Van Halen’s Vancouver show reveals its glory days are fading fast

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photo by rebecca blissett

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, MAY 8, 2012

Some rock bands from the ’70s can still bring the dynamite in both hands. The last time I saw Aerosmith—at Rogers Arena in 2010—they overcame rumours of a pending breakup by delivering a flawless, electrifying set. And two years before that, AC/DC roared through the same building with a stunning ferocity you just don’t expect from 57-year-olds in short pants.

But Van Halen has not aged nearly as well as Aerosmith or AC/DC. As we discovered at Rogers Arena last night, the band is on its last legs as far as live performance goes, and those legs are unfortunately attached to the swivel-challenged hips of one David Lee Roth.

Diamond Dave doesn’t get around much anymore, but that’s okay because they’ve set up a little wooden floor at the centre of the stage for him to shimmy and slide around on while he makes the most of fidgeting with a long scarf that doubles as a sweat rag. That’s okay by me; I realize that he’s outgrown those flying scissorkicks he used to pull off in ’84, and I could care less whether he runs around the stage or not. But I was really hoping that with all that standing around, he’d be able to focus on his singing and deliver some decent vocals. Sadly, that hardly ever happened.

Thank God for Eddie Van Halen. If it weren’t for his shit-hot fretwork, the concert would have been an unmitigated disaster. But on rowdy VH classics like the opener “Unchained” and the set-closing “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love”, the guitarist brought enough ballsy fire to distract you from the subpar singing. His extended solo—which incorporated bits of the instrumentals “Eruption” and “Cathedral”—no doubt made the guitar freaks in attendance yearn for that solo album he’s been teasing them with forever.

As expected, the rhythm section of drummer Alex Van Halen (Eddie’s older brother) and bassist Wolfgang Van Halen (Eddie’s 21-year-old son) laid down a steady foundation for the guitar legend to soar over, except on the encore, “Jump”, which sounded surprisingly out of sync.

There wasn’t much to complain about as far as the set list went, although a couple more tracks from the band’s impressive new album, A Different Kind of Truth, would have been nice. And the mediocre “Women in Love” should have been replaced with the intense “Little Dreamer”, which was a highlight the last time the band played here, in December 2007.

For that show, the staging was very basic, but this time around it was even more so. You had Eddie’s batch of amps at one end of the stage and Wolfie’s at the other, with Alex’s drums in the middle, behind Roth’s little shindig setup. Apart from a few sets of stairs and one enormous video screen, that was it for bells and whistles. Maybe the band is on a less-is-more kick. Or maybe the Van Halens don’t want to be stuck with truckloads of gear, in case you-know-who stops moving altogether.

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