Van Halen

Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, NJ

by Laru S. (March 24, 2012)

Van Halen, hot off the heels of their highly-successful comeback album, A Different Kind of Truth (VH's first full-length studio album in nearly 14 years, and the first with David Lee Roth on vocals in 28 years), played to a near-capacity crowd of rabid fans at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.  On the surface, Boardwalk Hall seemed a strange choice for this tour, which had already hit world-famous Madison Square Garden in New York City for two sold-out shows earlier in the month.  However, the venue proved to be worthy of hosting this show, as it was nearly as large as many of the arenas around the country, and the sound and sightlines were outstanding.  Coupled with the band's performance, and diverse setlist, this very well may have been the best of the eight shows I've seen produced by Van Halen over the past 25 years.

The band hit the stage with a rousing performance of the classic "Unchained". It was immediately apparent that the band was running on all cylinders.  Frontman David Lee Roth was singing well, and he had the crowd in the palm of his hands in no time.  The rhythm section of Wolfgang Van Halen (bass guitar) and Alex Van Halen (drums) were in synch and their instruments were mixed well, avoiding the muddy sound that has hindered the band on many of their earlier tours.  And most encouraging of all was the clean and lucid playing of Edward Van Halen, one of the true guitar legends of all time.  On the tours that took place from the "Balance" album through the ill-fated Hagar-era reunion tour of 2004, Eddie had displayed some of the sloppiest and, at times, awful guitar playing I've witnessed.  He was much better during the Roth reunion tour in 2007, but still not quite back to where he was during the band's hey-days of the 80's and early 90's.  Clearly his dedication to getting healthier, as well as playing with his son, has had a tremendous effect on Edward, and it showed on this night.

The setlist was a pleasant surprise, weaving material from the new album and rarities not played live in thirty years or longer, with most of the classic Roth-era VH hits.  Highlights included new songs "She's the Woman" and "China Town", deep album cuts such as "The Full Bug", "Hear About It Later", and "Women In Love", and the classics "Everybody Wants Some", "Hot For Teacher", "Ice Cream Man", and "Panama".  During the latter tune, the crowd was particularly amped-up and singing word-for-word.  My only complaint with the setlist was the band's continued choice to ignore the Hagar and Cherone eras, as if they never existed.  I totally understand wanting to forget the Cherone songs, as his one  studio album ("Van Halen III") was dreadful.  But the Hagar-era albums remain the only albums that Van Halen has ever reached number one on the charts with.  Granted, I would have been shocked had they played something from those eras (and probably greatly disappointed with Roth's interpretation of any Hagar-era songs), but I feel it is an injustice to the band's legacy to totally dismiss the success they had with that version of the band.

The stage was very generic, with a wall of amps and a giant video screen as the backdrop.  Nothing special, but the colorful lighting was top-notch and added to the ambience of the hall.

Roth sang well for most of the evening, though there was a noticeable lull in his performance through the middle section of the set.  He struggled in spots during the stretch of songs from "You Really Got Me" through "I'll Wait", particularly on the new song "The Trouble With Never".  Not only was he off-key on his delivery of that tune, he also forgot half of the lyrics.  He attempted to play it off and act as if he was improvising on that one, but it came off terribly.  But he came around on the latter part of the show, and I was satisfied with his overall performance.  Alex was solid throughout the evening, and my personal highlight from him was that he kept his drum solo very short (yes I detest drum solos, squeeze in another song people!).  Wolfie showed that he is well on his way to becoming an elite bassist, displaying a nice balance of consistency and virtuosity on the instrument all night.  He and Eddie were also strong on backing vocals, which helped me deal with the un-justified absence of original bassist/backing vocalist Michael Anthony.  It is truly a shame how the band has treated him during this reunion.  I understand the desire to bring Wolfgang in as the next generation of the band (and he is proving he belongs), but it is still sad they are holding Michael's friendship with Sammy Hagar against him.  I hold out hope that they will one day work things out. As mentioned earlier, Edward played tremendously throughout the night. The culmination of his effort was his usual blistering solo.  Containing parts of all of his trademark pieces like "Eruption", "Cathedral" and the intro to "Mean Streets", Ed had everyone's jaws dropping for nearly ten minutes.  They finished off the night with solid renditions of "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" and the blockbuster #1 hit "Jump"

It was obvious that the band is in a great frame of mind right now, playing tight and having a good time.  Let's hope it lasts, once and for all.

Setlist:

  1. "Unchained" {Fair Warning}

  2. "Runnin' with the Devil" {Van Halen I}

  3. "She's the Woman" {A Different Kind of Truth}

  4. "The Full Bug" {Diver Down}

  5. "Tattoo" {A Different Kind of Truth}

  6. "Everbody Wants Some" {Women and Children First}

  7. "Somebody Get Me A Doctor" {Van Halen II}

  8. "China Town" {A Different Kind of Truth}

  9. "Hear About It Later" {Fair Warning}

  10. "Oh! Pretty Woman" {Diver Down}

  11. DRUM SOLO

  12. "You Really Got Me" {Van Halen I}

  13. "The Trouble With Never" {A Different Kind of Truth}

  14. "Dance the Night Away" {Van Halen II}

  15. "I'll Wait" {1984}

  16. "Hot For Teacher" {1984}

  17. "Women in Love" {Van Halen II}

  18. "Outta Love Again" {Van Halen II}

  19. "Beautiful Girls" {Van Halen II}

  20. "Ice Cream Man" {Van Halen I}

  21. "Panama" {1984}

  22. GUITAR SOLO (including all or parts of "Eruption" {Van Halen I}, "Cathedral"{Diver Down}, & "Mean Streets (intro)" {Fair Warning})

  23. "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" {Van Halen I}

  24. "Jump" {1984}

Affiliation with KNEW GEN None

Contact Laru S. at larus@knewgeneration.com