Wolfgang Van Halen

#733: Joy In Blue

GETTING MORE TALE #733: Joy In Blue

I was never going to be a rock star.  I knew that.  I couldn’t play a song all the way through.  A fella could dream, though.  I carefully plotted out my super-stardom.

First I needed a name for a band.  In highschool, my best friend Bob wanted to call our band Paragon.  “Not Paradox,” he stressed, “but Paragon.  It means we’re among the best.”  We used Paragon as the name for our non-extistant band until Bob graduated highschool, at which time a real band used the name.  When Bob and I went our separate ways (he sold his guitar), I settled on the name Godspeed.  I wasn’t interested in doing anything “wimpy” and I wanted a name that got that across.

However, once again a real band took the name I wanted for my fake band.  I needed to get more original, instead of just picking a word I liked.  I came up with Joy in Blue.  I liked the name because it summed up what I wanted to do with music.  Listening to music is a joyful experience, but you can still get dark when expressing those inner emotions.  Hence, Joy in Blue.  I still like it.

I drew up some logos.  Not the best ones ever, but I wanted something a kid could easily draw in a binder.  Like Kiss.  I even wrote some music!  In 1994 I poured everything I had into a song called “Midnight”.  It was roughly 20 minutes long.  I had some parts recorded.  The rest of it, I was unable to play — all I could do was hum it!  It was meant as a Rush-like epic in eight parts.  The truth is, it was easier to mash my ideas together into an eight part song than to try and write eight complete songs.

The problem with Joy in Blue was that there was nobody capable of playing the music I was hearing, a minor inconvenience.  I had bigger things to plan.  Album titles, projected year of releases — I plotted out the next 30 years of Joy in Blue.  It was going to start with our demo tape, which would get a commercial CD release.  Then three studio albums and a live record.  Finally after the live record, I laid it all on the line:  a double concept album!  To appease the “old” fans, a few records later we’d go back to basics.  I called that LP Back to the Garage, and it was to be done with the same spirit as the first demo.  I knew when I wanted our box set to come out, and my solo album Sweat.

Jesus Christ…a solo album….

Think that’s all crazy?  I even wrote out who I wanted to produce each album.  For our early material, I wanted David Bendeth.  I really liked the heavy groove he got on the Sven Gali album.  I wanted to see if we could get Bob Ezrin for the concept album, and self-produce the Garage album ourselves.  As we got into the tail end of our career, I realized Wolfgang Van Halen would be old enough to produce records.  Therefore I pencilled in Wolfie for our last three or four albums.  I also knew that I wanted us to do a proper farewell, not drag things out forever.  Final albums, box sets and live recordings were planned.

All of this without being able to play more than two minutes of a song.  It would have been glorious though, had I been able to figure out the music part!

 

Early Joy in Blue circa 1991 – absolutely awful.

 

 

 

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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.

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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

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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!

TOKYO DOME_0002

#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.

REVIEW: Van Halen – For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991)

VAN HALEN – For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991 Warner Bros.)

What a frustrating experience this album was for me.  This was supposed “the one”; the album that would please the DLR fans and finally unite Van Halen fandom.  Heavier with only one ballad, For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge was to be a statement.  Edward Van Halen had said that neither 5150 nor OU812 were ever properly finished to his liking.  In both cases, the band were under pressure to get out there and tour (OU812 because of the 1988 Monsters of Rock).  F.U.C.K. was to be the album that he finally got to spend time on and properly finish.  It was also Eddie’s first album using his new Ernie Ball guitars.   I expected my brain to be blown.

And it was, or it was by the first single at least.  “Poundcake” lived up to the promise.  Sure, lyrically it was…well, pretty stoopid, but musically?  Van Halen had some balls back!  This motherfucker grooves like a slow train.  As far as guitar tricks went, Eddie went all out with harmonics, taps, and…drills?  The shimmery guitars were subtly different from Eddie’s classic “brown sound”, but a guitar sound is an ever-evolving quest.  On this song, his rhythm guitar tones recall his friend, Brian May.  With “Poundcake” as a first single, I couldn’t wait to hear the whole album.

MuchMusic came close to banning this video

I was given the CD (same copy I still have) on my birthday in ’91, by childhood friend Bob.  I still remember popping the CD in for the first time that afternoon.  Then a few days later it was given to me again (this time on cassette) by my Aunt and Uncle!

Momentum is maintained on the second track, “Judgement Day”, heavier than the first.  The riff is anchored by a whammy bar trick, and it’s tasty.  I cannot find fault with “Judgement Day”.  This is what I wanted and hoped for from the new Van Halen album.  The groove is still there, Alex and Mikey gelling in a relentless way.  Sonically, both guys are recorded better than ever.  The bass and drums on For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge are really something to behold.

Then, things slide.  The awful “Spanked” is the worst song on the album, and possible contender for worst Van Hagar song yet.  “All you bad bad boys, call her up on the spank line,” sings Sammy with a straight face.  The sad thing is, the song would have been a fine instrumental, or basis for something with David Lee Roth.  Sammy ruins it with shitty lyrics and a shitty melody.  Too bad.  “Runaround” is a good song on first and second listen, but you tire of it quickly.  It’s bland, as is much of F.U.C.K.  The problem with “going heavy” for an album is the risk of losing diversity and texture.

The 7-minute “Pleasure Dome” can barely be called a song.  Organized chaos with some lead vocals, yes.  But it’s barely a song.  There are moments of brilliance contained within (the drums in particular) but it’s not particularly worthy.  And this was the side closer.

VHFCK_0002

As crappy as “Spanked” is, “In ‘N’ Out” is virtually a carbon copy.  It has some sparkling guitars to go with it, but like “Spanked”, the song sucks.  I can’t believe somebody didn’t say, “Guys, let’s cut the album down to 9 tracks like we used to do, and leave those two for B-sides”.   “Man On a Mission” isn’t much improved.  Just dull rock with dumb lyrics.  Totally uninspired.  It’s just four guys playing music without much direction other than, “turn it up!”

Things change up a little bit on “The Dream is Over”.  This also-ran isn’t a bad tune, though nowhere near single quality for Van Halen.  It’s at least a step in the right direction.  It feels as if the album was in a slumber, and it has now woken up — the title is apt.  And thankfully Sammy isn’t singing about girl parts for a change.

Van Halen didn’t consider “Right Now” to be a ballad, but it’s the only song with a keyboard.  It’s a welcome oasis in the desert of monotonous rock.  It’s a great song.  I don’t think anyone can say that it hasn’t been played to death, so I don’t need to comment further.  MTV awards, Pepsi, blah blah blah.

Nice suit.

“316” (named for Wolfy’s birthday 3/16/1991) is an acoustic guitar part that Eddie had been playing live for years.  Later, Eddie used to play this piece for Wolfgang while still in the womb.  But it’s just a brief 90 second instrumental, a segue into “Top of the World”, also a single.  It took a while for me to recognize the riff.  In fact, I didn’t pick up on it until I heard this song following “Jump” on the album LIVE: Right here, right now.   Only then did I realize:  it’s based on the outro riff from “Jump”!  So they re-used that oft-forgotten riff and built a new song around it.  It’s a good song, very pop rock, but a suitable album closer.

As high as this album charted (US #1), I’m convinced For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge is one of the albums responsible for the death of hard rock in 1991.  Sure, a lot of people bought it.  But a lot of people also didn’t like it very much.  Maybe they were getting tired of the schtick, but I do know I found it really hard to proudly blast this album out of the car.

2.8/5 stars

VAN HALEN rocks SOUTH PARK

This week’s episode of South Park  “Ginger Cow”

VAN SOUTH HALEN PARK

REVIEW: Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth

Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth (2012)

I’ve read every word printed between the year 2000 and now that was available about the new Van Halen album with DLR. I’ve been waiting patiently. The band tried once a decade ago and never got off the launch pad. Then Sammy came back. Then Sammy left. Then Mike was fired, and Wolfie was in.

And lemme tell you folks, Wolfie can PLAY. No offense to Mikey, the original, but Wolfie plays circles around him. And not only that, his chemistry with his dad (and uncle too) is infectious. Never before have you heard syncopated unison bass and guitar runs on a Van Halen album, not like this.

The star of the show is Edward Van Halen. I wanted to hear an album that made me say “Holy shit, how the hell did he do that?” And that’s what I said when I first heard “China Town” a couple weeks before the album came out.

The whole album is like that. Eddie is riffing, flying into a quick lick that sounds impossible, then back to the riff. Just like the old days. The album is largely (but not completely) based on unused Van Halen songs from the early 70’s and 80’s such as “Down In Flames” and “Ripley”. Now dubbed with new lyrics and titles (all but the smokin’ “She’s The Woman”), the band has sewn new life into these amazing tracks. With Wolfie’s pulsing bass, Ed’s impossible guitar, and Alex driving the whole thing, this who record smokes. Not one weak track.

Well, I know a lot of people didn’t like “Tattoo”. But fear not. New single it may be, but it’s far from the best track on this album. My faves include: “She’s The Woman”, “China Town”, “As Is”, and “Big River”. Still there are no songs that I would skip.

And Dave’s lyrics? Just as clever and cheaky as ever. While Dave waxes poetic on many songs, don’t expect him to suddenly want to deliver a message. Any messages about the state of the union (political or VH) have no place on A Different Kind Of Truth.

The acoustic DVD sucks, but Dave’s handwitten lyrics and drawings are awesome.

5/5 stars, ain’t talkin’ bout anything less