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Live Review - Van Halen, Air Canada Centre Toronto
So lets get this out there right out of the gate. I am a huge Van Halen fan. In fact my Facebook page lists my religion as 'Church of EVH' so this review is not going to be unbiased.
I was lucky that the stars and fates where aligned and that I was able to travel back from a biz trip via Toronto to catch the Van Halen tour – the first for 14 years with new material and 28 years with new material to feature that master of ceremonies David Lee Roth.
The Air Canada Centre in Toronto is a venue that Van Halen are built to play – the band that helped to define the genre I love of ‘Arena Rock’ and the vibe pre-show was full of expectation from the crowd – not even damped by the £10 ($15 Canadian) that is the cost for a (lousy) beer – we have it bad here in the UK for beer prices – not that bad yet!!
The support act was Kool and the Gang – the influence of Dave Lee on the choice maybe? - And they did get the crowd on their feet and added some 'Jungle Boogie' to the night.
The main event started with no ceremony, the three band members who work without a mic in hand wondered on casually and Alex Van Halen pounds out a rhythm or two before the band kick straight into 'Unchained' – a might roar comes from the crowd the minute Dave appears – and then we get a double punch from the band with the rendition of 'Running With Devil'
The first new song - 'She's the women' - from the recently released new album 'Different Kind Of Truth' is thrown out there and this song to me is a new classic VH tune. It has all the ingredients you want from a VH song, great riff, groove, salacious lyrics about women and the added bonus of a bass line run to introduce Wolfgang Van Halen who is now in the seat once occupied by the loved by the VH fans Michael Anthony. Live this song totally works and and so far Michael is not missed.
Next up Van Halen play a tune that makes a geek VH fan like me go weak at the knees, 'The Full Bug' , a song that live VH give a killer boogie feel that lifts back up any drop in vibe that might be felt in the arena by the crowd after the previous new song that they maybe unfamiliar with.
Then another new song - 'Tattoo' , this one the lead off single from the new album so the crowd are more familiar with it, and mid song on the big screen we get to see a close up of Dave's hip as he pulls down his trousers to show us his (new?) actual size gun tattoo at hip height. Thanks Dave for the info – you are as bizarre as ever!
'Everybody Wants Some' follows - another monster in the VH catalogue, which invokes a giant scream from the crowd when Dave requests from us do we “Want Some” ?!
Dave fondles his mike in a phallic way during a rockin' up tempo 'Somebody Get Me a Doctor' – the choice of songs at this point are different from the set list I have seen online, and are certainly songs that are chosen to please the hard core fan, and this tack is working a treat on me!
Heres a little of what you can expect.
Another new tune, 'Chinatown' , which has lyrics about going “Downtown” and as this is a new song there is a little 'down' in the energy from crowd, but not the band. Wolfgang shines at the end of the song with a Billy Sheenan style bass run in sync with dad that gives the end of the song a sound more akin to the DLR solo band that featured Billy just after Dave first left VH in the '80s.
Next we get the mega VH song 'Hear About it Later' which is awesome and invokes more manic head banging from me that probably did not impress the Canadians around me.. The backing vocals, while different without Michael Anthony, now have an almost Motown feel and fit well with the VH songs.
OK next we have a big surprise, VH do one of the covers that have done on album, Roy Orbisons's 'Pretty woman', the surprises is that it is well known that Eddie is not a fan of covers, and why should he be he writes such killer songs, so maybe we have a situation in the new Van Halen where Eddie is working on keeping a good band vide by giving in a little to Dave's way of working.
Speaking of Eddie so far I have not mentioned the deity that is the man himself. Eddie sports a new hair cut and sober appearance and he is looking good and all this together means that his playing and sound is brilliantly executed. The band has a gigantic full sound for a band of just 3 guys with instruments and a guy with a mic – all done without the trick of tuning down to make a heavy sound.
So next we are into the section of the show that concert goers dread – the drum solo. This time however Alex goes the route of working with a backing track which could come off being naff but actually works well and serves to remind us that what an underrated drummer he is. Also he keeps the length reasonable.
'You Really Got Me' next – cover number two – and we are entertained by Dave in his slippers/socks style footwear that he then processes to take full advantage of to use to slip and slide around on special wooden panels carefully laid on the stage surface pre-show by the road crew, so able to pull some bizarre dance moves, in a manner that only Dave can get away with in front of 20,000 or more of his closest friends. The song also boasts a mid song Ad lib section full of Dave wisdom.
Air Canada Centre Toronto
Another New album Song 'The Trouble With Never ' is next - during which we have a break down which Dave uses to proceeds to tell us about the techniques he uses during the opening of a business meeting where we asks “What are we pretending not to know today? – I just like to know so I can see what you look like when you lie!” I like this idea and I might use this idea myself in future.
'Dance The Night Away' – yup it really is a set choice of solid gold VH classics – this ends with a trademark Dave high kick.
Left field choice from the last Van Halen album (1984) from the first DLR era is 'l'll wait' which whilst was a single worldwide, this was a song that was always overshadowed by 'Jump' but here in this context works well and gives the set list a special feeling that goes with a song choice that just not just follow the big hits of a band that are now a “heritage act” Not a term in my youth I would ever think would have been applied to the VH – but time flies when you are having fun. And fun is what a VH show is all about.
A Different Kind of Truth
The next song is the one that the influential tome that is Guitar Player magazine's choice of No.1 Van Halen tune of all time: 'Hot For Teacher' here the power house riff from Eddie is accompanied by Dave in leather flasher mac working with two mics. one used for phallic poses one for more tails of women that Dave admirers – pure manic VH!
The hardcore Van Halen fan dream set continues with 'Women in Love' and 'Loss of Control' - and by now it occurs to me that the band that single-handed invented the look of Hair Metal and with the genius of Eddie Van Halen wrote all the riffs that where copied over and over by that genre, has been taken by three original members and the son of one of the originals and like a scenario from a late night reality US TV hot rod or motorcycle rebuild show, the boys have taken the old engine and chassis of Van Halen, have tuned it up, added modern parts and have created a Massive Polished Rock Machine that is a match for any act out there right now.
David Lee Roth starts a long monologue accompanied by a video on the giant screen behind him, to introduce 'Ice Cream Man'. Explaining to us his new pastime which is bizarrely revolving around sheep dog trails (and using dogs to round up cows). And like an episode of 'One Man And His Dog' this chat from Dave tells us that rather than promising to “come down there and f**k your girl friend' as he used to in the past, the David Lee Roth of the new Van Halen has gone back to his roots of when he was a young boy and enjoy the great out doors in one of his, he is happy to tell us, four pick-up trucks. Never a straight forward or dull moment in VH world.
During 'Ice Cream Man' the screen behind the band that up to now has been is stylistic black and white (a look that hides the wrinkles maybe? ) flickers into colour in time for 'Panama'. Here the joyous song is paused for a moment for Dave to explain to us that he is “contractually obliged to say - 'I reached down between my legs' " to which the crowd goes mad in reaction, and the rest of the band lead by Eddie tears through one of Van Halen's most recognised songs.
So to Eddie's solo, which as most people have become used to, now has themes from various songs such of course 'Eruption' woven into ten minutes of guitar perfection not matched by many human beings either now or at anytime in human history, this I speak as an aforementioned Van Halen nut who has listen and studied on bootlegs for years and more recently started agog at YouTube at Eddie's playing and I can say I have not ever really heard Eddie play as well and faultlessly before. Sobriety works for EVH.
The set rushes to its end with 'Beautiful girl' followed by 'Ain't Talkin bout Love' and the final and not entirely surprising inclusion of 'Jump' complete with the ticker tape pouring down on the crowd at its conclusion.
The 2 hour set is topped off with the moving light rig that has being making strange shapes all evening above the band now making sense by moving into position to form the famous VH logo, helping to remind the crowd now heading home that they have just witnessed the monster that is the 'Mighty Van Halen' in full force.
Review By James Hamilton-Hislop