music

David Lee Roth contains multitudes (and other thoughts from a night with Van Halen)

“Isn’t that strange? That I moved to Tokyo?” David Lee Roth said to Eddie Van Halen. This was Tuesday night, in the middle of “Everybody Wants Some!!” Like they needed to catch up. Just before I turned a friend and said, “They haven’t seen each other since Sunday night’s show, have they?”photo

I can’t imagine they had. They probably walked off stage, cut in different directions and won’t see each other again until they step on stage for the third show of the tour. That’s show biz. That’s Van Halen in 2015 and if it sounds like a criticism, it really isn’t. There’s something to be said for punching the clock, putting on the uniform and giving your shift the best you’ve got. It’s just not how we tend to think about a band as pyrotechnic* as Van Halen.

Where were we? Oh, yes. Tokyo. With David Lee Roth possibly living in a tiny run down apartment like he and the band lived in once before they were Rock Stars.

When I was promoting Springsteen: Album by Album I was asked a lot when I got into Springsteen. I remember Springsteen in 1984, because I was 10 and he was everywhere. But I loved Van Halen. I loved Van Halen because I was 10 and lived outside a college town and life was very normal and they looked like they were from a different planet, one where oxygen had been replaced by fun. All the time fun. I liked David Lee Roth’s kicks and Eddie Van Halen’s grin and I wanted to drive around Los Angeles with them in a convertible. I wanted to know why Roth was being pulled blurry and handcuffed, in only a towel, from a backstage situation.

I saw Van Halen a few times with Sammy Hagar, and I liked Sammy Hagar. I think Sammy extended the band’s peak a few more years by bringing something like maturity and a dash emotional complexity (relatively speaking) to the lyrical side of the operation. Suddenly there were songs about love. Songs about phone sex, too, but David Lee Roth could never have written a “Right Now”–and no one would have wanted him to.

I’ve never had much desire to debate Dave vs. Sammy, because I like them both fine and, regardless, Eddie was my guy. Walking into Amphitheater Northwest last night, however, I had to appreciate the guy in the Sammy Hagar shirt, because he apparently did want to have that debate, and have it all night.

The Wolfgang v. Michael Anthony question is another waste of time. It sucks that Ed’s been a dick to Michael Anthony, because Michael Anthony is one of those guys every team needs. He was Van Halen’s fullback. He did a bunch of things that go unnoticed in the box score, and he did them with good cheer. He was a team player. But Wolfgang’s good up there, and he put together the setlist and the setlist is pretty killer.

But what about the show?

It was fun. Dave isn’t so much as struggling to find keys as he is hoping to occasionally pick a lock with nothing but an old credit card and personality for tools. He said he had been living in Tokyo for two years. He’d been communing with monks, engaged in a philosophical back-and-forth. He said to them, “I don’t think there’s laughter in heaven, what do you think?” A minute later he was engaged in pelvic thrusts with the mic stand. He never said what the monks asked him. I want to believe it was, “HOW many at one time?!”

Dave mugged and strutted and slipped and slid across his piece of hardwood flooring. He … well … this happened:

Followed by, you know, this:

“I’m talking 50 Shades of Dave!” he shouted during “Unchained.” He grabbed himself repeatedly during “Panama.” He’s sixty.

I don’t know. He’s either aspirational or a cautionary tale. Probably a both. A text this morning from a buddy said, “We need a new phrase for DLR. Renaissance Mimbo maybe.”

Maybe. That he never became America’s favorite game show host is still difficult to comprehend. Forget all about that time he worked as an EMT in New York. Interesting guy.

The Van Halens make music. More than we’ll ever hear, I bet.

Al’s drum solo (the show was a reminder of that dinosaur age when drum solos were a thing) was filled out with music Ed presumably composed: guitars, dirty synths and jazzy piano. It makes you wonder about the sounds they’ve cooked up in 5150 during all these years of nothing.

Ed. Yes, Ed. Eddie. Edward Van Halen. “That was a great solo,” Dave said to him after a guitar solo that wasn’t much different than the one Eddie’s been playing for decades. I read some complaints about this among Van Halen fans. I dismissed them as Ed tore into “Eruption” for the zillionth time. And I mean, he attacked the shit out of it.

“Eruption” was the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” of its time. “Eruption” dropped the world on its head and kicked it in the groin to make sure it recognized. You gotta play “Eruption.”

Ten-year-old Ryan would have been mightily confused last night. Of course, he wasn’t there. The 41-year-old me knew the score and damn it was good to see Eddie play guitar again. You can’t have a most excellent band without him. You can’t get him without a most excellent band. It is interesting David Lee Roth moved to Tokyo for two years. Everybody wants some … still.

*Speaking of pyro–there was none. There were some nice lighting towers. There was also a video screen behind Alex Van Halen that might have been glued together from a few thousand old Game Boys. At some point there was a production meeting, and in that meeting, some art director had to say, “I mean, I guess we can find a way to program that. Someone must have the hardware old enough to do that, I’ll go look.”

I found some video recently of Jimmy Buffett talking about his shows being three-truck tours. Any more than three trucks and you start to waste money. Van Halen isn’t wasting money on this run.

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