Long live rock, I need it every night

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

VH II: So This Is Love?

Van Halen
May 9, 2008
Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall & Arena
Atlantic City NJ

NOTE: Friend of Rock Club Stutts attended this show and graciously agreed to provide us with a firsthand account. Enjoy, and don't forget to vote in the Is David Lee Roth a Homo? poll.

In the spirit of full disclosure, let me get one thing out there – I love Van Halen. At least, I used to love Van Halen. I don’t mean love in an “I want to wash Michael Anthony’s wolfman-hairy body with my tongue” fan-boy way, but love as in this is the band I’ve probably listened to more through my entire lifetime than any other. That was my recent realization when asked by Jimbromski as to who was my favorite contemporary artist. Rather, it was my indirect answer because a) I wasn’t sure VH qualified as ‘contemporary’ and b) I haven’t listened to the band regularly since 1992. That’s right; I stuck with the band through Hagar-era For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, so sue me. Hagar just couldn’t drive 55. Regardless of what you thought of the guy, you had to respect him for that. I even bought David Lee Roth’s solo albums up through 1991’s A Little Ain’t Enough, though I don’t recall liking any of them. I simply don’t think VH has been relevant for some time so despite how much I dig the group, I couldn’t answer Jimbromski’s question as stated. I had to keep breaking it down like Rob Gordon’s top-5s in High Fidelity. Go-to artist still performing and putting out music in the last five years? Mark Kozelek. Indie artist producing the most important work of the last 10 years? Belle & Sebastian (hey, it was off the top of my head.) Favorite band of all-time that you’ve bought all of their albums and listened to regularly for years until things just got too stupid to deal with anymore? Van Halen. There is no need to think about it.

So, there was great excitement at the news VH would finally hit the road for real with David Lee Roth in 2007. But I don’t think anyone, including myself, really was ready to believe it. At least, not until the fuckers showed up on stage in your own home town. Not many bands have a track-record of bickering and backstabbing like this one. In fact, I think they could probably even out-do Metallica’s Some Kind of Monster group therapy mind-fuck if they tried. And there’s little doubt that much of the blame falls on the shoulders of Eddie VH who, just months before their completely botched induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame was busy getting treated for lip cancer and scoring a soundtrack to a hard-core porno… that was being filmed in his house. Yeah. I recall reading on CNN.com when Eddie finally checked himself in to rock-star rehab that on a scale of eccentricity, he was ranked somewhere between Michael Jackson and Axl Rose. I don’t know which research firm conducted this scientific study but the results clearly show that the guy had issues. And who could blame him? Deep inside he had to know that the only true means to resurrect his legacy involved having to reunite full-time with Roth, an egomaniac by divine right, and a guy who probably still wears rubber pants to the grocery store.

Hey, which aisle are the Brillo pads?

Despite all the bullshit, these guys found a way to pull together to make peace long enough to make $100k each per show. But any true fan knew that just because you had tickets, there was still a 50-50 shot they’d break up before the tour made it to your town. So, back in November, I got tix to their DC show at the Verizon Center the moment they went on sale. Lo and behold, they made it to town and much rock was enjoyed by all. Everyone looked fit, healthy, and happy. That is, the guys on stage looked great. Most of the crowd looked like weathered alcohol abusers who managed to find time to put down their Wild Turkey chasers and stumble out of Jaxx for this special day. It was a good, good time.

Hell, it was such a good time that I was determined to see this once-in-a-lifetime event for a second time. So I scored another set of tix for their April show in Atlantic City. I could have gone to NY or Philly or even Charlottesville but Atlantic City screams debauchery and if you’re going to rock, you want to feel like there’s a chance you might get stabbed.

So, Mrs. S and I headed up through a rain storm for the show. One thing about my wife – the girl loves her rock. She’s got a particular fondness for 70s-80s classic rock. Metallica, Rush, whatever. She’s more particular about her hair metal. Poison? No thanks. But Quiet Riot? Christ help me, but yes. Mrs. S was a sucker for the DC classic rock station the Arrow and I mocked her (lovingly, of course) when it turned into the Globe and started playing Natalie Merchant. (“There are some really good DJs on there.” No baby. No.) Incredibly, this was to be the first arena-rock show we’ve seen together in our almost ten year relationship. We’ve seen plenty of indie shows in DC but nothing on this scale. I mean, prior to this, the biggest show we’d seen together was one of our first dates when we drove through a snow storm to see the Philip Glass ensemble perform live to a screening of Koyaanisqatsi, which may seem more akin to being eaten alive by zombified Tibetan throat singers. But add copious amounts of pot to the mix, which we did, and it’s very rock and roll.

Curse you, Philip Glass

Mrs. S was even more psyched up for the show than I. She kept telling me for weeks in advance that she was going to get “all slutted up” in honor of David Lee Roth. She had been watching way too many episodes of Rock of Love II with Brett Michaels and I was getting concerned she’d somehow contract a VD through the TV screen. But come the night of the show, I learned that in Mrs. S’s world, getting “all slutted up” just meant she was going to put on eye-liner. Disappointing on the surface but I’m now reasonably sure I don’t need to get my blood tested.

Driving into Atlantic City is probably like heading to an interstate rest-stop at 7am for a glory hole experience. Not that I’ve done that, of course, but the anticipation and regret is palpable on the Atlantic City Expressway. You head there with an erection full of confidence and Vicadin but you know there’s a good chance you’re getting raped twice before you leave. The only real difference is you can catch Debbie Gibson or New Kids on the Block for the early show. (I’m not kidding. I saw billboards for both of these acts… oh, and for Brett Michaels too. That skeve-bag is everywhere.)

Just before I left town, Jimbromski called me and asked me specifically to take lots of pics of people at the show. We both assumed it’d be like DC to the power of 10. So, we got into town, met up with my buddy, Eric, and his gal, and we all headed off down the boardwalk to the arena.

The AC boardwalk makes for a great metaphor – a splintered highway that goes absolutely nowhere, strewed with broken glass and seagull semen. Never in my life have I seen so many people missing limbs.

Thank you, I'm here all week...

As badly as I wanted to take pictures of the freak-fest, I recoiled at that thought I’d probably have to pay these people a buck or two to do so. There are few places outside the AC boardwalk where the people are so horrible to look at that they constitute legitimate street art simply by existing. Maybe I’m cheap but I’m not mean and cheap. Maybe I would have tossed a coin to some of these guys if they at least tried. There was one old dude wearing six or seven coats and he had an amp playing old Roy Orbison tunes. He had a mic in his hand but was just tapping it with his index finger. That was his show. Another dude had a plastic cup in front of him and was spinning in circles, looking at his feet. Fuck me.

We finally got to the show about ten minutes before VH took the stage. Despite getting there early, we somehow missed opening act somebody-Marley. Considering I’ve now managed to miss him perform twice, I don’t see the point of even looking up his correct name. Sorry dude. Nothing personal. We just didn’t have any smoke on us and I didn’t care to sit in a half-empty arena listening to reggae sober.

First order of business was to break out the flask of scotch Mrs. S snuck into the show for me. Hey, maybe it’s wrong to ask your wife to break posted rules for your own self-gain, but she was all too eager. Plus, she bought me the flask. That’s love. I scanned the crowd, ready to take pics of the worst of the worst. But no – I couldn’t quite believe it but there were no toothless rockers in attendance. I even expected a mass gathering of guidos but they seemed to all be home shooting up steroids. Maybe they just weren’t in my section or I just didn’t see them, but the crowd was shockingly well groomed, educated-looking, and diverse in age. In fact, in my section alone I could make out no less than 10 families with kids as young as 8 or 9. WTF? I figured nobody was going to believe this so I broke out the camera but thought twice, let I were to find myself on an episode of Dateline. Trust me, there were lots of kids there. I didn’t think Atlantic City had the same rep as Vegas but apparently, bringing the little ones to arena rock is the thing to do in Jersey.

The band finally took the stage at 9pm sharp, busting out You Really Got Me. Diamond Dave was flying a flag, Alex and Eddie rockin’ away, young Wolfgang in step. Same opener as the DC show and I expected a word-for-word, song-for-song repeat of that night. Thankfully, they mixed it up enough to keep it interesting. But the audio quality for at least the first two songs sounded like mud. Dave’s vocals were too buried in the mix.

Something unfortunate happed after their second song, I’m the One. My buddy Eric turned to me and shouted, “Holy shit. I didn’t realize until just now that David Lee Roth is gay.” I just shook my head. You see, there’s a long running debate with not just the guys in Rock Club but with a number of outside friends and their wives as to the sexual orientation of Diamond Dave. Let’s get it out there: none of us give a shit either way and Dave could go marry Rob Halford in the Sunset Room at a furries convention for all we care. We just want to settle the question. For the record, I’m taking what is possibly the least likely and unpopular position that Dave is just an over-sexed straight guy with a few kinks in the attic. Unfortunately, most everyone else seems to think he could put Freddie Mercury to shame. (Come on Dave), Give me a break. Have you seen Diamond Dave doing quasi-S&M German leather pop? I don’t think so. Mrs. S, on the other hand, believes he’s bi and I think Jimbromski has taken the position that Dave is neither straight, gay, nor bi- but rather Omni-sexual. Meaning, he would fuck a tree stump if he could. You have to give him credit for being open-minded.

Still, I’m not sure I buy it. I offer this comparison as evidence. Here is, side-by-side, practically the exact same video by two different bands with similar lead men. First, we’ve got Jump by Van Halen. Ok, sure, there’s the teasing of the hair, the bedroom eye stares, the rubbing of his ass with the mic stand. I hear what you’re saying.

Now watch Start Me Up by the Rolling Stones. Sure, it was rumored Mick got caught fucking Bowie but that can’t be real. Watch Mick in all his leotard frivolity and remind yourself that straight men that rock may just be full of life. That’s all there is to it.

But hell, I understand the confusion. After all, Mick pulls off a good impression of Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs.

I'd fuck me. I'd fuck me hard.

Continuing on with the rock, Running with the Devil, despite the hilarity of the recent release of Dave’s vocal-only track was solid. Rock! This is what the people came for and it sounded fantastic. Dave has a harder time hitting certain notes but he tries. Eddie looks healthy and mentally stable. Who the fuck knows what Alex is thinking, but he’s still one of the best drummers in the business. Wolf is another matter. Every serious fan of the band is disappointed that Michael Anthony isn’t with the band anymore. Instead, the guy was touring with Sammy Hager as Half of Van Halen (before dropping that name) and getting inducted into the RnR Hall of fame while the other guys slogged off. But Mike was never some dude they picked up off the street because he had a cool-ass bass. The guy hit all the high backing vocals and drank Jack Daniels on stage. In the rock world, these are essential skills.

To Wolf’s credit, he’s clearly competent on bass and can hit the notes he needs to. More so, he’s the only legitimate replacement for Mike and so people are willing to accept it. The problem comes in that Wolf seems to think this is his birthright, and it’s not. Even Jason Bonham proved himself with years of touring in his own band, not to mention lots of hard work. You have to prove you’ve earned it, little prince, and the kid has not. He’s absolutely lifeless and disengaged on stage. He’s also only got one solo line during the entire show and he still can’t learn his fucking cue.

That said, the band rocked on. Romeo’s Delight, Somebody Get Me a Doctor, Beautiful Girls, Dance the Night Away…the band sounded pretty tight and the crowd ate it up. What’s more impressive is that Dave seemed to have mostly figured out what he was supposed to be singing 95% of the time.

Waaaiiiit for it...

Funnier still, and part of why you can simply YouTube any DLR interview and laugh, is because Dave is a comedic-banter machine. Here, he explains what the hell he meant to sing in the lyrics to Everybody Wants Some:

I think Dave was happy to be in Atlantic City. He guest stared on The Sopranos as himself where he was in a high-stakes poker tourney with Jersey mob guys. I’m willing to bet he was throwing some cash down at a private table somewhere that weekend. But it was more evidenced by his copious use of profanities, something that he didn’t do in DC. It seemed like every other word out of his mouth was ‘fuck’, which was good b/c ‘fuck’ is rock. Even during one of the early songs he substituted a line by pointing to his crotch and telling the crowd they could “get some of this shit”. I assume he meant that for the ladies.

Anyway, the band ripped through over two dozen classics. Highlights included Mean Streets, I’ll Wait (short clip below), Hot For Teacher, Jamie’s Cryin, and Unchained. There was the requisite drum solo, which I used to head to the bathroom (unlike DC, nobody was fucking in the restroom), requisite 15 minute guitar solo (still impressive), and even Dave broke out the acoustic to tell his Ice Cream Man back-story (still amusing.)

The encore 1984 and Jump still sounded great and was a lot of fun but would again call into question Dave’s antics. During 1984, which is just a short intro synth piece, Dave donned an oversized admiral’s cap, and I almost worried he might finally break into a Gillbert & Sullivan tune. Eric turned to me and smirked. Then, during Jump, he broke out a white sailor’s cap, the kind you put on for a sexy party. Eric turned and just shook his head. I’m not sure I want to mention him riding an inflatable mic on stage through a confetti shower and disco ball lights. Eric looked at the big, black mic he was riding and asked me where the hole in the tip was located.

But fuck it. I ate it up and had just a great time. These were my rock heroes growing up and I was lucky enough to finally see them, despite them being past their prime. But they were also heroes to most of the 30-and-ups in the crowd and why? It’s simple. Eddie Van Halen is a guitar genius. There is nobody like him and the fact that he’s thus far managed to avoid an overdose is a testament to his longevity and significance. David Lee Roth might very well be one of the greatest frontmen of all-time (that’s a topic for debate but the dude makes the podium no matter how you look at it.) Alex, despite being a functioning mute, is one of the best rock drummers to ever.. rock..a drum. No, they’re not in their prime but they still sound great. Dave is and will always be a man-child but the guy lives to perform. He still throws kicks around the stage; he just can’t do the high-flying ones anymore, lest he break a hip. But the brother can twirl a mic like a cheerleader’s baton.. er, like a samurai sword, with no problem. Point is, if you have ever remotely liked this band, see them now. Who the hell knows if they’ll even finish all the dates before they break up again. And we all know that’s going to happen. The prophecy was written a long time ago.

Right after the show, Mrs. S turned to me and told me she’d "do" Diamond Dave. So I may need to rethink that blood test.

Finally, just to compare, I also saw Radiohead two nights later in Virginia. What a flying shit-storm that was. But it offered some interesting comparisons. Radiohead is one of the biggest bands in the world, at the prime of their career and abilities (so we think.) VH was one of the biggest bands in the world but is trying to make a comeback (or, at least, get through this tour.) Radiohead are pros and they let you know it. The show was tight. TIGHT. However, even Thom Yorke managed to forget the lyrics and restarted a song twice. Dave forgets lyrics to his songs nightly but at least he makes shit up on the fly. Frankly, I don’t know how you can forget lyrics to a song you wrote and have been singing almost nightly for months at a time but I guess it’s possible. Radiohead was better but Van Halen was more fun. However, I realized during the Radiohead show that I didn’t know a lot of the song titles, even though I’ve been listening to the band for years. I mean, I’ve heard Subterranean Homesick Alien dozens and dozens of times but I couldn’t tell you what it sounds like. Yet, I can probably name just about any song off of any Roth-era VH album, possibly in order. That’s the difference. That’s love.


Jumbo Slice said...

I hven't even read this post - I've just scanned the photos, videos, and poll - and I already know it's one of our best posts ever.

Jumbo Slice said...

Why aren't the YouTube videos working?

Potsy said...

I've been at it all night and day, and I've finally finished reading this post.

Nice work Stuttson (and Jimbromski for the excellent formatting).

Way to show us up with your Almost Famous-esque treatise.

sacklunch said...

I finally finished reading this one as well. Good work Mr. S.

I was never really that in to Van Halenand I think the only VH album I ever owned was 1984. I would like to go to one of these concerts for solely for the amount of freaks in the crowd. I really think we need to hit up Jaxx one of these days....

Anonymous said...

What perfect timing--DYING FETUS is playing tonight at Jaxx. If DF isnt enough, Sworn Enemy, Origin, Thy Will Be Done, Fallen Martyr, Headache, and Suffer No More will be onthe bill. I'll see you guys there!

Anonymous said...

Looks like Diamond Dave is officially headed for straightness in the early returns.

Jimbromski said...

I'm going to stuff the ballot box, in much the same manner that DLR stuffs male colon

Jumbo Slice said...

I think we need to move the poll into it's own post to give more people a chance to vote. We need to settle this debate once and for all.

number6 said...

LA Guns, Faster Pussycat, and later on Kix fulfills your need to fuck the shit out of Things shoved in your pants. i prefer the pure viking heathen metal of Finntroll--unfortunately, a dick fest. Overkill and Toxic Holocaust is classic thrash (wear neck brace), but Sigh, from Japan, is the weirdest and often silliest metal WTF and my favorite one not to be missed.

Anonymous said...

I started this post 3 days ago and just finished. Whew. It was successfully vicarious. And it's a band I have heard of, which is a nice surprise for me!

I like Van Halen's music - it's good. I won a costume contest dressed as Sammy Hagar. I won. And I wasn't wearing a wig. Sigh. The 80s.

Anonymous said...

PS: I voted "D" in the DD poll. You know it's true. For all of his lady-loving ways in the videos, *never linked with a real life vixen?! Uh-huh. That's what I thought.

*Maybe he was. I never paid attention. He's gross.