By Kyle Osborne
At a 1981 Van Halen concert in Austin, David Lee Roth, right in the middle of singing “Runnin’ With The Devil,” one of the band’s biggest hits, stopped to announce to the adoring crowd, “I forgot the f*ckin’ words, man.” The miscue was met with roaring approval. The audience had just experienced a “moment,” and they knew it. An unplanned part of a highly choreographed and pre-determined form of showbiz known as: The Rock Concert. This was, of course, in the days before the Internet and YouTube, so it was only by chance, and much later, that I learned from friends who’d seen the same tour, that Roth “forgot” the words, man, to that same song, in that same spot, every night of the tour. I felt like I’d been conned by the rocker who, after all, had always said he was as much inspired by Vaudeville as he was by any other rock band. Still, it seemed brilliantly sleazy. Perhaps, Roth really had forgotten the words the first time and, realizing it was an endearing flub that the fans could talk about, decided to re-enact the moment for all audiences.
Last night at the Verizon Center, some 31 years later, Roth was either up to his old tricks, or showing signs of wear and tear, when he announced, during the song “I’ll Wait, that “I forgot the f*ckin’ words!” Sadly, it wasn’t the only moment where the flamboyant front man seemed off his game.
Van Halen’s 2012 Tour has been one of the most anticipated in years, reuniting David Lee Roth,the original singer, with Eddie and Alex Van Halen. Original bassist Michael Anthony has been replaced by Eddie’s son, Wolfgang, who has shown some improvement in his playing and background vocals, but not enough to make one forget what an integral part of the Van Halen “sound” was due to Anthony’s underrated talents.
“Unchained” kicked off the set, and the foursome sounded great coming out of the chute. This was a stripped down, straight forward rock show. Only a song or two was even announced from the stage. At least the first 4 or 5 songs were played with no intros and no vamping from the previously loquacious Roth. Just song, fade down lights, song, lights out, song, etc. There was something refreshing about just hearing the tunes cranked out, one after another. Several songs from the band’s recently released CD, “A Different Kind of Truth” were rolled out with varying results; “Tattoo” was already familiar enough to the mostly over 35 crowd, that they could sing along with the chorus. “Chinatown” and “Blood And Fire” were met with palpable indifference.
By many published accounts, Eddie Van Halen hasn’t always been the cheeriest of fellows, but his beaming smile and undiminished guitar skills were the reason to be there. The guitar heads in the audience were treated to an IMAX size screen, letting them analyze Eddie’s fingering techniques with ease. As for Wolfgang, the poor kid seems uneasy on the giant stage—almost slightly embarrassed. Then again, Michael Anthony was always the most reserved onstage, too—maybe it’s fitting.
But as far as David Lee Roth was concerned, the night belonged to…., well, David Lee Roth. It must be said that the 57 year old still has graceful stage moves that combine martial arts moves with cheerleader kicks and something that looks like Yoga? His bows are as dramatic and drawn out as a ballerina’s, and he holds poses long enough for photographers to get their shots (thanks, Dave).
What Roth could not do last night was sing well. “Dance The Night Away” was an embarrassment, with the kind of “pitchy-ness” that would make Simon Cowell’s eyes roll. Roth seemed to alternate between talk-singing and going for notes that are no longer within his reach. Maybe it was the air conditioning? He yelled at the Verizon Center to “turn the f*ckin’ blowers off!,” something he has reportedly done at other venues along the route this tour. Is it the cool air, or maybe too much strain on his vocal chords? Whatever the reason, it was more exciting to watch Roth slip and slide on a special floor that was put down for him, than it was to hear the once great band leader struggle with his notes. He also came in late on several tunes, putting the band “off-time” for a few moments here and there.
Not to say that the show was a total loss—Eddie and Alex Van Halen remain among the best at what they do. Alex lays down a backbeat with no fuss, wearing shades that, Roth said, made him look the “Cheetos Tiger.” The stage and lighting were top notch, and the number of songs squeezed into the set made a concert goer feel as if he’s gotten his money’s worth.
But for a critic who counts the first 6 Van Halen albums as among the best in rock history, the reality that even charismatic rock stars get old and crotchety was a bummer. At the end of the set, Roth didn’t even want to bother with the age old tradition of leaving the stage and waiting to be called back for the inevitable encore. “We don’t have to leave the stage, do we? You guys want an encore, right?” With that, the band started playing “Jump” and some confetti cannons popped (at least there was that homage to old school Arena shows).
An audience member who’d had just enough 8 dollar beers to speak his mind, shouted out, “Hang “em up, David, you’re done.” A lot of people heard the self-appointed analyst, but no one shouted him down or gave him a dirty look. Instead, there was an uncomfortable pause—as if the people within earshot were giving serious consideration to those comments. I know I was.
Here is the Set List from the Verizon Center show last night.
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