The last time a new Van Halen record featured David Lee Roth as the lead singer Ronald Reagan was in the White House, The A-Team was on TV and I spent my nights worrying about acne and solving the Rubiks Cube. Much has changed since “1984,”but in many ways, for the reunited Van Halen, everything is much the same.
To mark the release of their first new album together in 28 years, the band invited a select handful of friends, family and music journalists to an intimate party at the legendary Henson Studios in Hollywood. This one time home to The Muppets, Charlie Chaplin and the location for the “We Are The World” video, nowadays it houses several TV and film production offices and recording studios. Although pleased to be invited, it seemed no one was really sure what would be happening at the event. Was it a record release party where we would hear the new CD? Would the band be playing a couple tracks from their new CD “A Different Kind Of Truth” live? Maybe some acoustic jamming? Who the hell knew?
The main courtyard of the studio had been transformed into an outdoor party complete with multiple bars, food trucks dispersing free eats, and comfy seating areas complete with tables covered in Van Halen custom chocolates. But the focal point of the space was the heavily guarded, black curtained entrance to the main rehearsal space, which no one would be allowed into until 8pm. Finally the curtains were flung open and the crowd rushed inside with 350 of our new best friends including actress Valerie Bertinelli, former Marilyn Manson guitarist John 5, TV Composer/ex-Prince & The Revolution member Wendy Melvoin and the blonde dude from TMZ. What we saw before us was unbelievable, an elaborate concert stage complete with ramps, a wall of amps and giant LED screens broadcasting filmed and still images of the band. The lights suddenly blacked out as the sonic wail of Eddie Van Halen’s trademark guitar chimed through the venue. It was a full on concert!
Boom! There they were! Van Halen! Diamond David Lee Roth, slim, fit, with closely cropped blonde hair and a perma grin; Alex Van Halen pounding the drums with precision while keeping his eyes and emotions shaded in sunglasses; Eddie Van Halen the master guitar wizard looking clear-eyed and healthy; and the newest member, Eddie’s son Wolfgang Van Halen on bass, younger and hungrier than the rest, but certainly not out of place.
The band ripped through “You Really Got Me,” “Runnin’ With The Devil,” and “Unchained” and they were tight. Really, really tight. The only chink in the armor was Dave’s voice which cracked and sounded reed-thin in places. After some goofy stage banter from Dave, the band launched into their first new song, the somewhat forgettable, “Trouble With Never,” then went back to the hits catalog for “Everybody Wants Some.” The band’s second new song “She’s The Woman” was brilliant, sounding like an outtake from Van Halen II – which is some ways it is since the band mined early demos for material for their new record. Then came “Dance The Night Away,” “Panama” and the driving first single off the new CD, the musically solid but lyrically weak “Tattoo.” From here on in it was a full throttle race to the finish line. “Hot For Teacher” followed by Dave showing off his acoustic guitar playing prowess leading into “Ice Cream Man” and the frenzy inducing “Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love,” after Which Dave said, “If you want an encore this is the time to let us know!” The crowd exploded. We knew what was next, Van Halen’s only number-one single, the keyboard-driven “Jump.” Dave’s voice now fully warmed up soared through it as he strutted and high kicked his way around the stage. After several blasts from confetti cannons (which hurt at such close range) the stage was flooded by a gaggle of scantily clad Brazilian carnival dancers in giant headdresses and whistle blowing drummers.
This show is a precursor to what you’ll see (YOU HAVE TO GO!) on Van Halen’s “40th Anniversary Tour” which will have them playing damn near everywhere in the United States through late April 2012 (dates at www.van-Halen.com). Make sure you arrive early to catch warm-up act Kool & The Gang. Yup, the classic 70s and 80s R&B group behind the mega-hits “Celebration”, “Get Down On It” and “Hollywood Swingin’” have been hand-picked by Diamond Dave to open the show.
But will you have a better time than we did that night at Henson Studios? Hmm… you’ll have to let us know.
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