I’m talking of course about the warily awaited 2012 Van Halen tour, which the now thrice-reunited band announced last night with a performance at New York City’s famed Cafe Wha? — at which David Lee Roth was inexplicably decked out like a jolly railroad worker from The Gilded Age. An awkward nod to folk music? Perhaps.
The tour kicks off Feb. 18 at Louisville, Ky.’s unfortunately dubbed KFC Yum! Center, and will make its way to Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena April 27. Tickets will range in price from $30 to $150, and you can procure them here on a date TBA.
Now get this, I bet you can’t guess who’s opening. That’s because the answer is Kool and the Gang. Really. I know, I guessed Buckcherry too.
So, “Will it be worth it?” you ask.
If you like old-school Van Halen, and I mean, like, you really, really (REALLY) like old-school Van Halen, then yeah, it’ll totally be worth it. In fact, it will rule. It will rule just as much as if you were a cokehead and someone randomly offered you a mountain of found, uncut dirty.
I'll warn you, though, if you only casually like old-school Van Halen, then the band’s onslaught of finger-tapping solos, high-pitched non-sequiturs, flaming gongs and teenage bass players in rock-star training wheels might get a little more tedious than you’d anticipate. And if your appreciation for the, ahem, unchained melodies of Eddie, Alex, Diamond Dave and the other guy is less than cursory, then you’re either under 25 or you’re a true anomaly as far as rock fans go and should probably stop reading now — unless you’re desperate for an excuse to look busy while waiting out the clock late on a lazy Friday afternoon.
I saw this knife-in-Michael Anthony’s-back, back-with-Roth incarnation of Van Halen on the band’s 2007 reunion tour. It wasn’t bad. In fact, though somewhat perfunctory as reunion shows go, it was exactly what it should have been — it was well-rehearsed, had an all-hit-spanning, choice-cut-inclusive set list, showed Diamond Dave in impressive form, brought out a more entertaining crop of heshers than Mike Judge’s imagination could ever conjure and was free of any outright embarrassing moments. Still, while on paper the gig was everything I’d have hoped and dreamed it to be, the fantasy was better than the reality.
The reality being that of standing in the upper enclaves of LA’s Staples Center while being bombarded with blinding lights and deafening shrill frequencies that changed little in dynamic during the two-and-a-half hours that elapsed, all the while failing to trump the bizarre sight of a baby-faced high schooler nervously blushing alongside the most seasoned of professional arena rockers more than three times his age. I couldn't help but marvel in awe at how every time he went to sing a harmony, it sounded exactly like Michael Anthony’s doubled BGV from the original recordings.
I say all of this as someone who’s always considered himself a Van Halen fan. I’ve owned all the records (that count). I can name nearly all the songs by hearing the first eight bars. And shit, I even saw Van Hagar and Vince Neil rip shit up on the For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge Tour. It was 1993. I was 12 years old. And at the time I thought that single night was cooler than the each of the four weeks of summer camp that preceded it combined, even though in hindsight it probably wasn’t. In other words, don’t question my loyalty — I have a neon tour shirt that's signed by Sammy Hagar.
Still, the 2007 show was a stiff reminder that I’ve probably never sat and listened to 26 Van Halen songs in a row. And that listening to 26 Van Halen songs — that, let’s face it, are all pretty samey — in a row becomes more of an endurance challenge than it does an indulgence. Sure, they played all the Roth-era hits, but by show’s end it didn’t matter if they were playing a killer version of “Panama” or an atonal adaptation of “Poundcake” — it all just sounded like what Jamaican dub sounds like to my parents. The only way to keep on keepin' on was to make the time fly faster with booze. And by the time they encored with “Jump,” I was so glad to hear something synthesizer-based that it could have sounded like the clip below and I would’ve ecstatically cheered like I’d just seen Sea Biscuit trot across the stage to victory. So, take that as a fair warning of what to expect.
(Note: For those of you who don’t know, before the 2007 tour, Eddie Van Halen sacked founding bassist Michael Anthony in favor of his then 16-year-old son Wolfgang Van Halen, who I’m pretty sure is named after internationally renowned chef and restaurateur Wolfgang Puck. He’s like the King Tut of cock-rock bass players.
Truth be told, while even a hopeless, stumbling dunce like Texas governor Rick Perry could handle playing the plodding singled-stringed, single-note ostinato that “propels” “Runnin’ With the Devil,” the kid did a pretty good job making the seats rattle and guts rumble. But what the fuck?)
In related news: Van Halen has also announced the release of a new album, A Different Kind of Truth — their first since 1998’s laughably irrelevant Garry Cherone-fronted misfire Van Halen III, and their first with Roth since 1984’s blockbuster 1984. The album drops stateside on Feb. 7 and its first single, “Tattoo,” is set to premiere Tuesday, Jan. 10, in case you’re interested.
With that in mind, I’m predicting that this Music City ‘Stone-coming will basically be a lot like the show I saw in ’07, except with a handful of the band’s two dozen-plus pre-Hagar rock radio staples scratched from the set list to make way for (sigh) new songs. I know, I know, I haven’t heard them yet and that sigh is super defeatist and unfair. But come on. How can you expect me to be fair in a world that grandfathers a barely post-pubescent boy into Van Halen with greater ease than it takes to get a learner’s permit?
Also, I’ve gotta say, the album’s title, A Different Kind of Truth, scares the ever-living shit out of me. It suggests that the cash-grab-core Van Halen circa 2012 has designs on having a message of some sort. Right now (Get it?) that is the last thing the world needs.
You’d expect Van Halen to be a more learned band than most. In the Roth era they were instrumental in carving out the cornerstones of nihilistic cool. They were the archetype of the outrageous, bombastic party-rock band. In the Hagar era they went from fingers on frets to fingers on pulse — pushing themselves to the outer limits of unequivocal lameness by tackling groovy vanilla blues, power ballads and Choose-or-Lose-era social consciousness with an aggressive focus and proficiency more dazzling than any hot lick in “Eruption.”
And — having all but defined inner-band acrimony — what they couldn’t teach listeners about the world, they could perhaps teach them about rebuilding the burned bridges of personal relationships. Mainly that when you need to break bread, there is no better moderator than millions of dollars in unmade money.
It’s true that wisdom comes with age. And with Van Halen — save for one member — falling smack dab into the Jurassic chasm of geriatrockers, it is fair to assume that they might have some long-faced insights into the human condition. They even have a song about it, albeit a Van Hagar song. It’s called “Humans Being.” It came out in 1996. On the Twister soundtrack. And it’s terrible. See for yourself (below). Nevertherless, the band included it on, not one, but two separate “Best Of” albums.
So yeah, Van Halen, like, gets what it's all about to be alive, even if they have a hard time setting sentiment to song. But who the fuck wants to hear David Lee Roth sing about life? Then again, who the fuck wants to hear a 57-year-old David Lee Roth make new additions to his arsenal of nonsensical catcalls with new tales of gigolo justice while forcing his once-effortless persona of a strip-club-bound, cocaine-addled rodeo clown on the rest of us?
That leaves Van Halen and four generations of rock fans at an impasse. Not to be ageist. But the worldview espoused by the Roth-era Van Halen hasn’t exactly aged well, even if the band’s catalog has. And I'd rather not know what their worldview is now. Sorry, Van Halen.
Speaking of the band's catalog, though, according to a press release sent the Scene’s way, concert attendees can expect to hear the obligatory songs of Truth situated alongside an “arsenal of epic hits that include "Eruption," "Running with the Devil," "Jamie's Cryin'," "You Really Got Me," "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love,” "Everybody Wants Some," "Unchained," "And the Cradle Will Rock,” "Beautiful Girls,” "Mean Street," "Somebody Get Me a Doctor,” "Jump," “Panama," "Hot For Teacher," "I'll Wait" and more from their classic albums Van Halen, Van Halen II, Women and Children First, Fair Warning, Diver Down and 1984.” Some bands don't need spoiler alerts.
Can y’all get down with that … with ALL of that? Then be there. And don’t forget to get there in time to check out Kool and the Gang.