Van Halen Delivers Big Nostalgia on a Small Stage (1-5-12)
35+ Years Later and Still Rocking!
Van Halen Delivers Big Nostalgia on a Small Stage
By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.
January 6, 2012
When the band Van Halen played in a cramped basement club in Greenwich Village on Thursday, a couple dozen fans clustered around the back door, listening to the slightly muffled strains of hard-rock songs like “Panama” and “Hot for Teacher” like children eavesdropping on an adult conversation in the next room.
One of them, George D’Anna, 50, had a plastic shopping bag containing a program from one of the band’s early tours in the late 1970s and several Van Halen albums — the old-fashioned kind, on vinyl. On the paper sleeve covering “Women and Children First” he had written all the Van Halen concerts he had attended as a young man when he first got hooked on the group, beginning with a show at a Manhattan nightclub in May 1979.
Eddie Van Halen’s dazzling guitar solos bewitched him — the superfast runs, bell-tone harmonics and almost animal-like sounds.
“I snuck in with a friend to see them at the Palladium,” Mr. D’Anna recalled. “They were different than any band. Eddie’s guitar was different.”
There was no way to sneak in to see Van Halen on Thursday. Metal barriers had been set up around the front door of Cafe Wha? on Macdougal Street, and a team of bouncers and promoters was checking the driver’s license of everyone in line to make sure they were on a carefully selected list of guests. Several police officers had been assigned by the local precinct to control whatever crowds developed.
The guest list included seemingly every music writer in the city; scores of people from the music industry with miscellaneous friends in tow; and a handful of celebrities, among them Jimmy Fallon and John McEnroe.
Van Halen is a heavy-metal quartet that can still fill arenas and stadiums with ease. Ostensibly the reason the band did a concert in a club that holds perhaps 250 was to announce a new tour of 45 cities and to promote the release of a fresh studio album in February, the first they have recorded with the band’s original frontman, David Lee Roth, since 1984.
Although Mr. Roth’s rambling monologues onstage Thursday covered many topics, including Lady Gaga and his working as a medic in the Bronx in recent years, he never actually made the announcement about the tour. Instead it was posted on the band’s Web site.
The new album, “A Different Kind of Truth,” will be released on Feb. 7 by Interscope Records, and the tour begins in Louisville, Ky., the following week. Van Halen will play Madison Square Garden on Feb. 28 and March 1.
But Mr. Roth did expound on his motive for wanting to rock out at Cafe Wha?, a club where many famous rockers and folk musicians, including Bob Dylan, played in the 1960s and ’70s. His uncle Manny Roth, 92, owned the club in the 1960s and laid the marble floor himself.
After the band had delivered a tight and joyous rendition of “Hot for Teacher,” David Lee Roth recounted how he had been brought to the club when he was only 7 and saw his uncle appeal to the audience to help a young folk singer then known as Bobby Zimmerman find a place to stay. Manny Roth beamed at his nephew from a booth near the stage.
“This is a temple,” David Lee Roth said. “This is a very special place, and I am more nervous about this gig than I would ever be at the Garden. There is no hiding up here. There are no fake vocals. There is no fake anything.”
There was some truth to those words. Removed from their stadium-size pedestal and placed on the foot-high stage, Van Halen seemed to be reduced to its elements: the blues-rock power trio; the unwavering drum lines of Alex Van Halen, Eddie’s brother; the soaring virtuosity of Eddie Van Halen’s guitar work; and Mr. Roth’s endearing and gutsy vocals. (The band’s former bass player, Michael Anthony, has been replaced in this incarnation of the band by Wolfgang Van Halen, Eddie’s son.)
And what they did pleased many in the crowd. That was no small feat, since their die-hard fans were outside in the cold, and some of the most discerning critics in the music business were listening.
Van Halen started with a roaring version of “You Really Got Me,” the Kinks cover that was one of Van Halen’s early successes, then played with gusto through several of their biggest hits: “Dance the Night Away,” “Panama,” “Hot for Teacher” and “Jump.” They also unveiled a previously unreleased song, “She’s the Woman,” that is on the recently recorded album but that dates back to the late ’70s.
For some in the audience the songs triggered a nostalgic response. Jonathan Cohen, who books bands for “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” could not stop dancing and singing along with the lyrics. He said that “1984” was the first album he bought for himself and he recalled leaving the dinner table early to watch the debut of the video for “Hot for Teacher” on television.
“It was the first time rock ‘n’ roll was really connecting with me in a major way,” he said. “There really aren’t new bands that sound like this.”
Seated nearby, Kirk Douglas, the guitarist with the hip-hop and neo-soul group the Roots, said he felt overcome with emotion during the set. Eddie Van Halen had been one of his guitar idols when he was learning to play, he said.
“I can’t believe I just saw that,” he added. “He got me started on guitar. The way he made it sound like an organ.”
Outside, some fans grumbled that it would have been nice if the band had done a second date in the club and let hoi polloi buy tickets. “Even a lottery would have been better than this,” said one fan, who gave his name only as Tony.
Others said they had called everyone they knew to get on the list, to no avail. Still, they lingered outside in the chill, hoping the band would let a few extra people in, then hung around the back door to hear what they could.
“That’s what we do,” said Kimberly Barnhill, 21, an aspiring singer. “We wait in the cold weather for our band.”
There were some consolations for the patient. As he left the club, David Lee Roth signed Mr. D’Anna’s copy of “Women and Children First” with a silver marker.
Mr. D’Anna had spotted Mr. Roth earlier in the evening and memorized the license number of his hired car, so he knew which one to stake out after the show.
“Always memorize the license plate,” he said, smiling as he showed off his prize autograph.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 6, 2012
An earlier version of this article misstated the title of one of the songs Van Halen played. It is not “Dancing the Night Away.”
Above article courtesy of NEW YORK TIMES
Van Halen hits the road in North America starting February with shows booked solid into Summer. For tour dates and a video clip from the NYC club gig, go check both out HERE