The opening notes of “Unchained” spewed from the guitar with guttural force. The drums hit those jungle beat rhythms timed with the bottom of the bass shaking the rafters. And the grand circus master arrived on stage with purpose and flair. Van Halen had come to conquer the town again. But, was this 1984 or 2012? At times it was hard to distinguish. And other times, it was simply “A Different Kind of Truth”.
Friday night, April 30, 2012. The boys were truly back in Pittsburgh to prove that their reunion tour in 2007 was no fluke. Here to support their new full length release, “A Different Kind of Truth”, VH barreled through their set with abandoned fervor and kept the crowd on their feet for just under two hours. Gone was the banter in-between songs, replaced by one hit after another jammed at maximum velocity. By the time they got to their third song, “Romeo Delight”, David Lee Roth seemed completely tuned in and ready to let the music do the talking.
Like a roller coaster ride, the concert had its ups and its downs. Dave’s voice was not as top notch as the 2007 tour. But any true VH fan has gotten used to his sing-speak throughout the years. At times, such as on “I’ll Wait”, his voice was brilliant. But by the time of the encore of “jump”, both he and the band were a bit off, largely noticeable from the backing keyboard digital track that they were not quite in sync with. All in all though they did what they do best:entertain.
Their stage was sparse and open and left to be dominated by the big screen behind the stage. Roth had a section of parquet flooring to do his slide moves most recently seen on the video for “Tattoo”. )He even displayed the gun tattooed on his hip during the song) Executing his karate and dance moves with precision, Roth was every bit of showman as he ever was. The brothers Van Halen, Alex and Eddie, seemed to be having a good time with evident enjoyment of the execution of some tunes such as, “Everybody Wants Some”, “Chinatown”, and “Girl Gone Bad”. Edward’s son Wolfgang was pure business and less smiles. He holds down Michael Anthony’s former job very well, although he does not have the same vocal range. His voice does harmonize well with his father though and they are very synced with one another.
The camera people, whose job it was to project the show for the cheap seats, had a bit to be desired though, seemingly concentrating more on Roth at all times except during solos. Often concentrating on dull angles, they left the crowd (on stage left) with little to see, often fully projecting on stage right. This was very lacking from the last tour that had spectacular visuals. The need to show the designs of the concert tees either seemed a subliminal business move or a last minute addition to add time. Some video spots were interesting though, such as some outtakes of the “Tattoo” video, the recent You Tube interviews, and Dave indulging himself with his video of training his sheep and cattle herding dogs while he warmed up to “Ice Cream Man”. (If you have not seen any of these gems go to the Van Halen News Desk on the web) The crowd actually seemed to really like this respite from the live action video that had much to be desired.
The lengthy solos were somewhat diminished from what they would have been in the 80’s, and the crowd used these spots to empty their beer filled bladders. With the median age of the crowd somewhere around 45, this was not surprising, yet they missed masters at play. Alex’s solo was interesting with a samba/jazz/mambo type digital track backing him. In a guitar hero world, Alex is truly underrated and in the shadow to his brother, but ranks as one of the skin slappers in rock. Edward’s solo was unreal, a flurry of notes, harmonics, and tremelo squeals that proved the king has yet to be knocked off the hill. (EVH solo can be seen here)
The biggest surprise of the evening was the inclusion of “Women in Love” from Van Halen II. Typically only the introduction is played during Ed’s solo, but the whole tune being played was succinct and tight. Concentrating on hits and hidden gems throughout their seven studio albums together with Roth, the Van Halen boys did their best to entertain the hardcore fans to the hit happy ones.
After “Ain’t talking Bout Love”, Roth asked the crowd if they wanted an encore and the crowd erupted; the band never left the stage. The opening keyboards of “Jump” hit and the crowd was sprayed with confetti.
Van Halen has grown up along with it’s followers. No longer relying on scripted stage banter, frequent breaks and elongated solos for drink, drug, or sex, the band came to show they could still bring it with the best of them. They certainly did that in Pittsburgh. Maybe they were not the band they were in the 80’s, but neither are the rest of us either. Welcome home boys, welcome home.
Alan D. Welding