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VAN HALEN:  Blowing The Roof Off The Toyko Dome – LIVE ALBUM REVIEW

   

Detroit, Michigan – I was in line at Starbucks making small talk with the barista. The subject of music comes up and I mentioned the new Van Halen live album, “Van Halen Live At The Tokyo Dome” and I got a blank stare. “Who’s that?” he asked me in an emotionless tone. “Eddie Van Halen? The greatest guitarist who ever lived? You know… Van Halen?” again I am met with a blank stare. Good grief man. Well, then let me speak to the fans and you know who you are. Van Halen has finally released a live album with original front man David Lee Roth and it’s nothing short of a big deal. This band has been through a series of ups and downs and has a long history of changed band mates, fights, punch outs, fired singers, and has even gone on a long hiatus due to health problems. This isn’t an easy band.

The fans don’t make it any easier either. Some of the group’s hardcore loyal followers stand by the Sammy Hagar era and others side up with the bands original singer, David Lee Roth. Then there is the issue of who is the better bass player – Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang or original bassist Michael Anthony. To further complicate the scene the fan base will even argue who is better as a singer, young David Lee Roth or the current older Diamond Dave. The later argument will only be settled once and for all when one of the fans can successfully conjure up a time machine.

It just gets more insane and ridiculous. Personally, I am glad the band has reunited with David Lee Roth. The songs have a harder edge to them and are less bubble gum.

Nobody gets along in this troupe and that goes for the band as well as the fans. One thing is for sure though. This isn’t 1979 anymore and everyone fondly remembers the original onslaught of electric power that came from the original line up. They shook things up and gave way to the barrage of hair bands that covered the radio and MTV in the 1980’s. That distinctive guitar sound, influenced millions of people and even changed the face of rock music. Everyone has taken something from this band and has introduced it to new audiences including Michael Jackson, Ice T, and even the Circle Jerks. So when the first reviews came out I rolled my eyes. Itunes released some snippets of the new, “Live at the Tokyo Dome” album and the hardcore fans tore into David Lee Roth for singing. Some claimed his voice didn’t have it anymore and that he should hang up his dancing shoes. It was brutal.  The album hadn’t even been officially released yet and already some of the fans were set on trashing it.

But you know the funny thing is if Roth hadn’t come back you would hear the unanimous, “Come On Dave – Gimme a Break”. People love to hate and haters love to rock. End of story. The truth is that Van Halen fans are worse than a woman’s knitting circle and about 100 times more violent. Throughout the years I have seen bizarre stuff in their concert arena parking lots including bon fires, broken beer bottles, couches on fire, full on punch outs, and cro-magnon like fans trying to literally kill one another. ROCK AND ROLL MAN!!

It is hard to put your finger on the pulse of what makes this band trigger off so many emotions in people. I see a lot of nostalgia in the audience whenever I attend one of these shows. It is like they are trying to relive the early days of seeing Eddie performing for them the first time. I even hear people yell out for Eddie Van Halen before the show starts like in the old days, “Eddie !!!  Get Yer Ass Out Here !!”. Man, I have been hearing that at shows since 1984.

So who exactly is this album for? It isn’t for Sammy Hagar fans. Those people have their own live album to rock out with in the form of, “Live: Right Here and Right Now” which  -- to be fair – has some incredible moments on it. This new album, however, is all about the original thunder of Van Halen. Sure, Diamond Dave’s voice has matured but that band has been doing this act for 40+ years. The fact that they are still willing to get on the road and deliver something special for their fans is nothing short of sheer dedication. It is their way of saying thank you.  I’m sure many of you out there are shaking your heads  - “NO!” but this really evens out the fan base. No doubt, Van Halen will end up doing a 50th anniversary tour like The Who and the Rolling Stones. They have that kind of ability. The same cannot be said for Motley Crue or even Led Zeppelin. Robert Plant in comparison to David Lee Roth has lost a considerable amount of his trademark sound. I was disappointed with the, “Celebration Day” recordings at the O2 concert a few years back.  Motley Crue on the other hand has no excuse and should still be hitting the road instead of saying, “Farewell” but it could be just a media stunt since they are sure taking a long time to say goodbye to their fan base, (the final tour has been going on for a ridiculous three years).

Van Halen’s last album, “A Different Kind of Truth” has some interesting things going on. The radio stations don’t really play any of the tracks off of it. This is true for the Detroit market and I don’t know how it is for the radio markets out there.  Van Halen’s  “1984” had  a somewhat similar problem when it was first released. There were only three tracks that made it to radio on a consistent basis.  The radio stations will play a standard list of songs from the bands catalog namely, “Running With the Devil”, “Panama”, “The Cradle Will Rock”, “Hot For Teacher” and so on. It could be that the majority of the bands catalog is just not radio friendly enough. Some of the songs off of, “A Different Kind of Truth” take a while to grow on you but are outstanding such as, “Stay Frosty”, “Chinatown” and “Tattoo”.

The new live album was recorded in Tokyo during the 2012 tour and captures some of the great performances and is all high energy. There is a nice balance of Eddie’s playing and David’s adlibbing, and high pitched yells. There is a flow there that has worked since day one. When Sammy Hagar took over I remember his voice dominating just about all the tracks on, “5150”. The common cry of the day was, “There’s not enough Eddie…. And too much Sammy”. While other people in the fan base was crying out, “Dave who?”.


The nice thing about, “Live at the Tokyo Dome” is that this is a double album. I will say that Van Halen should have done this a long time ago. There are a lot of great performances back from 1979 and in the 1980’s that should be released but for now we should be happy to get this one. I caught the Van Halen 2012 tour in Detroit when they came through. They rocked out at the Palace of Auburn Hills and I was in the 10th row. One of the curious things about this show was the Alex Van Halen drum solo. Usually Al just bashes away on the drums and there is a light show and sometimes he will even light his gong on fire. This time he is accompanied by an unannounced Latino beat with horns. This sounds like something you would hear on Carlito’s Way  or Scarface soundtrack. Eddie Van Halen comes in at the tail end and lifts the song back up into a high voltage frenzy. It’s out of character and I am still trying to figure out if I like it or not. It sure is uncharacteristic of the band. Before I can make up my mind on what I just heard the band leaps off into the Kink’s classic, “You Really Got Me”. The back up vocals on Wolfgang are actually pretty good and he can really play the bass.

This album is nice too for another reason and that is it features the David Lee Roth era songs. That means no Sammy stuff. The guitar work in, “Women In Love” from the bands second album  is thought provoking and incredible. Hearing, “And The Cradle Will Rock”, and “Romeo Delight” performed live is still a powerful experience and captures that original fire and vitality of the band. There was always a kind of danger that surrounded the original Van Halen. They weren’t the most radio friendly band out there and they attracted a wild audience. That edgy unknown danger energy followed the band around in live performances. David Lee Roth was unpredictable when it came to interviews and his onstage banter with hecklers was legendary. Sammy era fans will support the dream like quality of the songs and the level of positivity. So the battle continues on who was better – Sam Halen, Van Hagar or Van Halen with Diamond Dave.

Another thing the fans like to scrap about is Eddie Van Halen’s actual guitar. Some are saying that it is too new looking…. Give me a break. When Eddie was using his signature Frankenstrat it was a guitar made up out of spare parts with a Kramer guitar body. That guitar is all bashed up and Eddie tinkered with it to get it to scream, whine and do all of his signature sounds. It would  be next to impossible to build another Kramer-esque Frankenstrat. In fact, the Kramer guitar company is actually out of business. The company officially went under in 1991 due to financial problems and a heavy lawsuit. It was later bought out by Gibson. What Eddie did was capture that original Kramer sound into new equipment. His new 5150 line has everything from guitars, amps, and pedals. I think he has never sounded better but again this is all argument material for the fans.

It is interesting to note that David Lee Roth has a personal hand in how the tour looks and feels. He gets involved right down to the t-shirts that go on sale. Everything is precision and has thought behind it. There is a lot of thought and consideration that goes into this type of production. I definitely noticed that kind of attention in the 1984 Tour merch and felt that vibe again in the 2007 and 2012 tours. That is an unmistakable trait in the energy of the band. That extra “oomph” was missing while he was away. I never read or heard about Sammy taking an intense level in the bands merchandise or stage construction.

In closing, I got some advice for all the feuding Van Halen fans. You don’t have to come to the live shows or buy the new records. The good news is that you can all stay home and watch reruns of, “Cops” or play old Hanson albums. Those may not compare to the mighty Van Halen but you do have other options.

Personally, I will continue to support Van Halen in its current form and look forward to seeing them on the road once again in 2015. They are going to continue to give you the best of what they got for years to come because that is what they do.

Full Set List

“Unchained”
“Runnin’ with the Devil”
“She’s the Woman”
“I’m the One”
“Tattoo”
“Everybody Wants Some!!”
“Somebody Get Me a Doctor”
“Chinatown”
“Hear About It Later”
“(Oh) Pretty Woman”
“Me & You” (Drum Solo)
“You Really Got Me”

“Dance the Night Away”
“I’ll Wait”
“Cradle Will Rock”
“Hot for Teacher”
“Women in Love”
“Romeo Delight”
“Mean Street”
“Beautiful Girls”
“Ice Cream Man”
“Panama”
“Eruption”
“Ain’t Talkin’’Bout Love”
“Jump”

 

     
   
   

 

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“A VISUAL ASSAULT: REM Dissected Scene By Scene

The bottom video was shot in 1989 and is the closest thing I could find to what the original show opener was like in 1987. This was a departure for REM as much as it was for the audience. Just when you thought you knew the band they changed on you in a new and exciting way. It would take some time to recognize them once again. In the case of, “Document” the album had to grow on me. I noticed this sort of thing happening with the Smiths too.

There was one sequence in the video, not shown in this edition, when the words – “Want” and “Need” come on screen. The words flipped interchangeably and morphed into a strobe that said, “Need Weed” and I remember the crowd going a bit wild over that. This was Ann Arbor after all. There is some talk about the set list being accurate. I do not believe, “Orange Crush” or “Pop Song 89” was performed in 1987. Those songs were released after REM went to Warner Brothers. “Document” was the last album created under the I.R.S. Records label.

There is another version of, “The One I Love” done on the live tour. Stipe starts out with a slow intro and for a minute I thought the whole song would be done slow. It then kicks into the tempo we all know. The stage was also bathed in an eerie red light. How this song got perceived as a love song I’ll never know. It was about a sick love obsession.

Over the years I hear the young kids go, “Oh who cares about that stuff, REM was long before my time.” Trust me, you wish you were there. This show was nothing but historic.

 
 
 
 
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