VAN HALEN live review by Jason Harper

Music Reviews
VAN HALEN live review by Jason Harper
Nov 15, 2007, 19:12

My view from the nosebleed seats.


VAN HALEN Madison Square Garden, New York, NY; November 13, 2007 

The idea of seeing fifty-year-olds trying to pull off material they wrote and performed when they were in their twenties often leaves a lot to be desired. Reunion tours are generally straight nostalgia acts with out-of-shape band members going through the motions, stomaching each other just long enough to get through the set.

With relatively low expectations of the show, I stepped off the escalator heading to my overpriced nosebleed seats in section 77. As I neared the open arena, the deafening cheers from the crowd and the unmistakable smell of weed put a smile on my face. Maybe this is a nostalgia act but this crowd is prepared to party like it's 2999. Madison Square Garden probably hasn't hosted a rowdy crowd like this since 1982. Arriving at my seat, the arena rock atmosphere transported me back to my early teenage years. Van Halen was the soundtrack to my summer nights, sneaking out of my parent's house to drink cheap wine and fool around with Jill Fenderson.

The band has traded the screaming teenage groupies of the 70's and 80's for balding men in the VIP section who are able to afford ticket prices that went as high as $2,500 a pop. Certainly the conservative stage and lighting setup is evidence of a surgically precise money making operation. However, the overt capitalism and lack of flying panties didn't stop the band or the crowd from having a huge fucking party. From the very first song of the night, the band's enthusiasm and high caliber performance started a feedback loop with the audience, which continued all night until the last note was played. Physically fit, focused, and sober, this may be Van Halen at its best.

I brought earplugs as defense against the blistering decibel levels but I just couldn't keep them in as the band tore into classic tune after classic tune. The set was littered with rock anthems that haven't been performed by the Van Halen / Roth team since 1985. No torturous Sammy Hagar-era songs… just the good stuff.

Strutting the stage in amazing physical shape, Roth was certainly the shining star of the night. Even though he often sang an octave lower than the original recordings and only attempted a few of his signature kicks, none of that mattered. His charisma, enthusiasm, and genuine enjoyment of the night bonded the audience to what was happening on stage. Roth's ability to turn a sold out arena into a backyard keg party was truly amazing.

Alex Van Halen lent his signature drum style and sound to the night. A true workhorse, Alex would plow into song after song, often with little or no breaks in between. I'm not a fan of the arena rock drum solo but his spotlight segment wasn't very long and he was able to weave a musical piece into it, making it palatable.

Halting this from being a full-fledged reunion tour, original bass player Michael Anthony was unceremoniously ditched for Eddie's teenage son. The firing has earned the kid some negative feedback from hardcore fans but, somewhat surprising, the whole Wolfgang issue evaporated once the show got underway. Wolfgang sang solid backing vocals that emulated the albums perfectly. His bass playing was consistent, locking tight with Uncle Alex's drumming. His youthful presence also provided some comic relief throughout the night and Eddie would produce ear-to-ear smiles whenever he neared his son onstage.

Maybe the fact that Eddie Van Halen is a living guitar legend makes it almost impossible for him to live up to expectations. Eddie nailed all of his signature riffs playing them tight and soulful. His iconic tapping licks during Eruption elicited deafening roars from the crowd. However, for me, Eddie's lead guitar work was slightly fuzzy. Most of the solos had nowhere near the ferocity and machine-like accuracy seen in his early years, as witnessed here. However, Eddie's obvious enjoyment of the night overshadowed any shred of shortcomings.

The Van Halen semi-reunion tour reminds us how totally radical and tubular arena rock can be. Van Halen is party music best consumed live. Their show is big, dumb, loud, and fun. Van Halen has proved that semi-reunion tours don't have to be semi-depressing affairs. Part irony, part sincerity, I rocked for two hours. I even got a contact high from the pot smoke haze. Almost twenty-four hours later my ears are still ringing and yes… it's worth it.

-Jason Harper

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