Van Halen live! The best and worst moments
Sammy Hagar ought to send Gary Cherone some flowers – or at least a bottle of Cabo Wabo tequila. It took former Extreme frontman Cherone’s brief, hapless turn as Van Halen’s lead singer – which produced 1998’s odious ”Van Halen III” – to make the prospect of Van Hagar appetizing again. Hence the largely middle-aged masses’ rapturous reception of the reunited pop-metal titans at their June 22 stop at East Rutherford, N.J.’s Continental Airlines Arena. Some highlights:
MOST ASTONISHING MUSICIANSHIP
Eddie Van Halen’s technique-heavy guitar solos – which use all 10 fingers and, seemingly, a few toes – are as out of style as big hair and leg warmers. But he remains one of the most astonishing rock guitarists ever – capable of conventionally virtuosic, note-heavy runs (like the solo in concert opener ”Jump” and the squealing, alien noises in ”Runaround”) that put Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave’s Tom Morello to shame. He’s also one of the few players who can make an unaccompanied 10-minute guitar solo (played spine-shatteringly loud, through 12 separate amplifiers) seem too short.
BEST USE OF A POWER TOOL
Eddie held an electric drill to his guitar strings for the opening of the heavy-riffing romp ”Poundcake,” creating a uniquely cool whirring effect that some canny young band (or hip-producer) would be smart to rip off. Lil’ Jon, are you listening?
BEST FAN RAPPORT
Hagar’s melodic shriek was once one of hard rock’s best – it’s what Jack Black wishes he sounded like in Tenacious D. His vocal power has faded, leaving him to struggle with high notes even on David Lee Roth-originated tunes such as ”Jump” (although his version of ”Panama” was dead-on). But Hagar – in a clownish all-yellow outfit – showed an admirable connection with the fans. Every item thrust onto the stage found its way onto his body – he donned a baseball hat, a sports jersey, and a T-shirt, and then wrapped a fan’s banner around his waist like a skirt. Too bad no one threw women’s underwear.
BEST HIDDEN VOCALIST
Bassist Michael Anthony’s pure, Beach Boys-style harmonies have always been key to Van Halen, especially on early power-pop-ish tracks like ”Jamie’s Crying.” At the New Jersey show, the mullet-sporting Anthony – his high notes intact – even briefly took over lead vocals on songs including ”Somebody Get Me a Doctor.”
BEST TIME FOR A BATHROOM BREAK
Eddie, Anthony, and drummer Alex Van Halen all made good use of their unaccompanied solos (a dinosaur-rock cliché that may be hip again – blink-182 drummer Travis Barker takes such a solo on the band’s current tour). But Hagar used his solo opportunity to play two heartfelt but excruciatingly maudlin ballads – including ”Eagles Fly,” which he described as a song about being born. But even childbirth can’t be that painful.
WORST NEW SONG
The band played several new tracks featured on its upcoming greatest-hits collection, and most weren’t bad – the fun, bluesy ”Up for Breakfast” was better than much of the band’s ’90s material. But the final new song of the night, ”Learning to See,” was a power ballad that took way too long to get to the ”power” part. ”That SUCKED!” one astute fan yelled.
MOST UNLIKELY CAMARADERIE
Eddie and Sammy – who by all accounts detested each other until recently – seemed downright chummy. Sammy even teased Eddie about his bizarre new hairdo – a Flea-like topknot – and Eddie didn’t kick him out of the band. Yet.
What do you think of Van Halen’s reunion?