The Ultimate Concert: Van Halen
What is the ultimate concert for your favorite band? Is it just a memory, or do you dream of a super show, filled with the most extravagant stage construction possible? Well, I’m obviously leaning toward the latter since I’m building to a point. This series will highlight what I believe would be the greatest show for a given band. This includes having a time machine, unlimited budget, and complete control of location and date. Keep in mind, this is strictly my opinion. Otherwise, why would I write these? Crazy fools. Now in order to experience these in the most optimal fashion possible, wait until you can take a little while to open a Youtube playlist of the songs specified, like the deleted “Stairway to Heaven” scene in Almost Famous. First up, one of my favorites from my entire life: Van Halen. Van Halen comes in 3 flavors! Roth, Hagar, and Cherone. Now, which flavor to choose? Hmm…interesting… Maybe… Van Halen Neapolitan?
Van Halen is known for their extravagance, high decibel level and sexual charge. This show will focus on all of that. We open at a sold out crowd. The Rose Bowl Stadium, home to college football’s championships, and now the ultimate in rock music. Van Halen is from Pasadena, so having a home court advantage on a night that would undoubtedly sell-out is inspiring. No opening act, this will be 3:30 hours of rock’s finest dance/party music. Lights up to let the crowd settle, traffic will be horrendous. Then, after anticipation and alcoholic beverage purchases the lights go out; the greatest moment of a highly anticipated stadium/arena concert is the opening house lights down. Then we hear the wail of rock’s most distinct guitar, Eddie Van Halen. The “elephant” noise he’s made famous blaring through his specialty EVH amps (in all white by the way). Then “1984” starts, the iconic beginning to the album bearing the same name. The synthesizers leave the crowd breathless, and ready for what they know is coming next: “Jump”! But it doesn’t. Nothing happens. Then we hear Alex Van Halen go NUTS on some crazy drums flairs, a dim spotlight in all purple faintly illuminates his drum kits. Then a large bass notes rings out over the audience. The spotlight reveals long time bassist Michael Anthony, announced as a special return for this show days prior! He revels in the 98,000 cheers washing over his return. Eddie is show in spotlight, running around like a crazy man. He runs over to hug Anthony, then starts wailing on the guitar more. When is David Lee Roth coming out? Then we hear his voice “Ladies and Gentleman, the night we are all waiting for: The Van Halen Reunion. Now what kind of reunion would this be without all the family?” Then Eddie starts in on a most unexpected riff: “Best of Both Worlds.” Wait, this is a “Van Hagar/Sam Halen” song! After Alex joins in with the blaring riff, and Anthony starts plucking with impeccable timing Roth walks out and points offstage, then all the stage lights come up revealing a massive set. Two large columns in the middle, 3 ramps circling the audience and a huge metallic structure that would be used for lighting rigs on stage. A large mirror stands behind Alex, as large as the stage. On it is scrawled the classic Van Halen logo. The stage is covered in Eddie’s signature red/black/white stripes that adorned his first Franken-Strat (and so much merch afterwards). At the appropriate time to scream, Sammy Hagar runs out. And right as the song kicks into high gear, Hagar and Roth embrace, then start running around the ramps. They high-five as many fans as possible. Hagar takes the first part of the verse, then Roth jumps in with “come on baby” and finishes of until the magical pre-chorus that Hagar sings. Then in perfect harmony, both belt out “Best of Both Worlds…” The trade off between verses continue when appropriate. At guitar solo time, Eddie jumps on a rising platform that raises him above the band, where he finishes the song. During the slow part, Hagar thanks the band for having him back and reveal they’ve settled their differences. Then right back into the chorus, with Roth and Hagar on opposite sides of the stage. The song ends, fireworks go off and everyone stands still, catching their breath. Roth gets on the mic and thanks Hagar for coming out “He’s coming back later in the show for an entire set of his era. But right now, we’ve got a hot set just for you guys.” “Unchained” starts, and the crowd goes nuts. During the intro Roth states how excited he is to perform tonight, and he’s so glad everything is positive and he can’t wait for more surprises. Boom! They play a blistering version of their most rocking song, and it’s straight into “Tora Tora Tora/ Loss of Control”. It’s rarely heard live and is an audience favorite. This leads to back to back performances of Hang ‘em High, “Ain’t Talking About Love”, and “Everybody Want’s Some”. During the quieter parts of “everybody” Roth told us next is a surprise guest. Alex starts the the drum roll for “Jamie’s Crying” and we launch right into it. Right as we hit the bridge of the song (“and she knows what love is for”), the band starts playing the song a little differently. The main riff isn’t played much, and is mainly drums. Then, to the surprise of every single person in the audience, Tone Loc walks out rapping “Wild Thing.” Van Halen plays the sample exactly how it’s heard on the record. Roth pipes in as the hype man, screaming “Wild Thing” when they come up. 2 verses in, Tone cleverly raps a thank you to the crowd, the band, and a talking asshole for providing him with residual checks to live off until retirement. The band wraps up the song, and Roth walks to the edge of the walkway “Back in school, I couldn’t keep my eyes off this gorgeous teacher. I would drop pencils to see her pick them up. Yea, I was hot for teacher…” The famous drums roll in and we’re off into the viciously fun song. This is followed by “Dancing in the Street,” “Dance the Night Away,” and “Feel Your Love Tonight.” Roth then settles the crowd, ready to play some slower songs. “Sunday Afternoon in the Park” starts the set with Alex blazing on the drums, while the rest of the band sets up. “I’ll Wait” is played acoustic to an amazingly unexpected version. “Could This Be Magic” is next, and Roth gives his 5 minute speech about his dog that turns into “Ice Cream Man.” The rest of the band come back in with this. “And The Cradle Will Rock” gets the funky treatment next, leading into “I’m The One,” “Running With the Devil” and “You Really Got Me Now.” Roth thanks everyone, and he’s ready to go. He says the band’s going to rock your socks off with Hagar next. “Mean Street” riles the crowd to a fever pitch, “Beautiful Girls” and Roth says he’s got one more. The iconic “Jump” chords ring over the crowd from a guy playing it back stage. Confetti pours everywhere, and Roth bows. He says “Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Eddie Van Halen.”
Eddie squeals his way through another raucous guitar solo, starting with “316” teasing “Eruption,” playing “Cathedral,” “Little Guitars” and ending up with “Eruption.” He then plays the “Beat It” chords and the band starts playing a shortened, vocal free-version of the song with a faint picture of Michael Jackson on the mirror/screen behind the band. The crowd is on their feet. Eddie pulls out an electric drill, and goes to town on his guitar. “Poundcake” starts and here comes Sammy Hagar. They blast their way through. Afterwards Hagar takes the mic “I’m ecstatic to be back in the band tonight, playing our best songs. I’m glad Mr. Anthony is right next to me, and I’m glad the Van Halen brothers and I are talking again. Anyone want to book a vacation?” “Cabo Wabo” starts in next, followed by “Judgement Day” “In ‘n Out,” “The Dream is Over” and “ Top of the World.” Lights come down, and Michael Anthony gets a 5 minute bass solo (“Ultra Bass”) that leads to Hagar thanking Roth for the most amazing concert he’s ever seen. “Why Can’t This Be Love” starts next. We go into another forceful set, with “5150,” “Good Enough,” “Finish What You Started,” and “Pleasure Dome”. Hagar says getting to this night has been years of awkward phone calls and weird interviews, and for years we’ve given fans the runaround. “Runaround” plays next. “When It’s Love” and “Dreams” go for lighter-in-the-air-fare, and “Dreams” ending in Hagar climbing the massive metallic structure on stage. He tells everyone listen to your heart, and know who your family is.
Wolfgang shows up, Eddie’s son to play “Can’t Stop Loving You” on bass while Michael sits in a recliner on stage, drinking of course. Eddie gets on mic and says “well, Sammy had some songs before we all hooked up.” Which led right into “Heavy Metal” and “One Way To Rock.” Hagar gets on mic and says “I think we’re missing someone here…” Gary Cherone pops out from behind Alex, and the band rips into “Without You,” with Hagar providing extra guitar and vocals. The band then plays Cherone’s hit from Extreme “More Than Words.” Hagar thanks him, they hug, and Cherone salutes the crowd. “Love Walks In” is next, followed up and “Can’t Stop Loving You.” Hagar starts telling the crowd “Thanks for the warm reception this evening everyone. Don’t forget, you have to live for today. Not tomorrow, thinking about what’s coming. Not yesterday, thinking about regrets. You have to embrace today. Live for Right…Now!” “Right Now” starts playing, and Roth jumps back on stage! He and Hagar cross back and forth through the front walk ways, harmonizing at the emotional chorus. The band thank’s the crowd. It’s encore time. Crowd waits. Then Van Halen wail on the instruments while Roth, Hagar and Cherone get on stage. They all thank the crowd for sticking around and they hope to see everyone on the beach, “Panama” starts. They trade off lines in each verse until the quieter bridge, while everyone hugs, and fireworks blaze in the night sky. The songs ends with a bang, and the whole band takes one final bow for the crowd, crying and hugging. The lights fade and they walk off quietly. The lights come up, and the most momentous rock concert of the century ended. Traffic, will be bad. Might want to ease the seat back…