WRITTEN BY MICHAEL CHRISTOPHER
For a band that has been incredibly media weary for the past decade and a half, Van Halen spent some major time in the spotlight last week.
Monday and Tuesday saw them on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” for a series of live performances. Wednesday, they appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” to do a couple songs, and guitarist Eddie Van Halen gave a rare interview to The Washington Times.
All of it has been to promote a new record, “Tokyo Dome Live in Concert,” the first live album with original frontman David Lee Roth, and a 39-date summer tour, which hits the region Aug. 27 at the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden, N.J.. That’s a call for rejoicing, right?
Fans have been overly critical of a number of things, with the main contention directed at Roth and his refusal or inability sing the songs in the right key, properly or at all instead of talking his way through them. Incredulously, for a band that spent much of its career having enough drama to rival any daytime soap opera, some are calling on them to get a new singer — a fourth — or bring back original Roth replacement, Sammy Hagar, for a third time.
Speaking of Hagar, even he’s gotten into the act, speaking to the Las Vegas Review Journal this week and saying about the live album, “Every time they do something, I’m like, ‘Oh my god, can these guys do anything worse to their reputation and to the level of the music of the band?’ They’ve got some pretty rough vocals. Standing back, I’m just going, ‘What the (expletive) are these guys thinking?’”
Now, it’s no secret that Rock Music Menu is a fan of Van Halen, finding something positive in all incarnations. Even the Gary Cherone period had some great live shows. But I’m no apologist, and can call things out when they are just downright bad. Like those three new songs done with Hagar for the two-disc best of collection in 2004? Atrocious, especially lyrically. The Cherone album prior was fairly terrible, too.
But since Eddie and his brother, drummer Alex, reunited with Roth in 2007 and dismissed bassist Michael Anthony in favor of Eddie’s then-teenage son, Wolfgang, they’ve been under a microscope of negativity. First, it was because there was no new material to go with the reunion.
“A Different Kind of Truth,” the first VH album with Roth since 1984, came out in 2012, and despite it being musically on par with the classic six-pack of the Diamond Dave-era, there was massive discontent because much of the material was inspired by the band’s earlier demos. No matter that nearly every other rock outfit of note, including Aerosmith and AC/DC, has done the same thing in recent years, for some reason it was blasphemy that Van Halen did it.
Less than two years after the tour in support of the new album ended, fans were back to complaining — loudly — via message boards and social media about the lack of news, material and/or live dates coming from the VH camp.
When the two-disc “Tokyo Dome Live” release was announced, it became, “Why isn’t it a record of new material?” When Eddie told The Washington Times the group was initially going to release long-sought-after demos from the Pasadena, Calif., quartet’s early days, but decided not to because of the quality, there was uproar. When the Kimmel appearance was announced, it was, “Why not Fallon?” And the reaction to going on a daytime show geared toward middle-age women and hosted by a lesbian? It wasn’t pretty at all.
Granted, Roth didn’t help matters when, at the outset of the Kimmel performance, he split his nose open spinning a baton and had to halt the show — which had shutdown Hollywood Boulevard — so that he could get it quickly bandaged up. Things went much smoother on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” but at that point, the busted beak was all anyone could talk about.
As for the live album itself, yes, there are some tracks where Roth’s voice is less than spot-on and he does riff a lot instead of singing. But people seem to have a selective memory about the frontman’s live reputation — he’s never been a good singer. His shows were always about the performance, the verbal banter with the audience, the “Air Dave” toe-touching splits off the drum riser. At 60 years old, the latter is not happening anymore, so maybe this is the first time folks are noticing he’s never had a great voice in the first place.
The flipside is that the band, most notably Eddie, is playing phenomenally. The guitarist hasn’t been this spot-on since the 1995 to support the final album with Hagar, “Balance.” Check out his blazing solo “Eruption” from the Kimmel show and you’ll see how ridiculously on fire he is these days.
Hopefully, that carries over onto the tour, which kicks off July 5 and goes through October, and it gives the so-called “fans” a little less to complain about.
To contact music columnist Michael Christopher, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out his blog at our sister publication www.delcotimes.com