I should have been excited: my favorite band is coming to my town. Their guitarist, who’s battled all manner of substance abuse problems, is finally clean and sober, for real this time. Their long-estranged singer is back in the fold, seemingly for good. They are playing at an outdoor venue by the beach in August.
But I wasn’t excited. I didn’t even look into what the tickets cost. I never imagined I might say this, but I feel like I might be done with Van Halen.
Nobody was more excited than me when David Lee Roth came back to the band in 2007. I saw them at Madison Square Garden and had a great time, even though it was apparent that Edward Van Halen was still struggling with his sobriety and that Dave was not going to be doing any aerial splits off the drum riser. I didn’t mind that they had replaced stalwart bassist Michael Anthony with Eddie’s then-16-year-old son Wolfgang — the way I saw it, without Wolfgang, they never would have brought back Diamond Dave. (Weirdest part of the show I saw: Edward’s ex-wife Valerie Bertinelli, mother to Wolfgang, did a lap around the arena before the show started and got a huge round of applause.)
I loved the album they eventually made with the new configuration, A Different Kind Of Truth, but I foolishly skipped the 2012 tour because I couldn’t abide Diamond Dave singing into a headset. Of course, their MSG engagement turned out to be the one where Dave ditched the headset, and from what I could see on YouTube, they sounded a lot better than they had in 2007, and were being more creative with the setlist, whipping out more rarities and album cuts. The infusion of Wolfgang’s young energy had seemingly fixed all their dysfunction, they sounded better than they had since Roth left the band, and Ed finally got all the way sober.
Fast forward three years: Van Halen is releasing a live album from that tour, and promoting it on Jimmy Kimmel Live (sure) and Ellen (wha?). The band sounds terrific. It’s a little odd to see Eddie standing stock still, as opposed to bouncing all over the place, but he sounds great, and makes his impossible guitar moves look as easy as a G-C-D Jimmy Buffett tune. Alex Van Halen is the polyrhythmic monster he always was. The kid continues to keep the band revved up and focused, and is not quite the strong high tenor that Anthony was, but he’s doing okay, and his bass playing is solid.
But Dave. Oh, Jesus, Dave. Where to start?
I love you, Dave. I always have. I think you are the single greatest Rock Star we as a nation have produced, and I have read your autobiography four times. Yes, you have always been a giant ham with extra cheese. Anyone who thinks otherwise has a faulty memory. The only time you ever didn’t have that oversized open-mouthed smile on your face — you know, the one that makes you look like a six-year-old hoping for approval for a particularly convincing fart noise? — was when you were self-consciously putting on your Dead Serious Sexy Face for a photo shoot. I am totally okay with your goofiness. It’s a feature, not a bug. But still: tone it down, man. Act like you’ve been here before. That little shoulder shimmy you’re doing around the stage looks uncomfortably similar to Steve Martin with an arrow through his head — a parody of show business.
And what is going on with your voice? I understand the ravages of age. But you seem to have such a huge amount of discipline, with your martial arts training and whatnot. Isn’t there something you can do, like some vocal exercises? If you were at the end of a 60-city tour it would make sense, but this was your first performance in like two years. Did you not warm up beforehand? Did you not listen to the songs first to refresh your memory of how they go?
Your timing is pretty weird, too. You are like half a beat behind the rest of the band. Can you not hear them? Don’t you have in-ear monitors like all the other Big Huge Rock Bands use? Have you gone deaf? Are you just watching the rest of the band and guessing where to come in?
Anyway, as great as the rest of the band sounds, Dave is causing me actual emotional distress with the way he is butchering these songs, and it’s hard to see my way clear to shelling out $150 to see him do it live. It broke my heart to pass up tickets but I thought it would break it worse to go to the show.
And then Edward started talking shit.
I always figured that Edward’s weird animosity toward Michael Anthony, whose offense was going out on tour with Sammy Hagar’s band while Van Halen was dormant, was a function of his drug and alcohol problems. The 2004 reunion tour with Hagar was an unmitigated disaster, with Edward too sloppy to play, which re-animated all the buried resentments that led Hagar to leave in the first place, so it makes a weird kind of sense that he would have hated Anthony for “taking Sammy’s side,” as it would force him to think about his own debauched part in the whole sad debacle. But he’s sober now, and I imagined that with a few clean years under his belt he might let go of some of these old grudges. Maybe not against Hagar, because that got pretty personal, particularly after Hagar’s book. But Michael Anthony never did anything to anyone. And yet, in a recent interview with Chuck Klosterman for Billboard, Ed does him like this:
“Every note Mike ever played, I had to show him how to play,” Van Halen claims. “Before we’d go on tour, he’d come over with a video camera and I’d have to show him how to play all the parts.” He doesn’t even credit Anthony for his harmonic backing vocals, which fans classify as an integral part of the group’s signature. “Mike’s voice is like a piccolo trumpet. But he’s not a singer. He just has a range from hell,” he says. “Mike was just born with a very high voice. I have more soul as a singer than he does. And you know, people always talk about Mike’s voice on Van Halen songs, but that’s a blend of Mike’s voice and my voice. It’s not just him.”
WHAT A FUCKING ASSHOLE. God damn it Edward! All I want to do is love you. Why do you have to make it so difficult? And is it really true that you are trying to stop Sammy Hagar from playing Van Hagar songs live? That is incredibly petty.
So yeah, fuck those guys! I don’t want to give them another dime of my money. Sure, they’re my favorite band of all time ever, and I learned how to play the guitar because I was directly inspired by Edward’s sound — the rhythm stuff even more than the solos. But I can’t justify enriching these guys any further.
What’s that you say? There are clips from the first few 2015 dates on YouTube? What? They played “In A Simple Rhyme” and “Drop Dead Legs” and “Dirty Movies”? How do they sound?
Hmmm… that doesn’t sound half bad. Dave is even mostly passable there. How much are tickets for Jones Beach again?