Van Halen. Pepsi Center. 05.24.12

Van Halen’s 2012 Tour is an event that has been highly publicized, therefore I am not going to give you the play-by-play of what went down at the Pepsi Center last night.  If you want that, I’m sure there will be plenty of other sites where you’ll find that information.  What follows here is my own feelings about this reunited band — some of which might be unpopular.

First off, I wasn’t going to attend this show.  I saw Van Halen with David Lee Roth in November of 2007.  Eddie, Alex, Wolfgang and Dave had just started their first tour together and I drove up to Sacramento to catch the show with a friend who introduced me to Van Halen back in the early 80’s.  It was a great show and I checked it off my bucket list.  The best thing about the ’07 tour is that they had yet to record a new album.  The whole set consisted of material from 1978 – 1984.  You couldn’t have asked for more!  So when the Pepsi Center show was announced, I decided to forgo $150 tickets.  I did not like A Different Kind Of Truth at all, so I figured this show would never live up to the show I saw in Sacramento.  But, being the kind of person who has a hard time sitting around when a big music event is going on without me, I decided to do a last minute search for tickets yesterday afternoon.  When I found $50 tickets on the floor, I took it as a sign — I was meant to see Van Halen one more time!

First off, the show was almost exactly as I remember it being in 2007.  The setlist was amazing — mining all the hits from all their pre-5150/Hagar days, with only a handful of new tracks thrown in.  The lights, the sound, the huge screen projecting Dave’s gymnastics in slow motion — it was all you could expect from an arena rock ‘n roll show — the highlight being Eddie’s solo, which was worth the price of admission alone.  For anyone who had never seen Van Halen with David Lee Roth, the show was probably a dream come true, but for me it was a slightly different (some might call sacrilege) experience…

Let me start by setting a baseline.  I didn’t get into Van Halen until 1984.  I was 7 years old when that album was released.  I can still see the look of horror on my mother’s face when she saw the album cover, which was ironic, because she smoked at the time.  Anyway, 1984 will always be one of those albums that defined my long, slow decent into rock ‘n roll music, but it wasn’t long after that David Lee Roth was out and Sammy Hagar was in.  I was big fan of “I Can’t Drive 55”, and I had almost no time invested in Van Halen prior to their latest album, so I was in the minority when 5150 was released.  I thought it was badass.  My very first concert was the OU812 Tour.  In fact, it was at the same arena in Sacramento, with the same friend, that I attended in 2007.  And I stand by my opinion that it is still the best Van Halen show I have ever been to.  Granted, I was 11 years old and this was a time when arena shows were the shit, but I also saw the band with Sammy on The Balance “Ambulance” Tour in ’95 and it was a great show as well.

I empathized with those who swore it was NOT Van Halen without David Lee Roth.  I even believed it myself for a long time — telling myself I only listened to those albums and went to those show because it was the next best thing.  But now I’m second guessing that.  And after last night’s performance, I am comfortable is saying that in 2012, Sammy Hagar is a much cooler guy (and a better singer) than David Lee Roth.  And that’s why last night’s show was worth $50, but would have never been worth $150, and it will not stand in my memory as one of the best concerts ever.

The debate is ongoing — what happened to Van Halen?  Is David Lee Roth just a douchebag?  Is Eddie Van Halen just an asshole?  I think the answer probably lies on both sides of that coin, but after watching the band last night, I’d have to side with Eddie.  Dave has always been flamboyant, that’s just his thing, and in the 80’s, when rock ‘n roll was an arena-sized, sex-crazed phenomenon, it fit perfectly.  But watching him on stage in 2012, taking about screwing anything with two legs (and even amputees), making sex tapes in ’82, and saying derogatory shit about Mexicans in California, it came across as sad and pathetic.  Sure, it’s easy to turn off the judgement when he’s up there performing “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love”, “Unchained”, “Panama”, “Hot For Teacher” and “I’ll Wait” — but I can’t help but think his time has past.  While Sammy Hagar has found his place down in Cabo — aging as well as you could hope for any rock star, David Lee Roth is acting a fool like he doesn’t realize that decades have come and gone.  He mentioned something about being a time machine last night, but a better analogy would be a time capsule — he’s been stuck and he doesn’t seem to know the world has moved on without him.

Now I know this is probably all an act.  It’s what the people want.  They want to see the 80’s version of Van Halen.  I get it.  And it’s why the show really was entertaining as hell last night.  But I fear I am probably alone is actually missing the Sammy ballads, and songs like Cabo Wabo.  Van Halen just had better ballads with  Sammy.  And a good majority of the Van Hagar material is better than the new songs they played.  I realize this is just one guy’s opinion, and I also realize it took me seeing this version of Van Halen twice before realizing it.  I think the first time around I was just so excited to see a band I thought I would never see.  This time around I was able to see with clear eyes, and as much as it was a great show, you couldn’t help but see the atomicity behind those smiles as Eddie and Dave danced around their past on that stage.  Mark my words, no matter what they say, these two are not friends.  And who knows, maybe the next tour will be Van Hagar.  Eddie and Alex still have it, Wolfgang can hold his own in Michael Anthony’s spot, and Hagar’s still got the pipes.  I doubt they’d fill arenas, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Van Hagar material performed in a small venue.  In fact, I’d like that very much.

Setlist:
Unchained
Runnin’ With the Devil
She’s the Woman
Romeo Delight
Tattoo
Everybody Wants Some!!
Somebody Get Me a Doctor
China Town
Hear About It Later
Oh, Pretty Woman (Roy Orbison)
Drum Solo
You Really Got Me (The Kinks)
The Trouble with Never
Dance the Night Away
I’ll Wait
And the Cradle Will Rock…
Hot for Teacher
Women In Love
Beautiful Girls
Ice Cream Man (John Brim)
Panama
Guitar Solo
Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love
Jump