On record, Van Halen has always had a sonic, bombastic, electrifying, grab-you-by-the-balls sound that gets dwarfed by the supersonic, speed-of-light, don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it, ear-shattering, bone-crushing, explosive, flamboyant, this-has-to-be-witchcraft live performances, which, in bygone days, were themselves only outshone by their collective egos. After all, there’s only one band who ever, as an opening act, had the balls to parachute to the stage.
Van Halen’s live intensity was unparalleled in the ‘70s, ‘80s, even in the ‘90s with Sammy Hagar, and all the way up to 2007-2008, when the band reunited with original frontman David Lee Roth. They always played loud: louder than your mom would ever let youout in the house; so loud that your ears would ring for days afterward; so loud that you couldn’t hear your buddy screaming in your ear, “This fuckin’ rocks!” at the top of his lungs.
None of that is the case on the Van Halen 2012 Tour.
Maybe it’s old age. Maybe it’s humility. Maybe it’s the absence of Michael Anthony. Maybe it’s an expired contract with the crossroads devil. Whatever it is, Van Halen no longer plays their live show like their lives depend on it. And they shouldn’t have to.
Even if they aren’t playing like they did in their prime, they still play and perform better than a lot of other shit that passes for talent these days. Except for Wolfie, they’re also considerably older and weathered than they were in their prime, which works two ways: first, it looks like it diminishes their performance; second, they seem much more amicable with one another on stage. But what’s really surprising is how somber they’ve become since 2007. Just five years ago, prior to the new album A Different Kind of Truth, the decibel level was high enough to level a terrorist stronghold. Today, however, it felt like their gear was set up for a 2,000-capacity theater show.
Speaking of their gear, it was really stripped down. The stacks weren’t dominating the stage. There weren’t any ramps for running and jumping. And there wasn’t any real pyro. Certainly, there were no suspension cables for the guys to swing around on. There was, however, an omnipresent screen like none I’ve ever seen. Spanning the width of the stage and damn near reaching the sky, it was a sight to behold. Then again, like the close shots used in a low-budgetmovie to compensate for a lack of set design, that’s all you focused on while watching the Van Halen 2012 Tour.
Roth is certainly the most active member of Van Halen on the stage, more so than even Wolfie who’s little over half Roth’s age. I guess five black belts and a rock-climbing hobby keeps a guy fit. Though he wasn’t doing V split jumps, Roth still managed plenty of high kicks, some quirky dance moves, some baton twirling, and some flag waving. Eddie remained relatively locked near his pedals. No Townsend-style jumps for him. But given his recent health issues, he can be forgiven. Alex remained the ship’s anchor as usual. As for Wolfie, given his age, he should be a young man on fire running from one end of the stage to the next, doing knee slides and interacting with the crowd, but no. Christ, he’s in one of the greatest hard rock bands of all time, and he didn’t even have to audition. Maybe that’s the problem. Give a man a fish…
Vocally, Roth sounded great. Aged, but great. But he did struggle on “Dance the Night Away”; the man just doesn’t have the range he once had. Although Wolfie saved his ass on this number, Michael Anthony’s absence was most felt here. Eddie played like a man on fire; however, his usually lengthy solo was reduced to something like 10 minutes. Shitty.
Since you never know the stability of a Van Halen lineup, it’s worth seeing this show. The volume should have been louder. Eddie’s solo should have been longer. Michael Anthony should have been on that stage. The screen was amazing. It looked like Roth and Eddie were finally having fun again, having settled their differences and put their egos out of the way. With a 24-song set list, is the 2012 Tour worth seeing? Hell, yes. Is it worth the price of admission? Not so sure.