david lee roth

DVD REVIEW: Van Halen – Video Hits Volume I (1998)

VAN HALEN – Video Hits Volume I (1998 DVD)

Van Halen had some of the best videos of the 80s, bar none. After David Lee Roth, the visionary behind the videos, left the band, they refused to film any new clips for their first six singles with Sammy Hagar! They didn’t want the comparisons.  Instead they released live versions of singles as videos.  They finally filmed an actual studio video for the ballad “When It’s Love” in late 1988.

It seems Van Halen still can’t reconcile all the different singers from the past.  That is obvious by the omissions from this disc.  Go ahead and list the missing videos:

The excellently corny “Oh Pretty Woman”. “You Really Got Me”, the timeless Kinks cover. The live videos for “Unchained” and “So This Is Love”. All the live video clips are missing, even Sammy’s debut in “Why Can’t This Be Love”.  As is Gary Cherone’s “Fire In The Hole”. “Feels So Good”, “Top of the World”, “Amsterdam”…all missing.

At least they included one Cherone video (“Without You”), but then again, he was the band’s current singer when this was released in 1998.  It would have been weird if he wasn’t on it.  He hasn’t made an appearance or even been mentioned on any Van Halen releases since.

For Van Halen to refuse to release those videos on DVD just indicates they’re scared of their own shadows. You can’t bury your past, you may as well celebrate it.

2/5 stars

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REVIEW: David Lee Roth – A Little Ain’t Enough (1991)

DAVID LEE ROTH – A Little Ain’t Enough (1991, Warner, digipack promo CD version)

First Billy Sheehan was gone – fired by the “note police”.  Then Steve Vai was out, to join David Coverdale in his merry international band of Whitesnake, replacing Vivian Campbell.  David Lee Roth lost his two biggest guns in the space of a year.  What next?  Replacing Billy was Matt Bissonette, brother of drummer Gregg.  Matt is a fantastic bassist, but there is only one Billy Sheehan, so naturally the band was bound to sound different.  Replacing Steve Vai was much harder.

Filling the guitar slot, but not the shoes, was new young guitar prodigy Jason Becker (from Cacophony, with Marty Friedman), and veteran axeman Steve Hunter (ex-Alice Cooper).  Becker was beginning to feel the effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).  Fans must have known something was wrong when Becker was not seen on tour.  Becker kept his diagnosis private for the time being. Roth tapped Joe Holmes (future Ozzy guitarist) and stated that he needed musicians who could “fly” on stage.  It was hard for fans to become attached to his new band, even wielding the firepower of two guitarists, with all these changes.

Roth’s first post-Vai album, A Little Ain’t Enough, failed to ascend the commercial heights of Eat ‘Em and Smile or Skyscraper.  “Good”, but not “great”.  Not enough of that Dave “charasma”.  Just a collection of songs, not a fierce sexed up power-packed ride through.  Roth hooked up with producer-du-jour Bob Rock at Little Mountain studios.  Rock endowed Roth with a generic sound, contrasting the high-tech Skyscraper.  Dave seemed to be trying to take a step back towards his Van Halen roots.  Roth insisted that he and his band stay in the shittiest Vancouver hotel they could find.  Prostitutes, dealers, criminals, the works.  He wanted a dirty rock album and you can’t make one of those with a $20 room service hamburger in your stomach, as per the method of Diamond Dave.

A Little Ain’t Enough wasn’t the return to dirty raw rock Roth that had hyped.

Lead single “A Lil’ Ain’t Enough” was plenty of fun, a top notch Roth party song.  “Was vaccinated with a phonograph needle one summer break, then I kissed her on her daddy’s boat and shot across the lake.”  Perfect for summer.  Second track “Shoot It” was just as fun, a big horn section delivering all the big hooks.

The one-two punch of those openers was slowed by following them with “Lady Luck”, a rock blues track written by Dio’s Craig Goldy.  Good song, but the firepower and excitement of the previous two was missing.  “Hammerhead Shark”, the fourth track, had more energy but not the killer hooks.  What it does have is some killer shredding by the guitar duo of Hunter and Becker, with Hunter on the slide and Becker on the quick pickin’.  “Tell the Truth” is another blues, slower this time, and was also released as an instrumental remix with dialogue (from a movie?) dubbed over.  Side one closed with a real Van Halen-like corker called “Baby’s On Fire”.  As the title suggests, it’s red-hot and loaded with smoking playing.

Side two is a mixed bag.  “40 Below” is a fun track, with shades of Halen but more focused on bluesy guitars.  “Sensible Shoes” was a single, a slinky blues that appealed to some that normally wouldn’t buy a David Lee Roth album.  The slide guitar is the main feature.  “Last Call” is another one reminiscent of classic Van Halen, and “Dogtown Shuffle” dips back into noctural blues rock. Good songs – not great, but good.

Jason Becker only contributed two of his own songs to the album:  the final two, “It’s Showtime!” and “Drop in the Bucket”.  These happen to be two of the best tracks.  “It’s Showtime!” is 100% pure Van Halen, smoking down the highway, so try to keep up.  It’s the kind of high speed rock shuffle that they invented and mastered.  Meanwhile “Drop in the Bucket” serves as a cool, smooth ending to the album.  Its impressive guitar work is only a glimpse at what Becker was capable of.

ALS be damned, Jason Becker refused to go down without a fight.  As the disease took his voice and his hands, he began composing music on a computer.  He uses a system that tracks his eye movements, much like Steven Hawking.  This way, Becker has managed to stay active musically and has inspired thousands with his efforts.

It’s a shame that Becker’s only album with David Lee Roth was a bit middle of the road.  It wasn’t the full shred of early Roth, nor as diverse as Dave can get.  In his efforts to make a straight ahead rock album, Dave shed some of what makes his music special.  The musical thrills are lessened on what is probably the most “ordinary” album in his catalog.

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Talas – Live Speed on Ice (1983)

Second in a two-part review of the 1989 compilation CD, Billy Sheehan – The Talas Years.  Part one is here:  Sink Your Teeth Into That.  More Talas tomorrow!

scan_20161210BILLY SHEEHAN – The Talas Years (Part Two of Two)  (1989 Relativity)
TALAS – Live Speed on Ice (1983 Relativity)

When we last met Talas, they were a power trio.  On their 1984 live album, they were a quartet.  Billy Sheehan was the only remaining member of the original lineup, with some hot talent behind him:  Mark Miller on drums, Mitch Perry (MSG) on guitar, and the hugely talented Phil Naro singing.  Naro has been around, including a stint with Peter Criss.  (You can hear a number of his performances on Mitch Lafon’s Kiss tribute CD A World With Heroes.)

There is little question that Naro’s voice brings the songs to another level.  “Sink Your Teeth Into That” benefits from his young rasp.  Mitch Perry throws in a more articulated guitar solo for an extended section leaving Billy to hold down the riff.  Second in line is a new song, “Crystal Clear” which has a biting Police guitar riff.  The busy bass holds down the melodic center as Naro soars on top.  Live Speed on Ice has great value, since much of its material was actually brand new and never released on anything else.  “The Farandole” is another new one, an instrumental of jaw-dropping ability.  Dueling bass and guitars dance and parry while the drums hit the heavy blows.

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More new tunes:  “Do You Feel Any Better”, “Lone Rock”, and “Inner Mounting Flame” continue the ass-kicking streak.  Each has their own groove, but “Inner Mounting Flame” truly is live speed on ice.  A few older tracks from the album are solid winners:  “King of the World”, “High Speed on Ice” and of course “Shy Boy”, the one Talas song that people know today thanks to David Lee Roth.  Billy’s signature bass solo is also performed live (and extended), but cleverly retitled.  While “NVH 3345” meant “SHEEHAN” upside down, “7718 (3A17)” means “BILL (LIVE)”.  With the freedom of the live setting, Bill took his time to showcase some unheard of chops and effects.

Any album that has Billy Sheehan on bass is bound to include a thousand notes of pure thrills, and any record with Phil Naro is going to sound awesome vocally.  Therefore, Live Speed on Ice should be a welcome addition to the discerning rock fan’s personal library.  The easiest way to get it is on CD combined with Sink Your Teeth Into That as the 1989 compilation Billy Sheehan – The Talas Years.  Either way, you win.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Talas – Sink Your Teeth Into That (1982)

A two-part review of the 1989 compilation CD, Billy Sheehan – The Talas Years.

scan_20161210BILLY SHEEHAN – The Talas Years (Part One of Two)  (1989 Relativity)
TALAS – Sink Your Teeth Into That (1982 Relativity)

Fans of David Lee Roth are probably already aware of Talas via their incredible bassist Billy Sheehan, an innovative genius of the four-string rumble.  His first recordings were with Talas (1979-1983), a Buffalo power trio.  With Roth, he re-recorded the Talas track “Shy Boy” on Eat ‘Em And Smile.  The Talas original can be found on their second LP Sink Your Teeth Into That, or the compilation The Talas Years.

The focus is immediately and obvious on the bass.  Billy plays it simultaneously as a lead instrument, and the rhythmic foundation.  “Sink Your Teeth Into That”, the title track boasts not only insane playing, but sounds that had never been heard before from a bass guitar.  And the song’s pretty good too.  It’s raw 80s hard rock, no more no less, except for that bass.  “Hit and Run” is just as strong.  Talas were not just a bass showcase, but a band that could actually write good songs.  These are unpolished and rough songs, with the band (Dave Constantino on guitar and Paul Varga on drums) alternating lead vocals.

The centerpiece of the album is the bass solo “NVH 3345”.  Write that down and turn it upside down:  it spells “SHEEHAN”.  It has been said before that as Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption” was a game changer on guitar,  “NVH 3345” is the “Eruption” of the bass guitar.  It is hard to imagine more sheer technique stuffed into 2:21.  For anyone who is a serious collector of hard rock heroes, “NVH 3345” must find a way into your collection.

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“High Speed On Ice” returns to a hard rocking momentum, like “Highway Star” via Buffalo New York.  Then “Shy Boy” which needed David Lee Roth and Steve Vai to finally perfect it.  Think of this version as a prototype.  It is hard to believe that David Lee Roth did not write the line “Gotta keep things movin’ ’til my personality starts it groovin'”, but Roth made it sound like he meant it.

“King of the World” and “Outside Lookin’ In” occupy the mid-tempo range, and that would be Billy singing those high screams.  Both good songs with the memorable hooks to go with the bass hijinks.  Shadows fall on “Never See Me Cry”, a darker side of Talas but still with the hooks intact.  Second to last song “Smart Lady” is the only loser.  There isn’t room for songs that just don’t cut it.  “Hick Town” ends the album on a better note, with bass pyrotechnics and thrills to go.

Sink your teeth into Talas, and come back tomorrow for a look at Live Speed on Ice.

4/5 stars

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#512: Sh*t LeBrain’s Wife Says

GETTING MORE TALE #512: Shit LeBrain’s Wife Says

As readers here know, when I can get away with putting the minimum amount of effort into a story, I’m going to go for it.  This one is lifted directly from my Facebook posts, a couple months after Jen and I got married.  Her ongoing education in rock was just beginning.  I can proudly say that today, Mrs. LeBrain knows the difference between Van Halen and Van Hagar.  But in 2008?


 

Oct 9 2008:

TOP TWO QUOTES FROM JENNIFER TODAY:

#2 Some background, I was playing the track “Me Wise Magic” by Van Halen, an obscure song with David Lee Roth singing.  I said to Jen, do you know who this is? And she responded:

“Yeah…is this Van Hagar?”

#1 “Wow is your beard ever grey!”

But I’m still gonna stay married to her anyway.

wow is your beard ever grey


It’s even more grey today.

Jen likes both Van Halen and Van Hagar now, and she’s perfectly capable of telling the difference.  She counts “Jump” and “Why Can’t This Be Love” as her favourite VH songs, tied for the #1 position.  Considering that in my dating days, girls used to insist on listening to MuchDance95 in the car, I’m a very lucky man. I dodged some musical bullets, and somehow ended up with the best girl in the world.

REVIEW: David Lee Roth – Eat ‘Em and Smile (1986)

Scan_20150728DAVID LEE ROTH – Eat ‘Em and Smile (1986 Warner)

1986 was the year it all went down. If you were a Van Halen fan, it was time to choose.

Of course, nobody really had to choose between Van Hagar and David Lee Roth. It’s not like every fan had only $10 to spend on albums that year. Fans did choose anyway, and even today almost 30 years later, we still argue about who’s best: Diamond Dave or the Red Rocker?

No matter who you sided with, there is no question that David Lee Roth stormed into 1986 with a killer new band and album.

Steve Vai! That’s enough right there to make for an incendiary band — just ask David Coverdale. Before Little Stevie Vai was a household name, he had earned the respect of Frank Zappa who hired him on after Joe’s Garage. He made his Zappa debut on Tinseltown Rebellion, before being snagged by Graham Bonnet in 1985 for Alcatrazz’s Disturbing the Peace. In that band, he had the unenviable task of replacing a Swedish guitar player you may have heard of called Yngwie J. Malmsteen. Needless to say, Steve Vai was already experienced in filling big shoes by the time David Lee Roth made contact.

Billy Sheehan! A lot of people think he’s the world’s greatest bass player, period. Eight finger lead bass, baby! Three albums with Talas didn’t do much in terms of sales, but the material was strong enough that one song was re-recorded for the Roth album.

Gregg Bissonette! Once you learn how to properly spell his name, you will recognize Bissonette on loads of album credits. Joe Satriani come to mind? How about Spinal Tap? For your information, Gregg Bissonette is still alive, and is still the current Spinal Tap drummer.

Combine those three virtuosos with the greatest frontman of all time, and you have best new band of 1986.

Van Halen’s 5150 came out in March, going to #1. That’s a hard act to follow. Eat ‘Em and Smile, however, ending up standing the test of time. I would argue that even though it’s not Van Halen, it’s still the best Van Halen album since 1984….

As if to say “Eddie who?”, the album opens with Steve Vai’s trademark talking guitar. I’m talkin’ about-a-“Yankee Rose”! Here’s the shot heard ’round the world indeed. Lyrically, musically, and instrumentally, this song truly is the spiritual successor to classic Van Halen. David Lee was still in prime voice, and does he ever pour it on! Sassy as ever, Roth sounds exactly how he should: the showman in the rock and roll circus. And let’s not forget Billy and Gregg. Sheehan’s slinky bass on the outro is space age groove.

“Shyboy” is an atomic bomb. Billy brought in this song from Talas, but there is no question that Dave’s version is vastly superior. I have no idea how Vai makes his guitar create these sounds. When he goes into syncopation with Billy on the fastest solo of all time, your head may be blown clean off. Please, do not attempt to listen to “Shyboy” in the car, without testing it at home first. As Steve’s guitar flickers from left to right, Billy’s bass is the fastest, baddest groove on record. “Shyboy” is of such high quality that I do not think any self-respecting rock fan can live without it. Virtually every trick that Steve had at the time was in this one song.

One thing that was special about Van-Halen-with-Dave was their fearlessness in doing odd covers, such as “Big Bad Bill” or “Oh Pretty Woman”. Dave took that with him, and included oldie swing covers like “I’m Easy”. Horn laden and with Steve’s expert licks, it should be no surprise that they nail this one. It’s much in the spirit of Dave’s solo EP, Crazy From the Heat, only better.

Perhaps the most outstanding song on Eat ‘Em and Smile would be “Ladies Nite in Buffalo?” Dave has always said he loves disco and dance music. This is the most perfect melding of that world with rock. Vai is rarely so funky, and there is no question that Dave has the vibe right. Smooth and steamy, “Ladies Nite in Buffalo?” is a tune perfectly in synch with activities of the nocturnal persuasion. Who else but Dave would be perfect to deliver this message?

“Goin’ Crazy” was a great track to make into one of Dave’s typically high flying music videos. It’s party rock time, with a tropical vibe. “Goin’ Grazy” worked particularly well when Dave re-released it in Spanish, as “¡Loco del calor!”. I used to consider this tune a bit of a throwaway, but it has certainly endeared itself over the years. Another meticulously perfect Vai solo doesn’t hurt, and Billy’s bass popping helps end side one on an up note.

Now there is a story here that needs to be told. Billy Sheehan was in Canadian progressive rock band Max Webster for “about three weeks” according to lead singer Kim Mitchell. Upon joining Dave’s band, he introduced them to Kim Mitchell’s solo track “Kids In Action”, which they decided to cover. Bill called Kim up to ask him for the lyrics, because they couldn’t quite make them all out. Kim supplied the words, and Dave recorded the song. However, it was dropped at the 11th hour, for another cover — “Tobacco Road”. David Lee Roth’s version of “Kids In Action” has yet to be released or even bootlegged. Not that I am complaining about “Tobacco Road”, another old cover! Yet again, the reliably awesome Steve Vai just sells it. There is no question that the whole song just smokes, but getting to hear Stevie playing this old blues?  Pretty damn cool.

That’s nothing. You thought “Shyboy” was fast? Check out “Elephant Gun”! Billy’s fingers didn’t fall off, but mine would have. “I’ll protect you baby with my Elephant Gun”, claims Dave. Nudge, wink! Steve Vai’s been known to write blazing fast songs, and “Elephant Gun” is so fast it’s almost showing off. Wisely though, things get slow and nocturnal once again on “Big Trouble”. That’s a title Dave recycled from an old unused Van Halen song. (That song became “Big River” on A Different Kind of Truth.) Steve’s guitar melodies and solo on this are particularly celestial. Roth uses his speaking voice, spinning a tale as only he can. “Bump and Grind” is a perfectly acceptable album track, a sleaze rocker as only Dave can do. If I am interpreting the lyrics correctly, Dave is a dance instructor in this one. “Shake it slowly, and do that Bump and Grind”.

Much like “Happy Trails” ended Diver Down on a jokey note, Dave ends his first solo album with a cover: “That’s Life”, the song that Sinatra made famous. Coming from the guy who did “Just a Gigolo”, we know he can do that kind of thing very well. The first time I heard the album years ago, I shrugged and said, “Another one?” Now, older and fatter, I sez it’s all good! Zop-bop-doop-zooby-dooby-doo indeed. Funny thing though. When I think of Diver Down, I think of a fun but fairly shallow album of half covers. When I think of Eat ‘Em and Smile, I don’t question the integrity of it. I don’t know why I seem to hold that double standard.

In this writer’s humble opinion, Eat ‘Em and Smile was David Lee Roth’s finest moment as a solo artist. It was not nearly as well known as 5150, OU812, or any of Van Hagar’s albums, and that is almost criminal. The talent in this band, pound for pound, outweighed anybody else going at the time, including Van Halen. Shame they couldn’t make it last.

5/5 stars

#394: Between the Buttons

Throwback Thursday! #tbt

BUTTONSRECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#394: Between the Buttons

Kitchener, early 1985.  A 12 year old little Mike is at Stanley Park Mall with friends Bob and George, and a little bit of allowance money.  There was a crappy little rock shop in the mall that sold T-shirts, posters and buttons.  It was on a corner of one of the corridors, right down the hall where I would later work at the Record Store myself.  For a little while back then, my favourite band was W.A.S.P.  They were soon usurped by Iron Maiden and ultimately Kiss.  At the time of this particular visit, it was still W.A.S.P., and my favourite W.A.S.P. was Chris Holmes.

CHRISI had enough money for one rock button – my first.  The one of Chris caught my eye.  He looked cool and theatening in the picture holding his blood-streaked guitar.  Bob approved.  “If you get that one,” he reasoned, “you’d be the only guy in Kitchener to have that button on his jacket.”  I don’t know how he knew so precisely that I would be the only person in Kitchener to have it, but it made sense.  The shelves were full of other bands: Motley Crue, Van Halen, Motorhead, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Rush, and Black Sabbath.  You didn’t see as many W.A.S.P., and you didn’t see any with just Chris Holmes.

“I’ll take this one,” I shyly said as I made my purchase, but I was happy.  Which button would be next?

VICESOver the months, I added more to my collection.  Two more W.A.S.P. buttons, an Iron Maiden, and a Kick Axe Vices were next.  The funny thing about that one is, of all the buttons here, the only band I don’t own an album from is Kick Axe.  I love their song “On the Road to Rock” but to this day, I still do not own Vices!  I still don’t have any Kick Axe!

My sister got into the action and bought one of David Lee Roth (she liked “California Girls” and “Just A Gigolo”) and one of Maiden’s Steve Harris.  (When Roth left Van Halen I believe we covered his face with a ZZ Top Eliminator sticker!)

ACES HIGHBob and I focused on Iron Maiden from there in, although I seem to remember also having a Judas Priest button that is now lost.  We would trade them until we had all the Eddies we could find.  Eddies were the best, much better than buttons with just the band on them.  We were specifically looking for the Eddies.  The most common seemed to be the mummy Powerslave Eddie.  They were everywhere.  The best one, to us, was the “Aces High” Eddie.  We each had one.

Once in highschool, Bob did something I wish he didn’t.  He ripped all the pins out of the back of his buttons, so that he could better tape them up in his locker for display.  Every last one, wrecked.  Bob had a habit of modifying things, only to destroy them.  He hacked a piece of out his guitar to make it look more jagged, but it weakened the tone.  The paint job he gave it wasn’t much better!  He also wrecked his amplifier by sewing a huge Iron Maiden Powerslave patch onto the front.

I on the other hand am glad I hung onto this stuff and kept them intact.  They bring back so many memories.  I can remember that conversation about the Chris Holmes button at that store.  I remember being with those guys at that exact spot and buying that button for those reasons.  I think that location might be vacant now.  I don’t know because I haven’t been to Stanley Park Mall in a long time.  The place has almost completely died, except for a bank and a grocery store.

When we kept items like these buttons as kids, I probably said something ridiculous like “One day this will be worth something, so I’d better keep it.”  What I didn’t appreciate is that these buttons are worth something now.  They trigger memories, and that is something money can’t buy.

 

R.I.P. George.

 

The rest of these buttons came much later and there’s not much to say about them.  The I Mother Earth Blue Green Orange and Yoda buttons were both store promos.  The Samuel Jackson Snakes on a Plane button was made by me, at a summer barbecue for Jen’s old work in Brampton.  That movie had just come out and I had an Entertainment Weekly magazine in the car.  We entertained some of the younger kids by giving them good pictures to make buttons with on their button maker, and I made Samuel for myself!  There were two Jamaican ladies there who loved it.  Those two really liked Samuel, if you know what I mean!

The Walter Sobchek (John Goodman) and “Geddy” buttons were made for me by friends.  The rest were gifts.

The Helix Power of Rock and Roll button was given to me by Brian Vollmer himself at the Power of Rock and Roll CD release party!  The cool thing about it is that it is dated specifically to that gig, August 19 2007.

REVIEW: Van Halen – Tokyo Dome Live in Concert (2015 – LeBrain’s review)

For another perspective, check out Tommy Moraisreview of this CD, here!

NEW RELEASE

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.

TOKYO DOME

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?

4/5 stars

VH LIVE_0001

GUEST REVIEW: Van Halen – Tokyo Dome Live in Concert (2015)

NEW RELEASE review by TOMMY MORAIS

“Better late than never or too little too late?”

VH LIVEVAN HALEN – Tokyo Dome Live in Concert (2015 Warner)

It came especially late, but alas we finally have a live Van Halen album featuring David Lee Roth. Tokyo Dome Live in Concert was recorded on March 22 2013 during VH’s last tour. It’s not the band’s first live album as there has been a live Van Hagar release, but it’s the first with Diamond Dave which fans had been asking for, for decades now. This lineup features the Van Halen brothers (of course) Alex and Eddie with David Lee Roth, and Wolfgang Van Halen au lieu of original bassist Michael Anthony. One has to ask “why a live album at this point late in their career?” but it’s better late than never l suppose. Van Halen’s classic lineup and first six albums with DLR from 1978-84 have touched and inspired generations. It’s all-time classic rock, and there are plenty of masterpieces and classics to be found. The band knows this too, as they perform the songs that everyone wants to hear from those six albums along with a few from the current lineup’s 2012 output A Different Kind of Truth.

The setlist is incredible! I mean seriously look at it (they open with “Unchained”) and tell me that it’s not damn well near perfect. All the hits are there along with favourites and that’s one of the album’s strengths and main appeal. I don’t think l would’ve taken anything out. I wouldn’t have added much more either. Anyone who complains is just nitpicking. I would’ve wanted to see “You And Your Blues” from ADKOT instead of “Chinatown”* but that’s about as picky as l can be. Everything l could’ve asked for is here. Two discs and 25 songs (one is a drum solo) at this price is excellent. Those things l can’t complain about.

Now let’s address the elephant in the room. Yeah THAT one! Roth’s singing. Sometimes he completely leaves out lines, his timing is off or at the very last second, and occasionally he’ll almost talk instead of singing. To his credit he’s getting up there in age and moves a lot during live performances, it’s not getting any easier for him and l know criticism of his voice will be harsh towards this release. I’m trying not to be too harsh, while remaining objective. Granted he doesn’t sound great and there some not so good moments, but Diamond Dave was never truly an amazing singer to begin with. Less so live. He was always known to be the charismatic and energetic frontman and no one could touch him.

One of my favourite moments has Dave being Dave, during the beginning of “Pretty Woman” where he goes: “I know that song! (pause) I know that song! (pause) I fucking love that song!”  On some songs he sounds good, some tolerable and some…awful.

People have mixed feelings to say the least about Wolfgang replacing Michael Anthony. I think it hurts them not to have Anthony around because his backing vocals were truly the band’s secret weapon and they improved Dave’s overall sound, something Wolfgang simply cannot do (he does sound a little better now), but he does get the job done on the bass guitar. The backing vocals are not awful, and they try their best (“You Really Got Me” is a good effort) but they could have used Anthony’s presence.  Alex Van Halen has lost nothing with the years and plays incredible.  The “Me & You” piece is amazing. Eddie does what he does best, and surprises us at times adding things here and there being the player we know he is. I can’t say that they really live up to their past glory, but very few bands can and at the end of the day it’s a fun performance.

The sound is very raw and bare-bones, it doesn’t sound like it was overdubbed at all which is one of Tokyo Dome‘s best qualities. I think they were going for a bit of a bootleg sound, not too much as clearly this exceeds a bootleg, but Van Halen wanted a real raw, gritty and heavy feel. Now the audience is essentially nowhere to be found. I own lots of live albums and this has got to be one of the quietest crowds l’ve heard for Van Halen (and a rock concert for that matter). I can only assume they turned them down during the mixing.

On a side note, I think it was a missed opportunity to film the show and have it released as a CD/DVD package**.  I think it would have helped gather even more interest in the band and Tokyo Dome. I’m just glad we finally have some new Van Halen out, and a live one with Dave.

Is it perfect? No. Does it have it’s flaws? Yes. Could it have been more? Well l think if you don’t expect too much out out of Van Halen you will find much to enjoy. The guys are a little older, Dave’s voice has aged and it’s 3/4 of the classic lineup but they can still deliver a good performance and entertain you. Some will completely rip on Dave’s voice and l get it (STOP CHEWING GUM WHILE YOU SING!), it’s the main reason l’m giving Tokyo Dome 3 stars. It does make you long for a proper live release from the early 80’s. The musicianship though, is very good and the setlist incredible.

3/5 stars

*LeBrain disagrees.  I like both songs, but “Chinatown” trumps “You and Your Blues”!

**LeBrain agrees.  I don’t know why that wasn’t done.

For LeBrain’s review, click here!

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#375: VH Predictions FAIL!

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#375: VH Predictions FAIL!

I like to think I’m such a know-it-all. Higher-than-thou, my musical knowledge trumps yours, etc. However when I’m wrong (it happens frequently), sometimes I’m colossally wrong.  Below is an example of me being completely, 100% totally wrong.  Although I’m glad I was.  When the Van Halen reunion with David Lee Roth was announced, I believed it would not last long.  I took the time to write out this list below.  With the live album coming, and the hot rumours of another tour, this is a great time to showcase one of my most colossal failures as a clairvoyant.

VH

Date: 2007/02/08 07:10

TOP TEN REASONS WHY THE =VH= VAN HALEN REUNION TOUR WILL GO DOWN IN FLAMES

10. Wolfgang Van Halen on bass means that there are three Van Halens in the band vs. one Lee Roth. David will feel outnumbered at every turn.

9. Wolfgang Van Halen, a 15 year old kid, is an untested property. Will it sound like the same band without the very recognizable Michael Anthony on bass?

8. No new songs, no new album, just another greatest hits (the third and most obvious rip off for your money). [NOTE: at the time Van Halen were planning to release a “best of DLR-era” CD, which was thankfully cancelled.]

7. David Lee Roth’s voice has been utterly destroyed since about 1991.

6. Eddie Van Halen is but a shadow of the man he once was. A raging alcoholic surrounded by yes-men, his guitar playing hasn’t touched upon brilliance in almost a decade. Throw his 15 year old son into the alcoholic tour and you have recipe for disaster.

5. Roth and the VH brothers haven’t gotten along in decades. The fact that the brothers recently attempted–and failed at–a reunion with Sammy Hagar before this indicates that this is a last-ditch effort to save the band. Not exactly the kind of motive to make a reunion happen.

4. Roth will say and do what he wants, much to the chagrin of the ultra-controlling VH brothers.

3. Alex VH’s spinal problems, while not heavily discussed, are probably only getting worse with time.

2. 40 dates isn’t much of a tour for a band of this stature.

1. Classic VH = Edward Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, David Lee Roth, and Michael Anthony. Without Anthony, this is not classic Van Halen. This is in effect the fourth version of the band. VH-IV, if you like. That isn’t what I wanted to see on tour this summer.

I am glad to be have been proven wrong on this one. Van Halen has defied the odds and my predictions. I couldn’t be happier about it.