Saturday, May 02, 2009

Van Halen: Coda

So, my apologies to those of you who had no interest in following me along on this journey. I understand that it took up a lot of time and space, and probably was neither well-written enough or balanced enough to be fully worth the effort of reading as a non-fan.

But I feel much more comfortable in my opinions, at least in how they apply to me and my enjoyment.

What's interesting, and slightly frustrating, to me, is that most of the arguments raised by Sammy fans don't seem to hold true. Does Sammy have a better voice than Dave? Quite likely so, but the bizarre choice was made continually to keep him from utilizing it. Did having another capable guitar player free Eddie up to be more experimental in his guitar or keyboard playing? Almost never. The Dave-era songs sound much freer and more exciting to me as a fan of listening to musicians play.

Even at their best, there's a soul-crushing sameness to everything Van Halen did in that era, that's not there during any of their periods with Dave, including his brief two-song return for Best of Van Halen, Volume 1.

There's a moment in the song "Could This Be Magic?" where Dave finishes the chorus and casually says, "Edward", and Eddie begins his sweet little old-timey solo and Dave simply says, "Thank you." It's no big deal. It's clearly affected to create a certain feel, but it does it, and it's a moment I can't picture either Sammy or Gary being inspired to do.

That's what I fell in love with a lifetime ago, and what listening to as an adult I only find a deeper pleasure in listening to.

Here, just for my own amusement, are my suggestions for songs the band should add to their set on their next tour. The last tour was a reunion and got to be a celebration of what the audience and the band loved about what they had been. The story goes that new bassist Wolfgang Van Halen was chiefly responsible for that set list, and from what I've seen around online, it appears excellent.

We'll assume, and I'll certainly hope, that a future tour will follow an album and hopefully a damn fine one. It shouldn't be about the past, it's about the present. It should say what these four musicians are capable of as musical creators.

"Voodoo Queen" - I didn't review this one. This was never put on an official release. The riff and core melody was rewritten into "Mean Street", which is a terrific song and certainly more familiar. But there's something so much rawer about these lyrics and this arrangement that would make it an excellent live choice. The video here is actually the demo of "Voodoo Queen" laid over a video of the band playing "Mean Street", explaining the occasional (but rare) musical discontinuity and continual issue with lip sync.

"Take Your Whiskey Home" - Frankly, I'm going to suggest this as much for the same reason many people might suggest avoiding it. It is a song about alcoholism, and Eddie has rather famously struggled with this issue, even missing the band's induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame because he was in rehab. Now, I see that a casual reading shows it as a mocking of the wife who says the narrator is "Headed for a whole lot of trouble" if he takes his whiskey home. But lines like "it takes me at least halfway to the label 'fore I can even make it through the night." show a genuine darkness that I think would be an honest inclusion.

"Could This Be Magic?" - I see that this has never been played regularly and possibly never played live at all. It's certainly a solid little number for a band that does more than simply play hard rock.

"Sinner's Swing!" - This seems to have been neglected since 1981. To me, it sounds like a show opener. It would put me in the mood for an evening of rockin'! "Get, get, get, get, get out and push!"

"Push Comes to Shove" - Another they may never have played live. It's certainly groovy and not a party time rocker. I think taking a break into that would be both a reminder and a statement that Van Halen is a grown-up band and a band of musicians, and has been capable of it for a very long time.

"Little Guitars" - They've played on every tour with Dave since 1982? Good. They fucking well ought to! Keep up the good work, fellas.

"The Full Bug" - This was on the 1982-83 set list, but seems not to have returned. I can't imagine why not. The cool blues opening is a terrific opportunity for Dave-schtick. The song is a glorious bit of rockin' innuendo flinging that cries out for live performance.

"Top Jimmy" - My favorite Van Halen song, as I said before, everything I love most about them, and yet apparently not played regularly - or at all? - on any tour. I'm absolutely certain I would literally weep tears of joy to hear this played live.

"Drop Dead Legs" - Another that seems to have never been played regularly, and yet seems a sensational choice for a live song with smarmy blues riff, percussive rhythm and nasty lyrics. It may not be their best tune, but it would rock in concert. This video plays some footage of the band playing the backing for it during a soundcheck before a show on their 2004 show with Sammy... Tell you what, that sounds like something that should show up every night to me.

"Me Wise Magic" - I gave this one a tepidly good review before, but it does continue to grow on me. I suspect it could be a sore spot for everyone involved, since I'm not sure anyone involved was entirely on their best behavior here. The fact that Van Halen, the band, had selected another singer, Mitch Malloy, with whom they never released material nor toured, and Dave really was a jackass at the interview they did after the MTV Music Awards. However, it does also show a potential and style that isn't on any of their older material. I think they should claim it as a kind of bridge.

Sammy material? This is a sticky spot. Getting Sammy to throw in a couple of classics or Gary to sing from their whole career remains different. They were usurpers. Sammy assuredly was and his choices to perform occasional Dave-era songs never feels like anything more than throwing a bone rather than maintaining continuity. Gary was sixteen when Van Halen was released and was never anywhere near their level of success, so he most likely felt glad to just be there and have the opportunity.

Dave is back home, and while the rest of the band may believe in some kind of continuity, it seems unlikely he does, even at his most charitable. That said, I suspect "Finish What Ya Started" or "Up For Breakfast" could be arranged to work, were he to be convinced to feel so inclined. I think, even if Dave could be convinced, hits like "Dreams" and "Right Now" could depend on the possibility of Wolfgang having the vocal chops, as I can't hear any Dave to them, despite the fact that I actually think Dave have a broader and more interesting range than he's usually given credit for... or perhaps even than he usually gives himself credit for actually.

"One I Want" - I'd actually really like to hear this. I think Dave's style, being a little more sly than Gary's, could sell these lyrics, and this song really is slick.

"Dirty Water Dog" - Again, totally evokes what a modern Dave-era might have been like, and I suspect Dave's vocal charms could take this where it was intended to be in the first place.

I don't doubt that Cherone was originally a Dave-era fan rather than a Sammy-era fan contributes to the fact that he has these two that could easily slip in.

"How Many Say I" - I apologize that the video below has such poor sound quality. I know its not the first with poor sound quality, but it's the first that I think it really hurts one's ability to appreciate what I'm communicating in showing them. I think this is the perfect choice to show some continuity. It gives Eddie a chance to take the spotlight and only requires Dave to take an extra long break for a costume change. Again, I think the next tour should show the band as diverse and present rather than simply a hit machine from the '70s and '80s. I think this would be brilliant.

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