Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Sit down Waldo . . . it's the Mighty Van Halen!

Air Canada Centre, Toronto, 17th March 2012

I guess the decision to get off my backside and see Van Halen in the Big Apple (Toronto actually) was not one to be taken lightly. It was indeed a high risk strategy. Judging by how they've got on over the years, it was quite possible that they would split up again before the tour had even started. Equally likely would be Eddie falling off one of his many wagons, Dave upsetting the toybox, or that they were just doing it for the Yankee Dollar & going through the motions as in 2007.

But to see VH with Dave for the first time since Donington 1984, was just too good an opportunity to pass up and european shows at this time were not looking likely. The new album is surprisingly strong, some old demos rehashed and supplemented with new songs and I decided to take the plunge, so with flights booked, accomodation with a friendly Mackem sorted for a couple of nights, and with tickets blagged, it was Game On.

The ACC is home to Toronto's Ice Hockey and Basketball teams. It holds 14,000 people and is a nice deep bowl giving good views from everywhere. The show was well sold out, with ticket prices ranging from $90 basic, to $995 for the Ultimate VIP packages.

Kool and the Gang opened for Van Halen at 7.30pm sharp, with the arena pretty empty. I still don't get this, I really don't. Sure, the audiences are of a similar age, but they were a real struggle for me, schmoozing through their ten semi-beefed-up songs for the sparse crowd with a few acceptable guitar solos. By the time they finished up with Get Down On It, and Celebration, the ACC was half full, and by the end of their set I concede they went down pretty well, so job done guys, thank you. Now let's have the main attraction.

Half an hour later and it was showtime. No intro, no big build up, lights out, a ten second drum roll from Alex, and Wolfgang, Eddie & Dave appeared from the wings and launched straight into a searing version of Unchained. The stage was wide and spacious, rows of white Marshall amps flanking Alex's drum riser which was central, up a flight of four steps. Dave had a rectangular floor panel maybe 15 x 10 feet of polished wood on which he replicated a variety of high kicks, moonwalks, and smooth Diamond Davesque moves throughout the show. The large and mobile lighting rig bathed the stage with all manner of colours throughout the set, and the whole theatre for the evening was completed with a huge jumbotron screen probably 120 x 30 feet in size displaying live multi-cam shots all night, interspersed with logos and off stage footage, all in monochrome which produced a real visual spectacle.

They scorched through 24 Hagar-free songs in a touch under two hours. Four new songs featured including Tattoo, and China Town. Highlights for me were Everybody Wants Some, Panama, a rip-roaring Hot for Teacher, and a glorious rendition of Ice Cream Man, prefaced by Dave strumming an acoustic guitar while the jumbotron showed clips of the man himself with his cowdogs & sheepdogs. Surreal, but it worked a treat. Roth has lost none of his charisma; the showman is very much alive and revelling in the band's renaissance, grinning from ear to ear all night, as he worked the audience like a cat with the cream. Sure the high notes are a little less high now, and the high kicks are more restrained, but it's all still there, just a touch older, and possibly wiser.

We got a neat solo from Alex mid-set, presumably engineered to give the rest of the band a breather, and allow Dave to make yet another costume change. The icing on the cake came towards the end of the show, when Eddie Van Halen produced what could only be described as a simply stunning guitar solo. We were back in 1979 again as Eddie proceeded to deliver a five minute piece featuring all the elements we know and love from Eruption and the early albums, It  ebbed and flowed crisply and note for note, the perfect sound piercing the night air. The whole arena in silence as he sat casually on a step just in front of the drum riser and crafted a work that will live with all who watched him for a lifetime.

Finishing with a boyhood-like twinkle in his eye and a raised arm acknowledging the cheering crowd, he and the rest of the band tore into Ain't Talking 'bout Love. "Do you want one more? Do you?" roared Roth, and 1984's Jump closed the show, accompanied by blasts from a confetti cannon which left the stage and front rows of the crowd swimming in red and white ticker-tape. A few waves and bows later, and they were gone.

Van Halen in 2012 have lost none of their glitterball party sparkle. Abiding memories a few days later are that they appear to be sober, clean, healthy, and happy. The addictions and destructions that have hindered past reformations seem to be elsewhere. They perform like they are enjoying being together again, with Dave and Eddie laughing and joking with eachother throughout the show. Wolfgang was Wolfgang, the hired hand and family member but he does make the band complete and it worked. They may well be doing it for their share of the $93 million the 51 shows will gross up to the end of June (that's before T-shirts at $40 a pop), but they seem to be having a hell of a party along the way.

Should they ever bring the show to Europe, treat yourselves and get along; I doubt you'll be disappointed.

Full Setlist
Runnin' with the Devil
She's the Woman
The Full Bug
Everybody Wants Some!!
Somebody Get me a Doctor
China Town
Hear About it Later
Oh Pretty Woman
(Drum Solo)
You Really Got Me
The Trouble with Never
Dance the Night Away
I'll Wait
Hot for Teacher
Women in Love
Girl Gone Bad
Beautiful Girls
Ice Cream Man
(Guitar Solo)
Ain't Talkin 'bout Love

"We're buddies again, right?"

Spare room & selected photos with thanks to J. Also thanks to James and the G man.

CLICK HERE for a killer review of Night Ranger's London club show from the 02 Academy 4th June 2012