Van Halen's Reunion Tour Runs Aground on Reality

The young generation fetishizes realness in entertainment, and that's partly Van Halen's fault. The '80s were about mystery and wonder: How do people like Dee Snider or Madonna or the Beastie Boys spring up from nowhere in cone bras and clown makeup to pour beer out on people's heads? Mainstream pop was a circus of artifice, with ridiculous haircuts and fog-imbued videos, and fittingly in 1989 it came to a screeching halt when Milli Vanilli's attempt at fame revealed the singers themselves to be a lie.

The '90s flipped all that over and made abstracted pain cool. Pearl Jam had long hair like its hard rock forebears, but cared about issues like abortion and its concert-ticket prices being too high. Kurt Cobain railed against sexism and homophobia. There was still a rock star fantasy in play, but a socially conscious one, not unlike the '60s. But the term "selling out" rose to the surface in a weirdly paradoxical way. People who grew up on Kurt Cobain and gangsta rap demanded "realness" without contrivance, plaid over hairspray. "Reality" became a market of its own by decade's end, with The Truman Show's premonition of reality TV. Suddenly the most popular form of entertainment was showing "real situations," be it chefs competing for a high-paying job or Paris Hilton working on a farm. People escaped their own workday only to watch others face theirs. Fast forward a decade to Occupy Wall Street, and there's a culture-wide disdain for the "1 percent" to whom the economy was entrusted.

So this may not have been the best time for a reunion of Van Halen, a band infamous for excesses like making its roadies pick out all the brown M&Ms.

Eddie and the boys (including his son, Wolfgang) are back. But at a bad time?
Lina Lecaro
Eddie and the boys (including his son, Wolfgang) are back. But at a bad time?

"It beats workin' baby," sings David Lee Roth on his cryogenically frozen outfit's new album, A Different Kind of Truth — his first record with Van Halen in 28 years and the band's first with any singer in half that. He'd know, sort of, having attempted to fill Howard Stern's enormous terrestrial radio gap when Stern departed for Sirius satellite radio in 2005. But the line is dishonest. Roth's too angry for escapism, but too in-his-bubble for blue collar rage. By choosing to not throw a party (no "Dance the Night Away" or "Panama"; this time out, Van Halen went for guitarthenticity over hooks), they sound dutiful rather than energized.

Van Halen, though, has never worried about having to go back to work if its music doesn't please the fans. From the members' ridiculous personal disagreements to the fact this isn't even a real reunion — bassist Michael Anthony was the one guy who put up with everyone's shit from day one, but he was ousted in favor of Eddie's son Wolfgang — it's hard to understand the point of this. The new album's pretty good, but anyone who really cares will miss Anthony's harmonies and wonder what Roth's on about half the time. ("Heroes aren't born, they're cornered" is pretty awesome, but what does "She's the woman" or "stay frosty" even mean?) If there's such a thing as coasting on virtuosity, this band is doing it.

Few artists of the moment think it wise to present a detached fantasy. Lady Gaga wants to raise others up to her level, not stand over them, and she knows she's merely presenting theater. For all her industry hookups, Ke$ha brags about finishing your drinks after you leave the bar. Michael Jackson's specter hovers over the landscape as a cautionary tale, one that people are still hoping Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears heed. And the biggest musician in the world may be beautiful but is, by Hollywood or Karl Lagerfeld's standards, fat. Adele has much in common with the average woman as the average pop star.

It's Adele who kept Van Halen out of the No. 1 spot the week that A Different Kind of Truth was released. Would it have helped if Van Roth's widely disparaged comeback single, "Tattoo," was an actual hit on its own merits rather than the logo's? Probably. But then, could a band like Van Halen even have a hit now? The last "rock" acts to have No. 1 hits have been Gotye, fun., Owl City, and James Blunt. Glee and American Idol reach regular people with wallets, not the kind of music fans who will point out the lack of guitars on the pop charts and admire this comeback for providing an alternative to the Black Keys or Nickelback. In the tightfisted climate of 2012, Truth has yet to achieve gold sales, and despite recently postponing a ton of concert dates, the band's two Bay Area shows were hardly sold out at press time. Mere returns have a knack for diminishing.

Recent rock album chart-topper Jack White is the closest thing to a rock elder statesman making good right now, and he's not very elderly. He's also a lot less alienating to women than Van Halen and its guitar-god peers. For better or worse, "Hot for Teacher" this generation is not. It's hard enough to have fun with a band whose members have been so publicly hateful to each other. It sounds gross to hear those youthful laser guitars contrasted with old man-isms like "Honeybabysweetiedoll," which this multi-platinum band assumed were still universal. Sure, Van Halen's core audience might be culturally out of touch as well. But unlike the band, most of them still have to work for a living.

 
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rhonda
rhonda

They were a trainwreck last night at Hp pavilion....a waste of my money...a couple years ago they were awesome....not so last night!

Mark V H Warnick
Mark V H Warnick

I was at the show last night and VAN HALEN KICKED ASS! The people talking crap about em are obviously deaf and dumb!

Mrc4863
Mrc4863

Saw Van Halen in concert a couple of months ago. Sitting next to me was some guy with his 17-year old son. All I remember the kid saying was "why can't people from my generation make music like this?" Tell Dan Weiss to get off his high horse.

ArchitectureDancer
ArchitectureDancer

Holy goodness, this author is ignorant on so many levels it's amazing this even got published. Does anybody edit the paper anymore? Are Selvin or Vaziri even around? Several good points are made in previous comments about the M&Ms (get facts right, kid), Roth, the mere concept of impotently discussing non-musicians like Gaga and Milli Vanilli in the same graf as a guitarist *who changed the effing industry the moment he picked it up*, it's all worthless blather. I expect people to write with "the stuff I listened to when I first got laid is better than your music" woven in there, and the '60s and '80s crowds are as guilty of that as anybody, but get your facts and perspective straight. Hair metal, grunge, flower power, Glee-goers, and fake-rigged "talent/reality" shows all sold product for the same reasons: the kids bought it. "Regular people with wallets?" The author comes off as having no concept of what real work even is. Eddie *built* the guitar that generations of musicians copied after, including the stuff that you feel is reaching those "real people with wallets." Journalism Fail.

Ray Dio
Ray Dio

Well, let's start with the hoary ol' tale of brown M&Ms.There was an actual reason why they requested the removal of the brown ones (not removed by roadies, btw) and it had nothing to do with excess or rock star bs. Try again with that one.

As for the rest of this, Holy Over Analyzation Batman! Van Halen, as they're currently configured (in a perfect world Mike would still be in the band, but he's not, so enough with that dead horse already), put out a very good album because they wanted to. Now they're touring behind that album. It really is that simple. They're not pretending and acting like it's the 80s, nor are they presenting some "detached fantasy". They are what they are and put out an album that reflects that. And they certainly weren't resting on their laurels or coasting with this album.

As you should know, album sales aren't necessarily indicative of an artist's "relevance" or even of the quality of the album. By today's standards, the album is selling reasonably well, so apparently there are other "regular people" who are opening their wallets and buying the album. As for the tour, sure, not every show has been sold out, but in general, the tour has sold very well, so, yeah. Adele keeping VH out of the #1 is indicative of nothing and means nothing in the grand scheme of things. The only reason that happened is because she got a huge push from the Grammys. Check out her album sales in the weeks preceding the Grammys. If VH had released their album a week earlier, it would have been #1, but so what. Bottom line, feel free to stick with your Ke$ha and Gaga albums- I'll stick with the VH boys. Stay Frosty bro!

KA
KA

If you took the time to look at their schedule, it's no wonder that they needed a break. DLR has never been the type to pull a punch, so if there was an issue, you could bet we would have already heard it from the man himself......I'm more disappointed with the management of their album.....Blood and Fire is clearly the best of the album but it isn't getting noticed.....Poor direction from a leadership prospective if you ask me.......If that song got more airplay, the album sales would have been outstanding.......But what do I know....KA

Julienkennedy
Julienkennedy

Where did this piece of journalistic nastiness come from? Not really a review of the album, it has been out since early Feb. Not really a review of their live show. So why compare the band to Gaga and Jack White. If you check the US total sales so far this year, Van Halen's album is still in the top 15 best sellers albeit with around 380,000 sold and only Adele has pushed over a mil in sales in 2012 alone. Reaching gold takes longer than the good ol days not so far away. For example the chilli peppers and foo fighters have just recently gone gold with their latest discs. Just sayin... P.S. Believe it or not, the boys can still rock pretty good in concert with a pretty stripped down set, Dave can't sing or jump as high as 84 but otherwise the band is locked in. That's if you ever seen them live lately. Peace

Tttims
Tttims

I could not agree with you more Juliekennedy. This article is complete garbage trashing one of the most influential American rock bands of all time! I have seen them on tour back in 2008 and the show was so good a group of us decided to go see them again this year and they did not disappoint. In fact I would say its the best show in town as far as rock concerts go, but then again It must just be me who is "out of touch" as this author of the article suggests. My 10 year old son who only listens to hip hop or mainstream music since hearing me play thru the new cd a couple of times now insists every time we are in the car that I play him "She's the women" and "outta space". He also must be culturally out of touch! What a joke LMAO

julie g
julie g

I knew it would not last. looks it is ground zero for van halen now

 

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