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Monthly Archives: January 2012

ROCK MUSIC MENU: Van Halen is back on top again



Eddie Van Halen turned 57 Thursday, but fans of the guitarist and his namesake band have been the ones receiving gifts in musical form all week as the group has continued what has basically turned into an all-out media blitz in anticipation of its first album since 1984 with original singer David Lee Roth, “A Different Kind of Truth,” and the massive North American tour slated to follow.

It’s been such a longtime since Van Halen has had anything other than a tour to promote that it’s surprising to see how well the usage of social media and the Internet has propelled the promotional machine to such a high level. Not many could have expected a band that’s been dormant for so long would impact the charts the way it has, and that the new songs would be the talk of the rock world.

The first single, “Tattoo,” has been added to more than 160 radio stations across the country since its release Jan. 10 and has reached the top of Billboard’s Hard Rock Singles chart.

It was the number-one most played song on classic rock radio in its first week and the top most added song on mainstream and active rock radio stations.



Van Halen performed at Café Wha? last night. It’s possible you’ve already heard reports of this, since Café Wha? only holds 250 people and just about every single person inside the venue was a journalist, an industry bozo, or a former Wimbledon champion (John McEnroe was there). This event was partially the result of Café Wha? being previously owned by David Lee Roth’s 92-year-old uncle, but it mostly happened because Van Halen assumed unfathomable intimacy would be an easy way to remind the media that they’re still awesome. The stage was about 15 feet long and eight feet deep; in 1981, it’s possible Roth could have touched the ceiling with his foot, or at least with his samurai sword. It was a little like watching Darryl Dawkins dunk over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on a Nerf hoop in your grandparents’ basement.

So, just to be clear: Van Halen is still awesome.

They were really, truly, absolutely incredible. Their 45-minute performance exceeded my expectations, which were unrealistically high to begin with. The musicianship was muscular and impeccable. After Dime Bag Darrell’s funeral and Sammy Hagar’s autobiography, I had a real fear that Eddie Van Halen was going to come across as a stumbling, vomiting, toothless hobbit; in actuality, he was flawless and (seemingly) quite happy. Alex Van Halen was a little restrained owing to the size of the room, but his drumming remained precise and propulsive. Eddie’s son Wolfgang was equally competent on bass and did a remarkable job simulating Michael Anthony’s soaring background vocals, even on songs like “Dance the Night Away.” As a pure power trio, Van Halen has virtually no peers. Robert Christgau once wrote that “this music belongs on an aircraft carrier,” which he meant as a criticism — but for anyone who loves Van Halen, that reality defines the magnitude of their merit. These guys are hydro-electric destroyers. Watching Eddie Van Halen play guitar is like watching the detonation of a nuclear bomb from inside the warhead.

Roth wore overalls, a neckerchief, and a newsboy cap. He talked a little too much and his jokes didn’t make much narrative sense (“Welcome to Occupy Van Halen!”), but his vocals were better than okay. He’ll always be charming: I think the high point was when he did an impersonation of Jim Morrison performing “Stairway to Heaven.” Roth also expressed a strong desire to meet Lady Gaga and delivered an oddly detailed breakdown of rock club demographics within the greater Los Angeles area. Judging from their onstage interaction, it didn’t look like DLR and EVH hate each other, but I’m sure they still must. I don’t think it matters. They know what they’re doing. They don’t need to drink milkshakes together.

The set list was all hits. They played one “new” song, but it’s not remotely new: “She’s the Woman” was actually recorded on an early Van Halen demo, financed by Gene Simmons in 1976. There are other unreleased tracks from those sessions that are equally competitive (“Put Out the Lights,” “Let’s Get Rockin’,” the KISS-like “Babe, Don’t Leave Me Alone,” and a different version of “House of Pain”), so perhaps this “new” Van Halen album (set for release in February) will just be a reconstitution of unused material from the middle 1970s. I really hope that is the case. I will never understand why classic rock bands feel a moral obligation to write new songs that nobody wants. That’s like working at McDonald’s when you’re 80 instead of cashing in your war bonds. Van Halen has nothing to prove to anyone. Just blow us away.

The set at Café Wha? was abbreviated by two songs — the encore was supposed to include “Beautiful Girls” and “Unchained,” but there was ultimately no encore at all. I was in a cab before 10 pm. They opened with “You Really Got Me” and played “Jump” at evening’s end, without a visible synthesizer. The music was loud, but never painful. I only saw Eddie smoke one cigarette, so maybe C. Everett Coop finally wore him down. The whole night was pretty dreamlike, although not like any dream I’ve actually had; it was more like a dream I would make up if my psychoanalyst worked part-time at a strip club. I think I’m gonna play Van Halen II continually for the next 18 months. I advise you to do the same.


David Lee Roth smiled one of his “Diamond Dave” smiles and said what everyone crammed into the tiny Cafe Wha? for Thursday night’s Van Halen album and tour launch was thinking.

“The last time I stood on a stage this low, we had to have the car back by midnight,” he said.

No room for his trademark highkicks last night – Roth would have hit his head on the basement ceiling. No pyro. No laser shows. No massive screens to magnify Eddie Van Halen‘s flying fingers during several masterful guitar solos – the lucky ones could see them with their own eyes.

It was just the band – Roth and three Van Halens, Eddie, Alex on drums, and Wolfgang, Eddie’s son, on bass – and their music, stripped down to the adrenalized essentials that made these guys (minus 20-year-old Wolfie, of course) Rock and Roll Hall of Famers.

“Running With the Devil” had a renewed stomp thanks to the rhythm section, while Eddie Van Halen worked his guitar magic over it. “Dance the Night Away” still sounds like heavy-metal ear candy, even including a nifty bit of a cappella, three-part harmony on the chorus. And “Hot for Teacher” actually sounded extra-feverish.

“She’s The Woman” – the new song they unveiled from the forthcoming “A Different Kind of Truth” (Interscope) album, which arrives in stores on Feb. 7 – combined the classic sound of Eddie’s chugging guitar with a new bit of Red Hot Chili Peppers-y p-funk-inspired bass. Whether that’s how the rest of the new album – Van Halen’s first as a band in 14 years and the first with Roth on vocals since the blockbuster (and band-busting) “1984” 28 years ago – remains to be seen.

It’s a closely guarded secret – so tightly held that the single “Tattoo” won’t be heard until next week and we didn’t even get the name of it until after the show last night. But secrets can be fun.

And that actually might be the most important component to last night’s Cafe Wha? show. Van Halen looked like it was having fun.

It was a big night for Roth, who said he had been coming to the Cafe Wha? since he was seven years old, when his uncle, Manny Roth, owned it and booked Bob DylanJimi Hendrix and comedians Bill Cosby andRichard Pryor. Roth said that he carved his initials into one of the banisters as a child.

“It took us 50 years to get this gig,” he joked. “It was easier getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”

Even when one of Roth’s wild, rambling stories – he wanted to meet Lady Gaga, he lived near Pianos, he became an EMT, he was stationed in the North Bronx, he split half a cupcake with two other EMTs on New Year’s Eve, oh, hey! Happy New Year! – got a bit too lengthy, they all seemed to take it in stride, with the Van Halens waiting patiently and smiling and then when Wolfgang tried a musical cue to move him along, Roth added, with a smile, “Hold on a second, kiddo.” (He wrapped it up with “It’s all apropos… Somebody get me a doctor !”)

After all, for Van Halen, the question hasn’t really ever been “Can they play?” It has [almost] always been “Can they play together?”

The answer – which the band’s braintrust knew before they trotted them out into a room packed to the low ceiling with about 200 journalists and music industry insiders – was a resounding “Yes!”

What better message to send out there before tickets for the band’s national arena tour go on sale Jan. 16. The tour kicks off in Louisville, Ky., on Feb. 18 and is set for two shows at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 28 and March 1.

“I’m more nervous about this gig than I ever would be at The Garden,” Roth said. “There’s no place to hide up here . . . There’s no fake vocals – no fake anything.”

Shortly before the band finished with “Jump,” Roth tried summing up the night for everyone again. “It’s one of the best shows in our entire career,” he said. Then, he smiled again.

SETLIST: You Really Got Me / Running With the Devil / Somebody Get Me a Doctor / Everybody Wants Some / She’s The Woman / Dance the Night Away / Panama / Hot for Teacher / Ice Cream Man / Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love / Jump

CELEBRITIES SPOTTED: Jimmy Fallon, John McEnroe, The Roots’ Kirk Douglas

David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen. Photo:

Van Halen doing all the right things so far
by Joe Vallee

Van Halen’s publicists should have worked for President Nixon.

If they did, you can rest assure that a Watergate scandal would have been duly avoided.

Getting any news from the band’s brass whatsoever is a Herculean task. Whether it was rumors of a new single or a performance at the music awards, most of the information you heard about Van Halen in 2011 was denied by the band and rarely confirmed.

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