Verizon Wireless Arena
May 28, 2008
My adult years have been filled with the classic bands of my youth reuniting. There was Kiss and the Eagles in the 90’s, and no shortage of groups from the 2000’s, including Motley Crue, The Police, even Simon and Garfunkel. In 2007, Van Halen joined the “get back together” fray by mending fences with original singer David Lee Roth.
It was with great excitement when I first heard the news of the reunion. Van Halen had been one of the few bands I had yet to see live. My enthusiasm was tempered some with the fact that original bassist Michael Anthony was being replaced with guitarist Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang, however, this revelation did not prevent me from purchasing tickets for the Manchester NH show.
In this day of YouTube and other Internet avenues, one’s ability to gather information is at his or her fingertips. Never one to be patient, I logged on the morning after the first show on the tour to see the setlist. And what an amazing selection it was! All the hits and plenty of deep cuts from the Roth era made the cut. YouTube provided the video for us to see the stage and hear the band’s performance. I did notice after a few shows that people in chat groups were complaining about the sound quality, but I attributed it to the acoustics in the respective venues.
The original date of the Manchester show was in the winter but was pushed back to May 28. Upon entering the arena, I recognized the strange S-shape walkways on the stage itself that I had seen on YouTube, however, they were partially obstructed by black drapery, not to be revealed until the band took the stage. Classic rock was playing on the public address system and the band’s crew released a few gigantic black beach balls with the VH logo for the crowd to bop around.
The lights went down and after a brief build-up, Van Halen appeared! Eddie was on the right and I was immediately struck by his simple t-shirt and jeans attire, accompanied with short, grayish hair, complete with a goatee, more akin to a car mechanic than a rock star. This would be a workmanlike performance, indeed. Wolfgang was on the left, while his Uncle Alex (Eddie’s brother) was entrenched behind his colorful and always impressive drum kit. Meanwhile, Diamond Dave, ever the showman, appeared at the top of the stage, donning a sparkling outfit, similar to what a circus ringleader might wear.
The band opened with their cover of the Kinks classic, You Really Got Me. Other classic hits and deep cuts followed, including, I’m the One, Runnin’ with the Devil, Beautiful Girls, and Dance the Night Away. I couldn’t help but notice the muffled sound and thought back to those chatroom reviews. It really was a jumbled mess. I wondered if it were due to my seat location, which was in the first row of the upper level, immediate stage right, behind the frontline of stage monitors. Perhaps I was hearing the sound the band was hearing through the monitors and not out of the main PA?
I observed Roth was experiencing difficulties with the stage sound. On five or six occasions, he wandered over to my side of the stage and offered us with a clear view of him berating a poor sound guy, undoubtably in charge of stage sound. I also noticed Roth didn’t provide us with his between-song stage banter, save for the obligatory, “Good Evening Manchester,” and a quick one-liner here and there. Rather, the band kept segueing from song to song, its momentum not stalled, even with Alex’s drum solo, and certainly not Eddie’s guitar solo, a staple that is a treat for a VH concertgoer, instead of a mere excuse to visit to john.
The hits kept on coming, including, Unchained, I’ll Wait, And the Cradle Will Rock, Hot for Teacher, and Panama. Meanwhile, fans were treated to numbers that the band had not played in nearly a quarter century, such as Atomic Punk, Everybody Wants Some, Mean Street, Little Dreamer, and a cover of John Brim’s, Ice Cream Man. Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love closed out the main set, while the encore consisted of 1984 and the classic, Jump.
I am happy I got to see Van Halen with Roth. Although I am a big fan of Sammy Hagar and the music he made with the band, it’s the Roth era tunes I will always gravitate to. The fact that I got to see the band play so much of the soundtrack of my youth is something I will always be grateful for, especially since it is not possible to see them again.
My only complaint is a big one. Frankly, the sound was bad. At times, I could not understand what Roth was singing, or could even tell what song was being played until an undeniable chorus or hook came along. In the elevator to the parking garage after the show, I came across a couple of guys who mentioned the same thing, and when I asked them where their seats were, they told me they were in the stands behind the sound board, directly center of the stage. My theory of the stage monitors flew out the window. I find that an act of this caliber, on a highly anticipated reunion tour, should not sound like this. It was a damper on what should have been a magical evening.
Van Halen Setlist:
You really Got Me
I’m the One
Runnin’ with the Devil
Somebody Get Me a Doctor
Dance the Night Away
Everybody Wants Some!!
So This is Love?
On, Pretty Woman
And the Cradle Will Rock
Hot for Teacher
Ice Cream Man
Guitar Solo (featuring Eruption, Cathedral, Spanish Fly, Mean Street intro, and Women in Love intro)
Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love