Pigs will fly over Bridgestone Arena Friday night.
Inside the local saddledome, where Predators feast on defeated Red Wings, "Diamond" David Lee Roth will again play ringleader to Van Halen. He will front a two-plus-hour marathon of erupting six-string acrobatics, "Jump"-jivin' Orwellian hits, high-kicking bravado and receding hairlines.
Headliners who hated each other more than they loved money, brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen and their cocaine-personified frontman put between them a near-quarter century of steady irritation. This included gigolo moonlighting, tequila-slinging balladeers, aborted reunion attempts, bass-player back-stabbings and endless amusing rounds of mudslinging.
But in all Van Halen's litany of transgressions, perhaps the most egregious was that the band skipped Nashville on its 76-date 2007-2008 reunion tour. Twenty-eight long years have passed since the Red Rocker-safe, none-too-Extreme Van Halen everyone knows and loves last played Nashville. So how will today's Van Halen stack up?
The heavyweight Kings of Metal in their 1978-1984 Roth-era heyday, Van Halen were the quintessential party band, setting the template for a Spandex-clad generation of dirty, hedonistic followers like Mötley Crüe, Poison, et al. They came off as a goofy switchblade gang that would crash through your front door in a stolen Camaro, throw a party in your living room and burn your house down, on the pretense you'd think it was hilarious.
"The thing that The Clash don't understand, and the thing that a lot of these bands don't understand, is that you can't take life so goddamn seriously, hunnieee," a perennially grinning Roth said just before 1983's US Festival. Of course, Van Halen would go on to tackle social issues, emotions and other earnest distractions with Sammy Hagar at the helm, but Nashville fans won't have to hear any of that shit on Friday. Instead, they'll be seeing through Diamond Dave's beer goggles: cryin' with Jamie, runnin' with the devil, dancing the night away.
This is serious business. While Van Halen would like you to think that life is just one big party, the band's founding, feuding brothers actually spent their youth holed up in their bedrooms tediously practicing. For better or worse, they inspired three generations of musicians to do the same — just ask the guys in Pantera, Rage Against the Machine or Nerf Herder.
It wasn't always a party behind the scenes either. When Van Halen said they ain't talkin' 'bout love, they meant it. Seldom has a rock band enjoyed as much colorful acrimony — so much so that the 2007 reunion fermented for more than a decade. With launch failures reported in 1996, 2000 and 2004, it seems a miraculous triumph of man over ego that it ever happened — even if it technically kind of didn't.
According to Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock, Sammy Hagar's tell-all dirt-dish on the Van Halens, Eddie Van Halen hanged former bassist Michael Anthony as a traitor for participating in 2002's Roth/Hagar co-headlining tour. When Anthony returned to the band (on salary!) at Hagar's insistence to join a rather disastrous Van Hagar reunion jaunt in 2004, he was unceremoniously ousted and replaced with Eddie's then 16-year-old spawn, Wolfgang.
Van Halen split with Roth at the point all bands should break up — right after they'd made their biggest record, and before they'd made any shitty ones. Nothing justifies a pricey concert ticket like a band unencumbered by set-list duds, as was more or less the case when Van Roth toured in 2007.
Not so, alas, with A Different Kind of Truth, Van Halen's first record with Roth since 1984's 1984. Expectations for reunion albums are never high: Most fans will happily settle for a dodged bullet. But when Van Halen unveiled the new album's lead-off single, the singularly terrible "Tattoo," it had hooks as memorable as slumber under anesthesia and lyrics like, "Show me your dragon magic." It's a worse song than Chickenfoot is a band name.
The good news is that the rest of Truth is largely composed of riffs culled from the Van Halen I cutting-room floor. And it sounds that way, complete with all the idiosyncrasies that once made Van Halen great — Roth's clowning non sequiturs, Eddie Van Halen's glass-shattering solos, Alex Van Halen's explosive drum fills and crack-of-the-bat snare whacks. Surprisingly, Truth shows the band retaining some of its chemistry and spirit.
Yet it also sounds like Van Halen remaking its own deleted scenes. This version of the truth never comes close to VH classics Fair Warning or Women and Children First. Luckily, it'll provide only four of the likely 24 songs the band will play Friday night. The rest are hits like "Panama" and "Hot for Teacher" — the legacy of a band that never wanted to change the world, but owned it for a little while.
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