Review by John Jeffrey, Photos by Joe Saccomanno
Buffalo, NY - It's been just about 8 years since any version of Van Halen has played in Buffalo, NY. Before that, one would have to venture back another 20 years, back to 1984, when THE Van Halen played here, at the Memorial auditorium, which no longer exists. Also no longer in existence, is the original lineup of Van Halen. However, the current incarnation of the group cannot be any more 'Van Halen,' as the band now features two generations of the Van Halen family performing together. Since 2007, it's been Wolfgang Van Halen on bass (in place of original bassist Michael Anthony), playing with his father (Edward), uncle Alex and David Lee Roth. Not only has the youngest Van Halen's talents allowed the band to continue without missing a beat (once it was decided by the elder Van Halens that Michael Anthony was too chummy with former front man Sammy Hagar), but it's been widely reported that Wolfgang was highly instrumental in convincing dear 'ol dad to reconcile his differences with the one and only, 'Diamond Dave.' The reunion which many had cited would only occur when 'hell freezes over,' is now in it's second term, and out on tour in support of their new studio album, "A Different Kind of Truth."
Nine shows into the tour, "A Different Kind of Truth" made it's way to the sold out First Niagara Center in downtown Buffalo. It's been awhile since I've seen a capacity crowd for a "rock and roll" show at the arena, and so very fitting for the return of the mighty VH! The evening's entertainment began with the eyebrow raising opening act, Kool & the Gang. With members of the group announcing their local Buffalo and Lackawanna (NY) heritages, 'the Gang' tore through 10 of their greatest hits, and brought the house down with songs like"Jungle Boogie" and "Celebration." As the crowd was getting primed for the headlining heavy weights, I was surprised to see that Kool & the Gang had their fair share of diehard fans who were clearly there to "Get Down On It."
At about 8:50 pm, the time everyone had been waiting for had arrived. Alex, Eddie, Wolfie and Dave took the stage and blew the roof off, as the crowd went nuts once they started grinding out the beginning chords to "You Really Got Me." They simply owned the stage, which consisted of walls of guitar and bass amplifiers, a drum riser perched atop a four tier stair case, and a video screen - which Roth compared it to the size of a Drive-In movie theater screen. As mammoth as their new stage show is, it does seem a bit simplistic by comparison to the colossal setup they had during their 2007-2008 tour. Perhaps this time, the band wanted it to be more about the music than the stage spectacle. Well, music is exactly what they delivered. Two hours of just song after song, with most songs segueing right into the next. This all being done with next to zero stage banter. 22 songs in the classic Van Halen style, with a short but sweet drum solo by Alex, and a mesmerizing guitar solo by the legend (EVH) himself. Van Halen has succeeded where many of their peers have failed, in that they have been alternating their set list in order to keep things fresh. While keeping all of the hits, they have been rotating a handful of b-side deep cuts in and out of the set list. They've also been experimenting with the set order, sometimes swapping out the show opener, "You Really Got Me," with "Unchained."
Eddie is playing with a fire and passion which many say hasn't been seen since the "Van Halen III" era, in 1998. His guitar sound was just spot on, as it had the right amount of head crushing crunch, but was also very fluid, when so desired. I really feel a lot of it has to do with the material being played. The original VH era songs invoke a certain feeling and attitude, which was clearly absent during the Van Hagar years. Songs like "Romeo's Delight" and "Women In Love" showcase all of the great riffs and nuances, which define Eddie's signature style. The 'socially aware,' watered down version of the band never did it for me, and seeing the difference in Eddie's playing is night and day.
From the screaming applause after each song, it seemed VH could no wrong. However, I did hear some people complaining about Roth's vocal delivery. Although Dave admittedly had issues during the first few songs, due to the fan blowers blowing directly on the band (which resulted in Mr. Roth informing the crew of the problem over the PA, telling them to turn them off, as according to Dave, "It's blowing cold air on us, and it dries us out, which makes it really hard to sing, so wake the fuck up!"), some fans were critical that he didn't sing the songs like the original album versions. Either some people are suffering from 'selective amnesia,' as Dave always changed the way he sang the songs from the recorded version, or they're getting sucked into the 'new generation' of concert goers, where they expect everything to sound just like the CD. With all of the 'artists' these days who use backing tapes, samples or just straight up lip sync, I think the term "live" is being used much too loosely, I'd rather see/hear Dave sing, "I forgot the fucking words" than see some other singer stop singing, and hear the words keep coming.
As the confetti snowed down during the final song ("Jump"), David Lee Roth brought out a giant racing flag, letting us know we were about to cross the finish line. While the race may be over, Van Halen proved that there's a lot more left in the tank. Long live VH!!!!
Special Thanks to Tracey from First Niagara Center for allowing RockMusicStar to be one of the sanctioned media outlets to photograph the show.
You Really Got Me
Runnin' With the Devil
She's The Woman
Everybody Wants Some
Somebody Get Me A Doctor
Hear About It Later
Oh, Pretty Woman
The Trouble with Never
Dance The Night Away
Hot For Teacher
Women In Love
Girl Gone Bad
Ice Cream Man
Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love