Andrew McKeag (L) and Ben London, photo by Jenny Jimenez
David Lee Roth has a fantastic tailor. And I’m pretty sure those amps went to 11.
The initial thing that grabbed me was the gold embroidered suit coat that he strutted out on stage in during “You Really Got Me”, the Kinks cover that Van Halen has owned like their own since their inception in 1978. David Lee Roth was dressed in a tastefully embellished and precisely tucked jacket that exuded all the factors that made him one of the most flamboyant, ballsy, and wildly charismatic frontmen in rock ‘n’ roll history.
There’s no way in hell to retroactively capture what made VH a monster metal act back in the day, and really, there’s no dignified reason to try. What Diamond Dave conveyed on stage at Key Arena for two hours on Monday night was simply a joyous and affectionate nod to their debauched, decadent, and gold record-strewn past.
More, plus photos by Chad-I-paid-$150-for-these-seats-Queirolo after the jump.
I spent the hours prior to the show at Bandit, a wild-west themed bar on Denny Way suggested by Ben London, Executive Director of the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Recording Academy. Despite that exhaustive title, London is a succinct and practical fellow. He sent out an email to myself, Tractor booking agent/Presidents guitarist Andrew McKeag, Long Winters leader John Roderick, and Sonic Boom co-owner Nabil Ayers that read, “We can't possibly go see Van Halen on Monday without having a little pre-party. Since we are all too wise (old) to drink a stolen bottle of Jack in the parking lot, I suggest we meet at Bandit.”
And so we did, joined by a gleeful crew of veteran musicians, including Kurt Bloch and former Pavement guitarist/Preston School of Industry frontman Scott Kannberg, and the decidedly younger Lonely H vocalist Mark Fredson. The conversation covered much nostalgic ground, including McKeag’s whiskey-fortified Lynyard Skynyard experience, Bloch’s multiple VH shows, and our collective time spent standing in line to buy tickets for the Scorpions.
This retrospective preamble was ideal for what greeted us when we entered the arena, albeit tainted by the unpleasant reality that beer drinking was forbidden during the show. From the grinding euphoria of “Atomic Punk” to the ideal lyrical references in “Hot For Teacher” (“I heard you missed us, we’re baaaaack!”), everyone was on their feet. Wolfgang Van Halen was as awkward as could be expected from an adolescent thrust into a classic rock spotlight, wearing a Van Halen logo shirt and stretching vocally to replicate Michael Anthony’s signature backing vocals. He was also obviously thrilled to be sharing the stage with his family, and the heartwarming factor in that could not be denied. David Lee Roth was the only one making costume changes (Eddie and Alex made due with their trademark white cargo pants and headband, respectively) and he was also busy as the obvious galvanizing force behind all the smiles. Without DLR, it’s safe to say 99 percent of the ticket holders wouldn’t have been there.
He was also responsible for the show’s most touching and nearly artful moment. Prior to “Ice Cream Man”, he shared a vivid yarn about hanging with a buddy who owned an ice cream truck and lived over his parents’ garage, a stoner haven outfitted with black walls, a black light, dartboard, and a Jimi Henderix velvet poster. Describing the pinpricks of light that formed when their darts perpetually missed their mark, he said they felt like they were flying “in the Starship Enterprise” and confessed that the girl he would spend the next three years with made her impression on him in that room by mocking his masculinity. It was sweeter than it sounds.
For his part, Eddie Van Halen more than held his own (unlike his brother Alex, who suffered from some bizarre and distracting tempo fluctuations). Though he’s guilty of setting a tedious precedent for noodlers nationwide, his suitably showboating solo reminded everyone of why that self-taught guitarist should honestly be viewed as a national treasure. Say what you will about his laughably limp keyboard lines on “Jump”, the guy created a guitar sound that no one else has even come close to replicating.
By the time the confetti cannons showered the crowd, and Dave strutted around the stage perimeter like the ageless gigolo he is, the verdict was obviously in: Van Halen never was talking about love, but their passionate delivery was remains worthy of ours.
Note: Yes, that's Diamond Dave toting an inflatable mic around the stage. Srsly.