Took my 10-year-old son to see Van Halen at Madison Square Garden in New York City on March 1. I think he was more excited to see them than I was – not that I wasn’t, but this was the mighty Van Halen whose tunes the both of us have copped, jammed to and listened to a ton.
Following are some semi-random impressions of the show, with a few mixed in from John, a WoodyTone reader who saw the band 2 days later at the Mohegan Sun Arena in CT.
> It was great. The band was, and has always been, a literal tour de force. I think my son sorta wished he got the 1982-84 VH – that youthful energy and even more of a take-no-prisoners attitude – but he was floored, as he should’ve been. What other band can do what that band does? None.
> Everyone was great. Ed played great, made it look ridiculously easy (more on that in a bit), and generally wowed everyone like he always does. Dave was Dave, sang probably better than I’d ever heard him sing live. Alex was the usual consistent monster that he always is, and Wolfgang was great. I mean, don’t know that I’ve ever been wowed by a bass player, but the show started with Unchained and Wolf played that crazy syncopated pre-chorus flawlessly while singing backup – what more could you ask.
> A HUGE bonus in the show was the big projection/digital/LED/whatever screen behind the band. This meant there pretty much wasn’t a bad seat in the house. We sat on the back left of the floor, and with the screen it was like we were 4 rows from the stage. For guitar-heads like us, this was HUGE. I’ve never seen Ed play guitar that close-up (more about that coming).
> Song selection was off the charts cool. Here was our setlist:
Runnin’ With The Devil
She’s The Woman
The Full Bug
Everybody Wants Some
Somebody Get Me A Doctor
Hear About It Later
Oh, Pretty Woman
You Really Got Me
The Trouble With Never
Dance The Night Away
Hot For Teacher
Women In Love…
Outta Love Again
Ice Cream Man
Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love
That’s 22 tunes plus two solos for 2 hours of solid live VH!
> For me it was Ed. Maybe you’re thinking “duh,” but a) you never know and b) I’ve been watching Ed for almost 30 years now…dang! Not that I’ve ever gotten bored, but…guess I was reserved. Don’t know why, exactly, but didn’t matter: Ed was frickin’ ON. As John said:
Ed’s playing is on point. His timing, intonation,phrasing, and the ease with which he does what he does was in full effect. His playing and presence seemed…fresh. He really seemed to be having a good time on the stage. He was spot on the whole night.
And here’s the thing: With that video screen backdrop, you could watch Ed close up almost the entire time. Closer than YouTube and for way longer. Fantastic.
> After seeing Ed close-up – particularly doing his solo when the camera was super-close on his hands on the neck – I re-re-re-re-realized that I’ll never be able to play guitar like that guy. I mean, that’s obvious, but at that show I finally saw what so many people say who see him play close-up: He does things that should be impossible.
I mean, I saw him manhandle the guitar neck so much it actually looked like he could’ve snapped it in two. Strings were bending, fingers were sliding, all super-fast, ultra-precise, no mistakes. Yeah, we all know that, but to SEE IT as if you’re standing like a foot away, that was insane. Insane!
And btw, it was nothing like watching Vai or Satch or anyone else. Not that they’re in any way “bad” – Ed’s just way, way, way different.
> The band was just rock solid and lit it up. After the show, it made sense to me why Kool and the Gang was the opening act (which the crowd loved, btw). Who else could it be – meaning what other rock band? Who else can be in that slot in this era? No one came to mind. And then I thought: Who’s going to carry the torch after VH?
> Al and Wolfie – Any guitar-slinger would want to play with those guys. Wow.
John said this about Wolfie: “Wolfgang is for real. I’m in my mid-40s and been a musician most of my life – Wolfgang can play AND sing. He has great chops, is in the pocket, and nailed the highharmonies extremely well, with ease and panache. He kept up with his dad and uncle, and while he clearly doesn’t have the seasoning of his bandmates, he does have the ability to hang with them on a big stage.”
> The song selection – I wish there were more tunes from the new album, but I ain’t complainin’! Opening with Unchained was classic VH – awesome. The Full Bug – awesome. Three VH 2 tunes in a row – Women In Love, Outta Love Again, Beautiful Girls – awesome. You get the picture.
Oh yeah: Made sure not to look at any set lists before I went. Wanted to be surprised, and I was.
The Not So Great
In no particular order:
> The aforementioned big-screen display was great if you were into Ed and Dave, but there was precious little Al or Wolfgang. As much as I couldn’t get enough of watching Ed, that was a bummer. I’d love to have seen Wolfie up close, to subject him to the jaundiced “can he really play” eye of guitar-slingers everywhere (lol).
And Al – c’mon. One of the greatest rock drummers of all time. He needed to have a camera pointing down at his kit the whole time a la Neil Peart. Would’ve loved to have seen it, as well as my son the drummer, and I’m sure we weren’t the only ones.
> Which brings me to: How the f*ck do producers of rock shows and concert vids get these gigs? Do they walk in and say, “Hey, we’re going to cut away at all the most important musical parts, make the viewers feel like they’re about to have a seizure, and did we mention we’re not diehard fans of the band or musicians?” Apparently so.
For around a quarter of the show, whatever genius was wielding the production mouse cut away from Ed during solos! WTF?! Instead of showing Ed, for example, playing the solo in China Town – which none of us had ever seen live before – we instead saw still photos of the band on the big screen. And how ’bout lights run down to obstruct the screen during Ed’s solo? Yeah. Fire that guy.
> Re: the lack of Al and Wolf on camera, maybe that was Dave-related. Didn’t seem to me that Dave interacted much with anyone (vintage Dave!), but when he did it was almost always Ed. That’s how I remember it anyway. Maybe playing with the Van Halens is old-hat for DLR, but hey – they ain’t backup musicians!
> Wish they did more old-VH-type jamming because the chops represented up there were truly furious. But understand their desire to blast through a bunch o’ tunes. Not a complaint….
To me, Ed’s tone basically sounded like it does on the A Different Kind of Truth – sorta nasally/cocked wah – but in 100w mode. No idea if he was playing through 100w heads live or 50s on the album, but live there was more “space” between the strings like a 100w.
Also didn’t seem to me that his tone varied much whether he was using one of the new Wolfies (maybe only the Stealth version?) or one of the painted-up Frankie-esque guitars. That meant it was the rig/chain that had that tone, not the guitars. But John heard it different. He said:
I didn’t hear him using his wah in the mid “cocked” position too much, if at all, during the show. I did notice his overall tone was better than many of the YouTube videos out there, but it was far better when he used one of the two Charvels he was using during the older tunes.
The EVH Stealth…sounded thin and hollow compared to the Charvel guitars. His overall tone didn’t seem too treble-heavy at all live. As a matter of fact, although it was a very loud show, my ears weren’t ringing, nor was my own tinnitus affected badly at all.
Effects-wise, let there be no doubt: Ed’s new favorite pedal is the wah. He used that a lot, possibly in every song, for fills and solos. Was I digging it? Well, I’m not a wah fan, but can say this: Ed uses it his own way, it’s different for him and he obviously digs it so that’s cool..
Eddie is a master of managing effects on the fly. Between trying to duplicate the acrobatics of his youth, doing backup vocals and playing his own parts, he was also performing a masterful tap-dance on his pedal board. I was very impressed with that.
Awesome. If you can go see ’em, go.
> Wolfie’s tone was big and naturally disorted, and he had 10″, 12″ and 15″ cabs mic’d.