when I was my oldest son’s age-17. I watched in amazement as Dave walked around on stage looking around the entire Garden while taking in the huge hug from the entire building.
As “Running with the Devil” begins I am waiting to hear Wolf’s bass part which is so deep and pulsating that one could feel their own chest thumping with every strum of his guitar. He has arrived and like I said he must be practicing on his singing because the background vocals were spot on and at one point during the show Dave walked over to him and said “I told you it would be better the second time around.” As “She’s the Woman” begins the audience is rocking out but don’t really recognize the tune-of course my boys and I know it because their new album has been playing since its release in our house, car or wherever a noise can come out and we are rocking out in unison like ZZ Top with a third leg. Eddie is lights out and Alex and Wolf are there every step of the way and as the song comes to a crashing halt I knew right there that this was going to be another night of pure ecstasy- the party was on and there was no letting up. Then they pull out the next to last song on “Diver Down” with the deep cut-“The Full Bug”- I couldn’t believe my ears, I nearly jumped to the top of the Garden roof (we weren’t that far the top so believe me I might have had a shot-no matter we were in the building). Eddie’s guitar was ablazing as Dave blared out-“Ah precious sweetheart…woman all you want is good as it can get” and I felt like I was back in my bedroom as a teenager with this song blasting so all the neighbors could hear it and now I had 16,000 neighbors jamming with me.
Then the song I was waiting for-“Tattoo”- yes that song again. By the end of the song even my youngest son who scoffed at the recording said that seeing it live made it better. Folks, it was so good to see them up there having fun while singing-“Swap meet Sally…Tramp stamp tat…mousewife to momshell in the time it took to get that new tattoo…tattoo…tattoo.” Eddie’s solo was off the charts as he was the entire night, I was so glad that my boys were able to witness one of the greatest guitarists of all time and he was so on. Then it was my oldest son’s opinion to be changed as he was not a big fan of “Everybody Wants Some” but after seeing it live, he said his was impressed with the song- now coming from him, that’s big so again I was happy. Now I remember the days when Dave would go on and on while the rest of the band would basically take an at least 20 minute break and this time around, unlike in 2007, the Diamond man did talk more to the audience but it was a more mature and condensed version of his story telling ability. As the evening progressed I was taken back more than a few times to the early 1980’s as such classics as “Somebody Get Me a Doctor” and the not too often heard “Hear About It Later.”
Without question as with every one of their shows one of the highlights are the solos by both Alex and Eddie. Alex did this amazing skit with a twist of “latin-tinged” almost jazz like solo that displayed another side to his massive talent as being one of the best drummers to have ever walked this planet. What else can be said about Eddie? Some call him a magician and you would not hear any arguments from me, I know nothing about playing guitar but I know it’s something special when ever he is on. So what were the other highlights of the show you ask? Basically from “Hot For Teacher” until the end of the show every song was a “show stopper” with audience participation coming from every section of the Garden whether it was head-banging, air-guitaring or singing along to some of the best songs ever recorded. And I definitely agree with Dave’s statement that the ending of “Hot For Teacher” has to be the best endings to a song in the history of rock music, it’s hard to argue against it. They performed “Women In Love” so unbelievably good that I thought the original recording was on, so please no more about the back-ground vocals, OK? Then I think I came out of my skin as the beginning riffs to “Outta Love Again” took off- can you believe that? “Outta Love?” – Are you kidding me? I was so high above the clouds while Wolf was playing that classic bass line that I never wanted the moment to end and even my oldest son took notice as he keenly pointed out that even Eddie’s solo was played with such precision, it was jaw-dropping. There was a break in the action as the Van Halen’s left the stage and Dave came out with a acoustic guitar as the backdrop screen depicted a dog first rounding up some sheep and then some cattle as he informed the audience that the dog was his and he loved the outdoors. As I looked to my right I could not see my oldest son so I looked down and there he was –almost sitting down- my heart almost stopped as I picked him up from his shirt and stood him up- there will be no sitting down on the job. After the short story on dogs, Dave strummed the familiar chords to “Ice Cream Man” while singing about summertime. We all knew what was coming- the audience could see the Van Halen’s entering the stage-almost like when a basketball coach sends in replacements to the court-as they stood and sat and waited and then there it was the electrifying engine of Van Halen as they ripped through one of their best covers ever. My youngest was mesmerized and couldn’t believe how good they were performing it. By this time, one of my long dreams had been fulfilled as I could see the same expressions on their face that I had some 30 years ago.
“Panama” -always a crowd pleaser did not disappoint as usual as the pitch of the crowd was at an all-time high and you could feel it-I don’t know how to describe it-but you have to feel it. During the song the overhead lights flashed at unbelievable speed which had the effect of feeling like a spaceship was making its landing on the stage as we could barely make out the four figures on stage which for me took the show to another level. There would be no leaving the stage and coming back for encores as the band just stayed on to play their staple-“Ain’t Talking About Love”- which pushed the excitement to a level that can’t be topped by many bands out there today. This is “old school” at its best and I couldn’t wait for my boys to see the entire Garden raise their fists up to the sky and in unison push three times into the air while everyone screaming- “Hey, Hey, Hey!!!” There it was- the bright lights shined upon the audience and I was close to tears, this moment couldn’t be topped. The night ended with the now loved “Jump” as confetti was skyrocketed into the air and the band was completely covered. Dave came up from the back of the stage with this huge flag that is used for car races and as he struggled to wave the checkered flag I could sense a source of accomplishment on his part. There were no words to be spoken, that moment signified to me just how far this band has come. Again just the moment needed to be treasured especially from a Van Halen fan like myself who waited nearly a quarter of a century to see them the first time in 2007 and now in 2012 to see it with my own two son’s has to make it the best night that I have ever seen Van Halen. This is a night I will remember for the rest of my life. Thank you Eddie, Alex, Dave and Wolf, you all made a dream come true and I am looking forward to the next chapter. Hey I have a young nephew that needs to see the dream. Keep rockin’ fellas!!!!
1. Unchained – (Fair Warning)
2. Running With The Devil – (VH I)
3. She’s The Woman – (A Different Kind of Truth)
4. The Full Bug – (Diver Down)
5. Tattoo – (A Different Kind of Truth)
6. Everybody Wants Some – (Women and Children First)
7. Somebody Get Me a Doctor – (VH II)
8. China Town – (A Different Kind of Truth)
9. Hear About It Later – (Fair Warning)
10. Oh Pretty Woman – (Diver Down)
11. Alex Drum Solo
12. You Really Got Me – (VH I)
13. The Trouble With Never – (A Different Kind of Truth)
14. Dance The Night Away – (VH II)
15. I’ll Wait – (1984)
16. Hot For Teacher – (1984)
17. Women In Love – (VH II)
18. Outta Love Again – (VH II)
19. Beautiful Girls – (VH II)
20. Ice Cream Man – (VH I)
21. Panama – (1984)
22. Eddie’s Guitar Solo
23. Ain’t Talking About Love – (VH I)
24. Jump – (1984)