Diamond Rock Crooning
In the weeks leading up his gig at the Hard Rock in Orlando, David Lee Roth's advertisements in the local papers contained two odd things. The first was the set list. I've seen many bands and many posters over the years and this is the first time anyone has put their set list on an of their adverts. Maybe he wanted to reassure people that this was going to be a Van Halen heavy set in an effort to get bums on seats. Secondly it had a disclaimer stating, 'Artists and show times subject change' and, because he didn't have a support act, I was half expecting Sammy Hager or even Gary Cherone to fill in for him because he couldn't make it.
Oddities aside, the choice not to have a support act was a bad one, unless he's planning to do 'an evening with' style of show, a support band is essential for several reasons. The first is that it gets the crowd warmed up, secondly it allows late comers to see all of the headlining act because the main band arrive on stage later in the evening, and thirdly it makes the punters feel like their getting value for money. His 8pm start turned into 8.45pm and the crowd, made up largely of holiday-makers, people with nothing else better to do after riding the Hulk Roller coaster and a smattering of Van Halen fans, were getting a little restless.
Eventually the curtains went up and the band kicked straight into the Van Halen classic 'Hot for Teacher'. Dave emerged wearing a blue sparkly tracksuit with cream piping and wrap around shades. He smugged his way through the first number, strutting his way around the stage 'Vegas Style'. His backing band didn't contain any names but they were excellent at chocking out this good ole American rock. Lead guitarist Brian Young deserves special credit as he managed to copy almost all of the great Eddie Van Halen's guitar solos, which is not the easiest thing to do. They had a tendency to play to themselves, not acknowledging the crowd a great deal, indeed Dave himself seemed to be going through the motions only occasionally getting 'suggestive' with some of the mums in the audience. Dave's Vegas stylings couldn't have been any more prominent in the tracks 'Just a Gigolo' and 'California Girls', as his cheesy grin and swanky walk reminded me of an old crooner running through his favourite songs.
Often nipping to the back of the stage to swig up on a bottle of Jack Daniels his performance got better as the set wore on. His muscles had limbered up somewhat allowing him to do some of his trademark high kicks, and in fact for a guy over fifty he looked in pretty good shape. With the first Van Halen album arguably being the backbone of American rock for the past thirty years, it was a good decision to base the set around it. 'Running with the Devil', 'You really got me' and 'Jamie's Cryin' came across like artillery fire, sounding as fresh today as they did in 1978. These early Van Halen numbers, including such cuts as 'Unchained', 'The cradle will rock' and 'Panama', built the crowd into a frenzy, so much so that a middle aged mosh pit erupted in front of where I was standing.
Most early Van Halen songs slow down in the middle, which works well on record, but live, it just gave Dave and the band a chance to fiddle about and extend them with some offbeat Jazz. It might be good to play in rehearsal but I don't know any audience member who likes this sort of thing. I would've preferred to hear 'Yankee Rose', 'Everybody wants some' or even 'Mean Street' than such self-indulgent claptrap, it's a little too lazy in my opinion and comes across as padding. 'Aint talking bout love' rounded the set off nicely and a heavier version of 'Jump' appeared as an encore. The final handful of songs saw Dave leaping about, swishing round his mke stand and glass baton and was also free of the 'padding' mentioned earlier. The affect on the crowd was obvious as they went crazy, but as soon as it reached fever pitch the evening was over and it was only 10:05pm. A satisfactory show but it could have been much better if he had paid attention to some simple things: 1/ Get a support act. 2/ Don't mess about extending songs everybody hates it. 3/ Play to the crowd, after all, they've paid their money to come and see you. 4/ If you're going to put your set list on the poster, then stick to it. (Trades description anyone?)