As if there was ever a doubt, let the record show that Van Halen, when fronted by Diamond Dave, still kicks monumental amounts of ass all of the time. Two-plus hours of good ol' fashioned American rock and roll on Monday in Omaha provided all the proof one needs to prove that statement.
That's right, two hours. Actually, that's underselling them; they played 26 songs in a concert that lasted 2:15. Pretty impressive stuff, especially when you consider that the David Lee Roth-era VH catalog "only" consists of 57 songs. Six albums (VH1, VH2, Women and Children First, Diver Down, Fair Warning, 1984) and two songs from a greatest hits album. 57 tracks, and they played 26 of them on Monday night. Seriously, when you practically play HALF of your catalog in a show, only the hardest of hard core fans would be disappointed by the set list.
Sure, I wish they'd played a couple of album tracks that happen to be personal favorites, but you can't argue with this list.
01. You Really Got Me
02. I'm The One
03. Runnin' With The Devil
04. Romeo Delight
05. Somebody Get Me A Doctor / Magic Bus
06. Beautiful Girls
07. Dance The Night Away
08. Atomic Punk
09. Everybody Wants Some!
10. So This Is Love?
11. Mean Street
12. (Oh) Pretty Woman
13. Alex Van Halen Drum Solo
15. I'll Wait
16. ...And The Cradle Will Rock
17. Hot For Teacher
18. Little Dreamer
19. Little Guitars
20. Jamie's Cryin'
21. Dave's Storytime / Ice Cream Man
23. Eddie Van Halen Guitar Solo
24. Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love
We arrived at the Qwest Center at 7:30, just as Ky-Mani Marley was beginning his opening set. Seriously, the Marley brothers are like the Wayans Brothers of music, aren't they? How many are there? The reggae stylings of Marley Brother Number Ten, which included a healthy dose of his dad's music, were an odd fit as an opening for Van Halen. But as Dick Herculanum's buddy Andre noted, VH has a long history of purposely choosing opening acts that are opposite musically just to mess with their fans. He specifically recalled a show at the old Omaha Civic Auditorium in 1982 where the opening act was...
Ready for it? I don't think you are. Prepare yourself...
After The Fire. The cheesy pop band that brought us the Americanized, English translated cover of "Der Kommissar". Opening for Van Halen on the Diver Down tour. Ouch.
So anyway, we weren't in any hurry to get to our seats. Which was a good thing, because prior to Monday night, I had never been into the upper bowl of the Qwest Center. I'm spoiled with my fourth row Creighton tickets, I know. Well, the concourses at the Qwest Center, as it turns out, don't go all the way around, a fact we did not realize until we'd walked pretty much half of the arena. Like I say, good thing we weren't in a hurry.
On our journey to nowhere, Dick Herculanum bumped into an acquaintance he knew from a former job who was now working for Qwest Center. He had a lanyard that said "Van Halen VIP" so you knew he was important. Apparently, he'd been in David Lee Roth's dressing room earlier in the evening (before Roth arrived from the hotel) and he told us that Roth brings in his own furniture to fill the dressing room. That's right, he transports furniture from city to city just so his dressing room is always the right level of classy. Rock Star.
Eventually, we found the way to our section, which was my "Duh" moment; four sections have stairs to them INSIDE the arena, and they happen to be right behind where I sit for Creighton basketball. Meaning I've walked under them hundreds of times over the last five years. And I apparently never noticed.
When I finally remembered this fact, we attempted to climb the stairs, and were stopped by the Qwestapo. Now, normally the Qwestapo is not the bearer of good news; I've had my share of run-ins with them at Jays games for "cheering too loudly". But on this night, they were the bearer of TREMENDOUS news: our section was closed, and we were being upgraded to better seats.
This was odd because the Diamond Dave Reunion Tour is selling out everywhere; Denver two days before the Omaha show was sold out for months and they added extra seats on the floor the day of the show to accommodate more people.
And yet in Omaha they sold fewer than 10,000 tickets, and had to drop the curtain over four sections of the upper bowl and re-locate those ticket holders elsewhere. Hence we moved into seats that cost $75 than we paid. I'm not arguing; I'll happily take upgraded seats and enjoy the show.
We went from 212, in the corner of the upper bowl about halfway up, to 114 -- straight out from the stage, lower bowl. Aisle seats, no less!
At 8:30 on the dot, the lights went dark. The stage was a simple design; a massive drum kit flanked by amplifiers stacked two-high and an S-shaped ramp running from behind the drum kit, around the front of the stage and into the audience. As a single spotlight shown down, a singular figure rose from behind the stage waving a giant red flag:
David Lee Roth.
Honestly, the flag thing is weird. Is this a communist rally or a rock concert? Roth's appearance, though, whipped the crowd into a frenzy. And as Eddie hit the opening notes of their excellent Kinks cover from their debut album, "You Really Got Me", the crowd rose to their feet. The entire crowd stayed standing for the duration of the show.
Dressed in a mariachi outfit and red top hat, Diamond Dave reminded everyone why he kicks ass and why Sammy Hagar just isn't the same...I'll put it this way. Would you rather have a guy sing about being on "Top Of The World", or about "Beautiful Girls"? That's what I thought.
The band ripped through the first three songs with no break in between -- a stunning 10 minutes of furious rock and roll. Dave finally began hamming it up during "Romeo Delight", and by the fifth song, "Somebody Get Me A Doctor", he opened by playing harmonica and singing through a megaphone, and ended by asking the crowd if they'd mind if he ended the show early and took everyone across the street to buy them a shot.
During "Everybody Wants Some!", Dave and Eddie engaged in a verbal game of mimickry; Dave would make motorcycle sounds with his mouth into the microphone, and Eddie would replicate them on his guitar. Of course, eventually Eddie simply thrashed beyond the point where Dave could keep up, and he put his arm around the guitarist and told the crowd, "Well, I can't beat that!"
One of the things that has always made Van Halen shows so dominant is that they don't take breaks, or encores; they simply take turns performing solo while the other members take a break. The audience gets a solid break-free performance; as is their custom on this tour, drummer Alex Van Halen took first dibs on soloing. A ridiculous five minute drum solo led into "Unchained" and the band's only keyboard-laden hit, "I'll Wait".
After the opening guitar riff of "Hot For Teacher", Roth changed up the original line spoken lyric from the album slightly. "Hey, I heard you missed us...We're Baaaack!" Of course, this sent the crowd into pandemonium again. Later in the show, it was Roth's turn to take center stage, and when he did so, he reminded everyone why he kicks Hagar's butt six ways to Sunday.
When Hagar fronted Van Halen, he used his solo time to perform any number of cheesy acoustic-guitar ballads such as "Give to Live" or "Eagles Fly". He could have played an acoustic version of "Heavy Metal" or "I Can't Drive 55". That's what Dave would do. Instead, Hagar had his Coldplay moment and killed the mood.
Dave took center stage with an acoustic guitar, but instead used his time to strum the guitar and tell stories. He talked about how his first visit to Omaha was 30 years ago when Van Halen was opening up for Black Sabbath. He talked about growing up in the suburbs, and told stories about smoking pot and listening to Pink Floyd. Stories about a friend of his who drove an ice cream truck, and how on weekends they'd park the truck in the backyard, empty out the ice cream and use the truck to keep their beer cold. And then he played "Ice Cream Man". Of course he did.
After Dave's storytelling, the band came out firing with perhaps their most easily recognizable guitar riff: the opening notes to "Panama". At this point Dick Herculanum made the obligatory phone call to Continental Frutiger, who bailed on going to the show. We left him a four minute voice mail so that he could listen to the song. You bet.
And then it was time for the Eddie Van Halen Guitar Solo. Now, if you've never seen Van Halen live, there's nothing that can prepare you for this. Its 15 minutes -- I'm not exaggerating, either -- of non-stop shredding. Ridiculous stuff, incorporating parts of instrumentals such as "Cathedral", "Eruption" and "Little Guitars" with improvised material. After 15 minutes of giving Eddie center stage, the band re-emerged and played "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love".
They briefly went off stage, and two minutes later Roth emerged waving the red flag again -- this time like a rhythmic gymnast in the Olympics, as the keyboard-instrumental "1984" played. And then the band launched into their biggest hit to close the show: "Jump". Oh, and Dave even pulled out an old trick from his solo days: a giant inflatable microphone that he rode around the stage. Silly? You bet. Ridiculous? Absolutely. Rock and Roll? You know it.
(Far away photos courtesy of Yours Truly, Max Univers. Close-up shots courtesy of T.P., a co-worker who had floor seats and captured tons of sweet close-up photos and generously allowed me to use a couple.)