Concert Review- Van Halen Xcel Center St. Paul 5-19-2012 [VIDEO]
One of the most highly anticipated tours of the decade rolled into Minnesota this past Saturday night (5/19/12) as Van Halen brought their Different Kind of Truth Tour to the Xcel Center in St. Paul.
When the concert was announced with the unlikely opener of Kool And The Gang, many of us were shaking our heads at the choice, but as it turns out they got the crowd pumped and mobile during their hour and 15 minute set. They played virtually non-stop, stringing every one of their hits together into one seamless show. They opened with Fresh, jammed Too Hot, Emergency, Misled, Jungle Boogie, Hollywood Swingin', Ladies Night and Get Down On It in the middle and ended, (of course) with Celebrate. All well done and certainly, as the crowd proved, singable.
In short: The Van Halen Family (Eddie, Alex and Eddie's son Wolfgang) was tight, spot on and are definitely not missing their departed band-mate Michael Anthony. However, David Lee Roth was mediocre at best.
Known for his diva-like antics both onstage and off, DLR was obviously the musical weak link in the chain. His vocals were weak, most notably on two of the four songs they played from the 1984 release. With a recorded keyboard track playing underneath, I'll Wait and Jump (their encore - see the video here) were excruciatingly disappointing. Roth's vocals were far from the original soaring notes that grace the syth-thick track of I'll Wait, and, like just about every song they played the entire night, Roth took ample vocal liberties on the cadence, melody and rhythm with Jump. Worse yet, several months into the tour, they still seem to struggle keeping perfect time with the keyboard loop. Roth even looked as if he would rather be somewhere else while signing the two songs.
During You Really Got Me, it seemed as if Roth wanted Wolfgang to sing the whole song, which at one point he almost did.
Roth did have some saving grace moments, though. And The Cradle Will Rock was tight and fist-pump worthy. Roth played vocally with Alex's thunderous drum opening of Everybody Wants Some, and even though sketchy at the beginning, DLR eventually led them through the tune with ease. The new songs seemed like old hat to the band as they seamlessly slid into Tattoo, She's The Woman, China Town and The Trouble With Never (which, by the way got the loudest applause of the new songs.)
Diamond Dave also carried Hot For Teacher and Panama to epic heights. His wit shined through with some opening banter on Hot, explaining he was, "Mr Roth and I will be the substitute teacher for the remainder of the concert." Panama was the real deal as well, with Roth sneakily giving up the chorus to the crowd.
Eddie, on the positive side, was at his shining best, Saturday night. From the explosive opener Unchained, which put the crowd into a frenzy immediately, to smiling non-stop and completely in the moment during his singular solo performance as he strung together Eruption, Cathedral, a hint of Spanish Fly. I may have heard a glimmer of Little Guitars as well, but I'm not sure. Just about every note you expected to hear in each song's solos were there, with just enough improv to make you know he wasn't in any hurry to stop playing.
Wolfgang, despite being the newest member of the group, performed like an old pro ( I mean let's admit that he does have some genetic disposition to that anyway). Keeping a watchful eye on his father and uncle to be sure he was at the right place at the right time during their improv strolls. It's easy to see why Anthony may have left, as much of the attention is focused on Eddie, with Roth doing his best to distract you with on-stage antics while Eddie solos. His back-up vocals were reminiscent of Anthony's and his voice seemed to over-power his father's at times.
Alex's performance was the perfect backbone they needed to keep things moving along. What impressed me, was that the songs were not over-driven and picked up by a beat or so, as many bands will do live. The songs had the feel of the album, with enough looseness in his beats to give the other players and himself, some room to move.
The attitude of the band seemed friendly enough, even during a potentially disastrous moment when Eddie accidentally bashed Dave with the microphone on a windmill upswing. They both shot each other a humorous glance, with an unspoken apology exchanged between the two of them. There was absolutely no hint of any strife or animosity during the show. Smiles and hugs were exchanged several times between Wolfie, Eddie and Dave. Even the playful dialogue between Alex and Dave during Everybody Wants Some seemed genuine and spur of the moment.
Their recent announcement of 30+ dates being postponed came as a warning bell to those who have followed the long tumultuous history of the band. However, they went on their webpage the night before the show, explaining that they were going to take a short break after the June dates, and extend the tour with some additional dates at the end. The stamina of the band is visibly diminished, and with Eddie's recent recovery from cancer it's not surprising that they may have misjudged the energy they have available for the length of the tour.
Overall, the concert was satisfying musically, but with Roth's frequent forays into off-beat and off-cue vocals, it seemed to beg for a tighter rein on DLR and his performance. I wouldn't say he was just mailing it in, but I would say he wasn't 'in the moment' as much as the VH Family proper was. It's entirely possible Dave just doesn't have the voice to reach his previous singing style... or that he's blown out his vocal chords and done some permanent damage while away from the band for so long.
IF they stay together, and do another album... then embark out on another ambitious tour, I'll still go to see them again, with hopes of a more polished Roth performance and an as good tightness from the rest.
I've dropped a few videos of the performances from Saturday night's show below, and you can judge for yourself if my impressions were true. We've also added a photo gallery here.