I think I was up for more than two days straight at the time. Five hours of sleep, after getting back to Maryland from New Jersey past three in the morning following the event does not really fix that in one night. My arms feel shredded from the amount of fist pumping I got away with doing in public, and my voice sounds like that of a sixty year old smoker. Raw.
But then again, if you are going to party, there’s only one group that can take you over the top…
The mighty Van Halen.
Glad to have got that off my chest.
This past weekend, I traveled up North to New Jersey to catch my most influential and still living rock band: VAN HALEN. Flying high since the original and only true lead singer David Lee Roth’s return in 2007, Van Halen’s tenure as a group has been milking the cash cow each tour, and for good reason. Even without the original bass player, Michael Anthony, these guys still know how to sell out a venue. And on a Sunday night? The place very well may have been oversold with the amount of people that showed up (nobody call the fire chief!). Playing both a mixture of their hits and some deep tracks that have not been seen or heard live since the eighties, something any hardcore fan can respect immeasurably, these guys made for quite the weekend.
But the weekend did not just start on a Sunday night.
After finishing up a late Friday night practice with my own rock group, I left for New Jersey on Saturday with one of my closest friends from high school. Hitting the most depressing of all Bay Bridge traffic, we made it up to Jersey safe and sound with a rocking playlist to keep the energy up and the windows down to feel the summer breeze. After gorging on the pizza and Italian subs already waiting for us and the requisite time spent visiting relatives, we made our way to Point Pleasant for one of the most pleasant surprises I have seen playing live in a long time.
Headlining at Jenkinson’s, an extremely popular local bar and dance club, was the group Go Go Gadjet. Coming all the way from Pennsylvania, but self professed to having spent the last ten years touring heavily on the road and fine tuning their craft, Go Go Gadjet was one of the best party rock bands I have ever seen. Simple as that. Combining one of the most eclectic set lists I have heard in a while, from Nicki Minaj’s “Hey Mama” to R. Kelly’s “Remix to Ignition”, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, and the finale, Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”, this group brought the party to a whole new level. I seriously thought that it was just a great DJ who had set up on stage, thanks to the out of this world light show (for a “bar band”, using the term loosely) that could be seen coming through the windows of the venue on the beach, but seeing a live group tear it up like that in front of me? Mind blowing. Looking back and thinking about it, these guys almost reminded me of a much less creative, but still talented, version of Van Halen from back in the day. While the party itself has changed since the late 70’s, it seems that the atmosphere has not. Truly, a great show. While their schedule may not be as easy to access as Van Halen’s, I would definitely recommend checking them out if you get the chance. They seem to play a lot of beach venues like this one, but up and down the East Coast, and they make for a spectacular show.
The fateful day of the concert, Sunday, encompassed an early morning with the afternoon spent at the beach. If I had to have one legitimate gripe about this whole trip, it would come politically: the consumption tax that is so heavily apparent in New Jersey is a straight up shame. After paying twenty dollars (eighteen, if we are exactly counting – I had to break a twenty for me and my buddy and am still bitter) to just sit on the beach and not even swim? I think I am allowed to be a little pissed. I was able to cool my jets as soon I saw the waves that were eight feet high, and with the recent deaths of local swimmers being taken out by the riptide fresh in my mind, just sitting down was for the best. Relaxing on the sand is still nice, and after getting a slight tan on my embarrassingly pasty white bod, I felt calm. Like the calm before the storm.
Van Halen was coming.
Flying up the parkway and blasting the sounds of Southern California in the 80’s does not paint a clear enough picture for the pump up of seeing another classic rock show in Jersey. Yeah, Jersey has some attitude, but I would rather be there than in Times Square.
A short disclaimer –
I will be the first to say this, although after reading just a few sentences, it should not come as such a surprise: I fucking love Van Halen. Everything they stand for. The music, the image, the attitude, and the girls. Hearing Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption” for the first time as at twelve years old blew my mind, as it did to everyone else’s. So much of my own personality fits in so perfectly with the Van Halen attitude, that a comparison made between the two could not find results to be any closer. These guys are the standard bearers for going wild, and for a wildman like myself, it is a match made in heaven. Hell, in my senior year of high school, guess what I band I sang to, to headline the most popular school rock review show as the quintessential male lead singer? Van Halen!
But reminiscing about the glory days is besides the point of this review.
Actually, it is the saddest comparative truth that I can make.
The performance of the Van Halen family and the greatest living frontman alive today?
I dislike comparing groups at a high focus, with so much concentration on every aspect that they put forward to an audience. Not only are you, as an audience member, not living in the moment and focusing on what you paid to see in front of you, you could lose some of your objectivity in processing what is immediately happening in the now.
That being said, Van Halen was not as good the last big hair metal show I saw in New Jersey, which was Motley Crue. It was apparent that these guys are over the hump. While anyone using that “classic 80’s” musical tone is standing on the shoulders of the guy who literally invented it, Eddie Van Halen, the first person to put a humbucker in a stratocaster body, the group that built from nothing into the culture that surrounded them, sadly, did not live up to the monuments they erected in the past. Playing the same show they have been doing since 2007, while adding notable deep tracks like “Feel Your Love Tonight”, “Light up the Sky”, “Dirty Movies”, and “Drop Dead Legs”, I had some thoughts walking away from a still great show.
Between a combination of poor sound mixing, somewhat of a lack of creativity, and a little bit of age, Van Halen did not put on the ultimately best objective show that their reputation would bill them as doing.
Don’t get me wrong. I had an absolute blast. The show was great. Seeing your idols in front of your own eyes playing the hits they wrote before you were born is always mind blowing when you sit and think about it. These are the guys that came on the radio with “Eruption” and “Runnin’ With the Devil” and blew everyone’s collective minds in 1978. Eddie is the greatest living guitarist, and he is second only to Jimi Hendrix, the man who revolutionized the electric guitar, in my own and many other’s books. David Lee Roth is without any doubt in my mind, the greatest living frontman, by a mile. Second only to the Lord himself, Freddie Mercury. Putting those two together? It was very clear, even from the lawn seats, that the sparks still flew like the fires of Vesuvius from these gods of rock and roll playing together. Diamond Dave’s still had a Dionysian stage presence and banter, with a surprisingly good voice for how he has treated it since the 70’s. As for Eddie? Just watch the videos of his guitar solos. They speak for themselves.
The rhythm section was not slouching either, but it was clear that they were the piece that was missing something. Alex, while sadly showing his age, held his own as a good rock drummer. Nothing new or exciting, but still good. This leads me to Wolfgang Van Halen. The son of a rock god. I feel genuinely bad taking any shots at Wolfie. For a young man, only two years older than myself, Wolfie can be the butt of a lot of eyebrow raising, and for a truthful reason. Replacing one of the most underrated rock bassists and crucial back up singers of all time, Michael Anthony, Wolfie can get some negativity just being there, even if he does do a good job. And he does do a good job, make no mistake about it. As someone who could imagine trying to share glory with his son, like Eddie and Wolf himself, I don’t feel right judging Wolfie for what he does. But… I almost don’t even want to say it. Thanks to poor mixing, the bass seemed like it was not there a lot of times. It seems bad to judge one event based on one misstep, but the lack of rhythm really was apparent, and it was not the first time they have ever done this set up. Yes, it would fade in and out, and yes both his bass playing and backup singing is exponentially better from the time he first stepped in to play with his dad. But, and this seems just sacrilegious even thinking about it, I kind of agree with what Sammy Hagar (ehh) has been saying lately in response to Eddie’s pretty nasty interviews. I miss Mikey too.
Let the record show that Sammy Hagar was never in a band called Van Halen. The band called Van Halen lived, died, and was resurrected by David Lee Roth. Eddie Van Halen was the only person responsible for creating some of the greatest rock riffs and blowing collective generations of minds. Not the synth pop he pushed in 1986.
But even as David Lee Roth himself has been quoted to say, Eddie is the man who got you in the door. Diamond Dave sells you the Bibles.
I hold these guys to impossibly high standards. Unrealistic, even. That statement alone should pretty much get rid of any credibility I had, which probably wasn’t that much to begin with. In the two hour show, there was one, maybe two songs that I didn’t know every word to. I know this material better than some of my extended family members. And I would be the first one to point out what was not all there, based on any kind of studio trickery was employed back in the day (coincidentally, one of the biggest complaints of the music industry that I have today – if you can’t do it live, you shouldn’t do it at all). And a lot of it was not all there. Thank whatever deity you believe in for David Lee Roth. Homerism aside, it is clear that he is the reason for their success. DLR was on absolute fire, all night long. Too much wordplay and personality to even write down, combined with the surprise of the night, his voice being in tact?
I could only dream to have half the career that he had.
Hopefully it’s the half where he was killing it with the whole band, not just messing around.
I have had some serious writer’s block thinking about this piece. I could have written a nice review talking about my experience and be done with it, but I had a lot more on my mind than just that. This group means so much to me, and to think about a show that was only damn good? Well, does that make me the bad guy for thinking about it like that? As a musician and objective critic myself, I try to do my best to pick out every piece that I can and fix it. There were definitely some things that needed fixed. I will still, always, give these guys a favorable review, but I do want to be honest. With the bizarre vibe from the crowd, including the fights breaking out during the keyboard solo in “Jump” (Who fights during a synth solo? I am still confused about why that happened, but not really. alcohol + rock music + testosterone = not the best time for the general public) and what seemed to be a lack of dancing in the streets (something I went wild doing myself), there were some notable aspects of this concert that were not as overwhelmingly positive as I usually spin things.
I will still love Van Halen until the day I die. If I stop, someone help. I obviously need it.
This concert was great. But.. it could have been a little better.
My thoughts are what they are, but they should not take away from the thanks needed to family living in NJ for giving me a place to stay and food, my bro for coming with me, and most importantly, me, for just being so damn awesome.
As my last words…
“Their career may be in the twilight of what it once was, but you owe it to yourself as an American to see Van Halen at least once. “
It will take some convincing to keep me away from this group again.