Tokyo Dome In Concert

Van Halen

RWTD, 2015

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Sometimes, in music reviews, we like to start by giving a history of the band, or its discography, or perhaps wax poetic about a personal experience or story. And then sometimes, you just cannot bury the lede, and this is one of those times.

This is the only official live Van Halen release with David Lee Roth on vocals.

*sips coffee and waits*

See, while I was having my coffee, you were forming an opinion based on that above sentence. Being a Van Halen fan inspires that sort of snap decision. Either you want to rush out and get this (or at least listen to it) or you prefer Van Hagar and are happy with Right Here, Right Now. If you fall into that latter camp, then you need not read further, because there isn’t a trace of anything Van Halen recorded with Sammy on this double-disc set.

What it is, then, is two discs of the 2013 incarnation of Van Halen playing pretty much all of their hits, top album tracks, some forgotten album cuts, and three songs from 2012’s reunion disc A Different Kind Of Truth. That means that David Lee Roth is back out front, Wolfgang Van Halen is on bass and singing backup vocals (attempting to fill Michael Anthony’s shoes), Wolfgang’s crazy uncle Alex is on drums, and his crazy dad Eddie is on guitar.

Actually, Eddie is unquestionably the star here, peeling off classic riff after technically demanding solo without missing a step; this had to demand the energy of a much younger man, but you can’t tell by listening any difference. Alex’s drumming also is pushed up front in the mix, driving the songs in a way that he stopped doing when Sammy Hagar came on board, and he sounds as revitalized as his brother. Wolfgang, meanwhile, is a bit showier than Anthony but still capable of holding down anchor.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

That leaves the frontman, and Roth’s return is both a blessing and a curse for fans. For most of the runtime, Diamond Dave is just fine. He is clearly having a good time, working the crowd, giving each song as much gusto as he can. Sure, he misses a few notes and yelps – that’s to be expected – and there are a few times where he’s struggling to keep up with the band and so lets either Wolfgang or the crowd handle the vocals. The Tokyo crowd seems to know and love each song and is happy to oblige.

No, the curse of Roth is that you get all that is David Lee Roth, which means irritating spoken word segments in the middle of the songs, a few dumbass jokes, clear instances of crowd baiting that the crowd doesn’t respond to (awkward!), and other self-satisfied bits of his shtick that have worn thin over the decades. You long for Eddie in these moments to whop Dave upside the head with Frankenstein and bust into “Hot For Teacher” or something, but they go fast and don’t kill the mood.

And what a mood! Other than “Jamie’s Cryin’,” no stone is left unturned from the classic six albums, with all the great party rockers like “And The Cradle Will Rock,” “Unchained,” “Runnin’ With The Devil,” “Panama,” “Ain’t’ Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” and “Beautiful Girls” racing by in a blur of fun. Even the album tracks are treated with the same kind of reverence, and no doubt longtime fans will love hearing the guys take on “Hear About It Later,” “Somebody Get Me A Doctor,” “Mean Street,” “I’m The One,” and “Romeo Delight.” Special note goes to the hyper-speed and supercharged “Hot For Teacher,” a different take on “Ice Cream Man,” and, of course, the closing joy of “Jump.”

Because his playing is already so monomaniacal, Eddie doesn’t take extended solos beyond what the song already calls for, so there are few times where he ends up showboating just for the sake of it. The lone exception is the eight-minute solo “Eruption/Cathedral,” the second-to-last song. Eddie just tears into the sucker with lightning speed, an avalanche of hammer-ons and taps and chops that truly feels earned as the penultimate track.

This live version of Van Halen was begging for a quality live release, and though one may wish it was from the original lineup’s days, if this is as close as we’ll get that’s hardly a bad thing. Really worth the time even if you’re a casual fan…and if you’re a Van Hagar fan, listen to it anyway and be converted.

Rating: A-

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