For another perspective, check out Tommy Morais‘ review of this CD, here!
VAN HALEN – Tokyo Dome Live in Concert (2015 Warner)
I’d like to begin this review by diving head-on into the thick of it. Everybody’s been talking about Dave’s voice. It’s all anybody seems to talk about regarding the new Van Halen Tokyo Dome Live in Concert CD. Even Sammy Hagar, always eager to open his mouth and opine on all things Halen, had this to say:
“I’m trying to tread lightly on the whole thing. 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?’”
Sammy couldn’t be more wrong (or bitter sounding).
Newsflash: the new Van Halen is good!
Sonically, this CD is monstrous. The bottom end sounds so good, and what a bottom end it is! Lil’ Wolfgang Van Halen has become quite a bassist, which surely comes as no surprise. His vocals with pa Eddie keep the melody grounded while David Lee Roth freestyles it. No, he doesn’t sound like Michael Anthony, but surely you knew that by now. I have always loved Mike’s backing vocals. But Mike’s not coming back to Van Halen, and if you miss Mike that much, Chickenfoot have two excellent albums for you to pick up.
The setlist: in a word, phenomenal. All seven DLR-VH albums are mined for hits and deep cuts. This means that you get to hear tracks like “Romeo Delight”, which I bet you never thought you’d hear live again. “I’ll Wait”, “Ice Cream Man”, “Beautiful Girls”…almost all of my favourites are here! But what really blew my mind was “Hear About It Later”, one of my desert island tracks, from Fair Warning. I understand that the setlists were often decided between Dave and Wolfie, and you sure can’t find much fault in their choices. The only one I didn’t particularly care for in the live setting was the recent single “Tattoo”, with its taped backing vocals. It’s kind of an oddball Van Halen track as it is.
Now, Dave’s vocals: They are what they are. There are moments he’s out of breath, wheezing, and missing notes. They are fewer than you’d expect. I think one thing that didn’t help this album’s early reputation was that they released some questionable preview tracks. Dave’s vocals on “Panama” are not as hot as they are on something like “Ice Cream Man”. Definitely, he does better on some songs than others, but he succeeds in injecting every line with that Dave “charasma”. He cheats his way around certain melodies, and speaks where he used to sing, but other singers his age do the same thing. Rob Halford changes the vocal melody live quite often. So, given that age and time do things to the human voice, and given that Dave is a smoker, you cannot compare Roth in 2013 to Roth in 1983. (Let’s just hope that some day, we get a CD/DVD set of that US Festival, eh?) And keep in mind: Roth’s so-so vocals are only proof that this album is live, no tampering in the mix (unlike the live album they did with Sammy which was heavily re-recorded).
Last, but certainly not least: Edward Van Halen himself. It seems kind of pointless to say “he’s playing awesome”, but I do think it’s important to get it out there. He’s had health scares, and he definitely hit a low point back in 2003. His singing and playing here is awesome. There is nobody in the world who sounds like Eddie Van Halen, though there are many who have tried. In a blind taste test, 100% of Van Halen fans chose Eddie.
Filler: Alex’s drum solo “Me & You”, a tropical jazz inflected moment that simply does not fit the show. But the guys are getting up there and a mid-show drum solo gives Dave and Eddie a chance to rest for a few minutes. In every other way, Alex Van Halen is awesome on this album.
I recommend any serious Van Halen fan to ignore the hype (and Sammy) and pick up Tokyo Dome Live. It’s cheap (about $13-15), it sounds excellent (it’s self-produced) and it has all the songs you want. After all, we didn’t spend all these years moaning that we wanted Dave back in the band, only to bitch and complain about the live album, did we?