Live Review, 6/3/12: Van Halen Finger-Taps Its Way to Glory at Oracle Arena

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Richard Haick
Van Halen at Oracle Arena Sunday night.

Van Halen
Kool and the Gang
Sunday, June 3, 2012
Oracle Arena

Better than: Any of the still-touring Sunset Strip hair-farmers from the 1980s that Van Halen inspired.

There aren't too many '70s-era hard-rock bands that can inspire the kind of unabashed hedonism -- a "bring me the skull of Sammy Hagar filled with tequila" type of wild abandon, if you will -- as Van Halen with original lead singer David Lee Roth. During the band's initial heyday, which stretched from its scorching 1978 debut through Diamond Dave's famously acrimonious departure after the 1984 album and tour, Van Halen served as the soundtrack for infinite teenage bacchanalia in the backs of countless boogie vans. Strange, then, that the scent of sauerkraut and relish on hot dogs overpowered the weed smoke in my section of Oracle Arena Sunday night for the first of Van Halen's two Bay Area concerts, as opening act Kool & the Gang tried to get the party started.

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Richard Haick
Kool and the Gang

Maybe it was a sign that all the hardcore VH fans were outside reliving their Heavy Metal Parking Lot dreams, blazing bowls and shotgunning beers like they were still in high school, instead of shaking what their mama gave them to "Jungle Boogie" and "Ladies Night." Or maybe it was the idea of starting Monday morning with a Van Halen-sized hangover that encouraged temperance in the aging audience. As weird as the choice of opener Kool & the Gang seemed on paper, things made more sense while watching the veteran soul band crank out a tightly choreographed string of hits. Why not kick off an evening dedicated to throwing down with party music of a different stripe? The crowd-pleasing group kept many of those gathered on their feet gyrating and waving their hands in the air through "Get Down On It" and the inevitable set-ending groove of "Celebration."

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Richard Haick

When the headliners finally took the stage with a minimum of fanfare, the near packed-house was primed for a good time. A brief drum intro from Alex Van Halen served as brother Eddie's cue to bound from the darkened back of the stage, crunching out the unmistakable opening riffs of "Unchained" to a warm roar of welcome from the crowd. And like the drunken, ne'er-do-well uncle at a wedding reception that has spun out of control, Roth took center stage, happy to serve as master of ceremonies.

For all the rumors of feuding in the wake of the band's recently postponed summer tour plans, Dave and Eddie showed no signs of bad blood onstage. Sporting wide grins, the pair traded scatted vocals and guitar licks face-to-face during the song's bridge before the en masse audience shout of "One break, coming up!" brought the band crashing back in for a thunderous conclusion.

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Richard Haick

It was after Eddie's son Wolfgang delivered the ominous opening bass thump of "Runnin' with the Devil" that the first sign of what became a nagging issue throughout the show surfaced. Roth has always been guilty of taking some liberties with lyrics and vocal melodies during live performances, but his half-spoken delivery of the song relied far too much on audience participation to carry the tune.

It wasn't that Roth couldn't hit the notes when he tried, as he proved on his more faithful renditions of "She's a Woman" and "Tattoo," from the band's new album A Different Kind of Truth, or on the cover of Roy Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman." It's understandable that age would force Roth to swap his once trademark leaps off the drum riser and mid-air splits for the sliding, soft-shoe routine he currently employs, but it would have been nice if he'd refrained from the full-blown Sinatra-style reinterpretation he so frequently indulged in.

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Richard Haick

Whether Roth's vocal shortcomings made much difference to the audience was clear. The crowd ate up his goofy onstage shtick and comic banter between songs while deliriously reveling in the ferocious instrumental execution of the rest of the band. Blazing thorough the classic tunes like "Romeo Delight," "Everybody Wants Some!!" and "Somebody Get Me a Doctor" with precision and fire, the multi-generational triumvirate of Van Halens gave the audience exactly the kind of musical pyrotechnics they craved. Some of the more lightweight fare ("Dance the Night Away," "Beautiful Girls") could have been jettisoned for edgier songs "Mean Streets" and "Girl Gone Bad" that were inexplicably dropped from the set after early inclusion on this tour, but few fans would quibble with the tune selection.

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Richard Haick

On bass and backing vocals, Wolfgang seemed content to turn in his solid support in the background. But young Wolfie showed off some prodigious licks that the departed Michael Anthony would have been hard pressed to duplicate: He and his father ripped through the hammer-on heavy intro to "Chinatown," arguably the most aggressive song on the new album. For his part, Eddie Van Halen remains a gifted freak of nature. Relaxing on the stage steps in front of his brother's drum kit near the end of the show, the guitarist unspooled an arsenal of tricknology that still sets the head reeling, more than 30 years after he first rewrote the rules of the instrument. If anyone had a complaint after his solo tour de force, which touched on the studio showcases "Eruption" and "Cathedral," it would have been that just five minutes of Eddie alone was about 10 minutes too short.

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Richard Haick

Critic's Notebook

Personal bias: I saw the 1984 tour as a kid at the Cow Palace and it is still one of my favorite fractured teenage concert memories.

Random notebook dump: Did DLR really just invoke the Saturday Night Live cowbell sketch?

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Richard Haick

Setlist:
Unchained
Runnin' With the Devil
She's the Woman
Romeo Delight
Tattoo
Everybody Wants Some!!
Somebody Get Me a Doctor
Chinatown
Hear About It Later
Oh, Pretty Woman (Roy Orbison cover)
Drum Solo
You Really Got Me (The Kinks cover)
The Trouble with Never
Dance the Night Away
I'll Wait
And the Cradle Will Rock...
Hot for Teacher
Women In Love
Beautiful Girls
Ice Cream Man (John Brim cover)
Panama
Guitar Solo
Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love
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Jump

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Location Info

Venue

Map

Oracle Arena

7000 Coliseum, Oakland, CA

Category: General

My Voice Nation Help
40 comments
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Lovn'music
Lovn'music

Eddie just concentrates on ''BEING AN ORIGINAL ASS KICKING GUITAR PLAYER"!!!! If you ever have had the chance to see the man perform live, the last thing you'd be saying is ''gez...he's wearing black again". He's too busy making history and being happy.

Simboticus
Simboticus

The review is far too kind to Dave, he was flat out terrible and frankly embarassed himself.  They would be better off with no singer at all.  It was entertaining to laugh at his ineptitude.  Eddie and the band were awsome!

Richard Haick
Richard Haick

Funny, I was at the 2007 show and they sounded pretty much the same to me. And back in the 70's and 80's when they were all blitzed out of their minds, they sounded pretty much the same. Dave never really did much singing.

Danimalssf
Danimalssf

I thought they were terrible, and I was so fired up for this show, splurged on the good seats and everything.  I still can't believe it, but we left early, as did other friends of ours.  Extremely disappointing.

Mike Carroll
Mike Carroll

The fourth song of the set was The Full Bug, not Romeo Delight.

Buford S
Buford S

What does skin color or hair length have to do with Rock? Nothing. Stick to listening to your Hip Hop music.

Guest
Guest

Here here Buford S!

Guest
Guest

Romeo Delight was not played.. Full Bug was.

Narrowback
Narrowback

They didn't play Romeo Delight but did play Full Bug.

Van Halens were spot on, especially the background vocals, but Dave seemed out of it. Lines that were actually in his now-mature vocal range he decided to sing as that reaching, sc reaching falsetto. Other lines he spoke. But when he tried he was able to sing the songs pretty well.Maybe taking a break and reviewing the live tapes will allow him to reevaluate and reset. If not there's no way we'll ever get a live DVD of this tour.

My68camaropet
My68camaropet

DLR might be a bit under, this may be the reason they postponed the last leg of the tour. And for all of you David Lee Roth haters, and your comments regarding his vocals, check it out and do a little research on his vocal skills. David is one of only a handful of singers who are in the 5-6 0ctive range!!!!! He can sing,  no doubt about it!!!!!!! Whether he was in top form at the Oakland performance that's up to the indiviual listener. Pesonall I give him a 8 out 10. And Eddie gets a 10+++++ FANTASTIC.

EL WRAY BONESHACK
EL WRAY BONESHACK

Is David Lee Roth gay? that pose he is doing in the 5th pic is really gay.

Richard Haick
Richard Haick

He's actually talking to a gbouton the crowd about all the chicks he nailed back in the day and how he could be her dad. But, if it weren't for his notorious insatiable appetite for women, my gaydar would be pinging off the charts.

Kevinpaoc
Kevinpaoc

Eddie, Alex and even Wolfgang sounded great last night !!Roth was HORRIFIC !!Spend less time on your cheezy schtick and more time with a vocal coach!When I spend 150 on a ticket at least make an attempt.

Guest
Guest

2-3 years ago Roth did great vocals were good! Not last night.

Phil
Phil

I absolutely agree. DLR sucked ass, the rest of the band off the hook. I think that will be it for Van Halen and Roth for good. They won't be missing out on anything without him.

julie g
julie g

All that onstage banter is all just what it is all for show. I know the real deal behind the scenes. looks like there is about to be a new an younger singer about to take place. someone from alterbridge. 

oakdaledude
oakdaledude

If you are referring to Myles Kennedy...it ain't happening.

He's in Slash's band

Mark V H Warnick
Mark V H Warnick

Dont listen to the haters. Van Halen looked and sounded great last night!

Rcknrog
Rcknrog

The chorus vocals were perfect DLR not so much.

julie g
julie g

bullshit I was there an david sounded like he just swallowed a handful of rusty nails 

California sun
California sun

I was there too Julie g, you must've been stoned, David was GREAT.I saw Van Halen in "78 and they were great at both shows)   Next time showup sober or just stay home. 

Called bogus
Called bogus

I bet Kool and the Gang were great.  VH's time has come and gone.

BOHEMIAN OUTLAW HEDONIST
BOHEMIAN OUTLAW HEDONIST

you know rock and roll has gone downhill when everybody in the band has short hair. I remember when rock bands were long haired non conformist. most are a bunch of rich pussies anymore.

Rcknrog
Rcknrog

And yet you blabber on!

Longhair
Longhair

 If you like long haired rock band types its best to stick to the southern rock bands like Molly Hatchet,Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers Band they still are born rebel souls. they dont give in any more than the Hells Angels MC give in. they are biker type bands and bikers are always gonna be bikers till the die!

Big Red Machine Oakland
Big Red Machine Oakland

   Long haired southern boys will always be southern boys. they are the best! FUCK THE REST!

oakdaledude
oakdaledude

One word...Motorhead

Longhair
Longhair

  actually thats 2 words. im stoned again.

Longhair
Longhair

 one word thats better.

Jim
Jim

Eddie is to pale skinned and has flabby upper arms and he needs to get a tan and work those flabby rich kid rock and roll arms into a macho looking bad ass  muscle arm! and when your pale white skinned dont wear a dark black T shirt dude it makes your honky white rock star skin glow bright white and it dont look good. 

lovin'music
lovin'music

Jim,are you for real????? Eddie has been named in the top 10 best guitar players of all time. This is what he does, plays music, not walking the aisle of a fashion show.

B0B
B0B

fabulous critique, well done, have a burger and a sit down

Rcknrog
Rcknrog

If you want to check the dudes body just say so, most were happy to see him kick the crap out of his guitar!

HELLS ANGELS MC FRISCO
HELLS ANGELS MC FRISCO

 I would rather kick the crap out of Eddie for wearing that  to tight stupid black t shirt with pale white day glow skin. send him over to the local Hells Angels MC Frisco clubhouse for a beating.

Old Pard
Old Pard

 I wanna see 99% of Americans wear something besides basic boring black clothes. its getting a little ridiculous out there anymore. doesn't anybody have any originality in their thinking anymore? where did all the free thinking spirits go?

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