Saturday, March 1, 2008

Rappin' Dave

In an effort to get "psyched-up" for Van Halen’s February 1 show in Denver, I began downloading a bunch of their earlier concerts, bootleg recordings either off soundboards or from within the audience. From the early days when they played at clubs in California (1974 – 1975), to the days when they surged in popularity, became a big name act and filled concert venues, drawing tens of thousands of cheering fans (1978 through 1984). In my opinion, this was when they were at their peak, when David Lee Roth was their lead man, before the band declined in popularity with the formation of "Van Hagar" and the destructive influences of alcoholism. Its interesting listening to these bootleg concert recordings, played during my weekend "parties on the pass", because they show how the band evolved over that 10 year period. A young band playing cover tunes during their club days, working in an increasing number of their own songs (mid-‘70s). The energetic, raw and real band breaking out and making a name of their own with the release of their first few hit albums (late ‘70s). Evolving into practiced and vibrant musicians touring the globe at a breakneck pace (early’80’s). Riding the crest of the wave before the crash, when the boys seemed overconfident, the music seemed to loose its energy and spontaneity, and the quality began to slip as a result of the internal rifts and constant partying ('83-'84). Having listened to their music through the years, I now have a greater appreciation for who they are as I’m standing on my dancing feet watching them live during their ‘07/’08 tour. And their evolution has continued, tempered by age and the 22 year gap in time since DLR and the Van Halen brothers worked their magic since the fall. The music now is a bit more restrained (no longer fired up by the wild backstage, alcohol-fueled parties) and the atmosphere is more business-like as they run through their play list of hit after hit. But it’s still an awesome show that gets everyone up on their feet!

What’s also lacking in the current tour is Dave’s rapping with the audience. No more stopping to take a swig from a bottle of Jack Daniel's, rapping about his exploits in the hotel room the previous night. Some people hate it and would rather they just get on with the music. I, on the other hand, love it. While listening to the bootlegs of years gone by I wait in expectation of what may come out of his mouth. Some of it comes from the stage performer who’s trying to rev up the crowd, while much of it is genuine rapping with the audience, fueled by alcohol and an equally intoxicating ego. The things he says just crack me up and contribute to that party atmosphere in their earlier music. It is that connection with the crowd that was lost with Dave’s departure in 1984, and is even lost today as they methodically move through their two hours of music on stage. Eddie’s been through rehab. Wolfgang’s young and just beginning his career. Age has diminished the range and power of Dave’s voice, sapping his confidence along with a less than stellar musical career since his departure in late 1984. Alex still appears to be the drum machine he always was, but that’s not enough to bring back that power they had when they were in their prime. Perhaps if they stay together some of that spontaneity, creativity and confidence will come back. But that makes very little difference to me because their music continues to rock me down to my soul and just having Eddie and Dave together again is enough to restore much of the magic that is Van Halen.

Bodies aged with time
But their music still inspires
It never grows old

Egos crash and fall
Decades long resurrection
The party resumes

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