Saturday, September 25, 2004
(Written 9/17/04 through 9/25/04)
It was Friday, September 17th, 2004 — the night that my ass was handed to me once again by the mighty Van Halen. This evening was such an emotional experience for me that I don’t even know where to begin, really. It was…amazing. I’ve been looking forward to this night for 8 years.
I think it’s fair to say that I was devastated when I learned that Sammy Hagar was leaving Van Halen. I’ve always been a fan of the band, but I prefer Sammy’s down to earth attitude over the attitude of He Who Shall Not Be Named. I think Van Halen, hands down, made their best music for the sake of making music while doing so with Sam. In any event, I had given up hope that I would ever see them perform again – with Sam or without.
The road to enjoying my sixth Van Halen concert with Sammy at the mic was a long one, though. Lee Jay, as you all probably know, lives in Charlotte, so since I wanted to be able to go to the concert with him we bought tickets for that show instead of here in Atlanta (where I live). (Lee Jay couldn’t arrange his schedule to make it to Atlanta on the night of the show here.) Then, of course, that show was cancelled. We had great floor seats on about the 20th row back from the stage for that concert. Every other time I’ve seen VH perform, I’ve had to do so with lawn seat tickets. So when this show was cancelled, I was crushed. It didn’t help that I found out the show was cancelled just days after Dad’s funeral. I knew I could always go to the Atlanta show, but I was sure that I’d never get a seat as good as the ones Lee Jay and I had for the Charlotte show.
Then we decided to try to get tickets to the Greenville show, which was scheduled the day after the Charlotte show was supposed to go down. In an amazing stroke of luck we scored floor level seats, in section 1, in row TEN! Oh wow! It was going to be the most kick ass concert of our lives….not. Of course Greenville was cancelled and I just flipped out. It seemed like it just wasn’t meant for my brother and I to share this together, which is a shame. After going through Dad’s death from cancer, we both needed it. We needed it bad.
Alas, I had to purchase a single ticket to the Atlanta show. I made my way down to Philips Arena on 9/17/04 by myself. While I entered the arena, and was surrounded on all sides by Van Halen fans such as myself, there were many moments when I felt isolated and alone anyway. I’ve never gone to a concert by myself, but if I had to go without Lee Jay I actually wanted to go by myself. (That was fine by Leah because she’s more of an Indigo Girls, Alanis, and Simon & Garfunkel kind of gal.) I mean, if some of my friends had expressed an interest in going that would have been cool, but I didn’t really talk to anyone else about coming with me. I think that I was going to the concert not only to see my favorite band perform again for the first time in ages (in my favorite lineup – I did see them when they came to Atlanta with Gary Cherone), but also because I needed some emotional healing. Although I didn’t really realize it until the band hit the stage and started playing.
I believe that music can heal the mind and feed the soul. I believe it is especially so, of course, when it is music that you are passionate about. I love Van Halen; I love their music. It is as simple as that. Watching Dad pass away two months ago, the days during and immediately after, were the most horrible moments of my life. I loved and respected him more than just as a parent. He was an amazing human being, and I admired and respected him as such. During the days between then and now (before going to the show) I’ve felt like I’ve been detached from everything around me – including myself. Experiencing this concert, however, has done something to me that I’m finding really hard to describe. I feel centered again. It’s like the concert has brought me back to me.
The guys were on fire tonight. Like I said, this is the sixth time I’ve seen these guys play together and I cannot remember a time when I was feeling the music like I was tonight. Perhaps it was just the state of mind I was in, but I also think it was that way with the band. They just seemed like a BAND tonight. They were amazing. Every moment was pure and brilliant and special and everything I had hoped it would be. There have been so many posts on Van Halen message boards on the web that I’ve been reading lately where folks are saying that the band isn’t tight. They’re saying the playing is not as good as it has been in the past. Look, I can’t speak for any other stop on this tour, but Van Halen kicked ass tonight more than any concert has kicked ass before. (As much as I hate ending a sentence with a preposition, it must be done with respect to “Beavis and Butthead”.)
Going by yourself to a concert has a benefit. Because I only needed a single ticket, I was able to score one on the floor, section 1, row T. So there I was, back at having a 20th row seat. It was the closest I’ve ever been to the stage at any concert, and to have it be so at a Van Halen concert is something I wouldn’t give up for anything in the world.
So there I stood (I did not once sit in my seat), waiting for the moment to arrive. I was scanning the arena out to see how packed it was. The entire 3rd level was bare, but the rest of the place was packed. Then suddenly I heard some fans screaming somewhere ahead of me. I looked in that direction and I could see some folks standing behind Eddie’s enormous amp racks. I didn’t see Eddie, but there’s no doubt he was back there because folks on his side of the stage in the 100 section (who could see behind the amps) could of course see him and were calling out to him. Then, in a moment of coolness, I could see an arm protrude out from behind the amps. Eddie pointed to the fans and then gave them a thumbs-up. I’ve seen him do it so many times before, and I never saw his face at this point, but it gave me the fucking chills anyway! It was almost time. All the waiting was about to be worth it.
The fans were still cheering toward the back of the amps when suddenly I heard Eddie playing. Of course I, and everyone in the arena, went crazy. At this point the house lights are still on, and if I remember correctly the house music was still playing even, but it was Eddie definitely strumming on his guitar. Then, in a heartbeat, the house lights went out and the music kicked into high gear. There was more of just Eddie playing while the rest of the band made their way out to the stage. These moments seemed like an eternity to me, but when they kicked it into Jump the rest of the world melted away and there was nothing but Van Halen and we fans left who mattered.
Here is the setlist they played with my comments about each song.
1) Jump – All the years of no VH are now a thing of the past. It was just amazing to see the guys up on stage playing this again. Sammy was awesome. There was a point during the song where Sammy jumped in the air and tried his best to kick one leg out in one direction and the other leg in the other direction. I admire him for the effort. Then right after he did it, Eddie did it too. I don’t get people who are posting that the band doesn’t seem tight. They seemed tight to me.
2) Runaround – I love this tune. If I had enough room, I would have been walking in circles during the chorus of the song mimicking the spinning set they had in the video. Yes, I do this when I’m home and listening to the song. During this song a dude a few rows ahead of me lifted up a T-Shirt he had brought with him that had “I Can’t Drive 55” on it. Sammy saw it, pointed at it, and smiled. He held up five fingers, closed his fist, and held up the five fingers again. Then he gave the dude a thumbs up. It was a kick ass moment. I wish I would have thought to do something like that, but I was just jazzed about going to the show, period, that I couldn’t think about anything else. Later on in the show the guy held the shirt up again for Sammy. Sam drew a circle in the air with his finger, and then drew a line through the circle. I can’t freakin’ drive 55 either!
3) Humans Being – I went nuts when I heard the intro to this song. Talk about a kick ass song, man. I had given up hope of ever hearing this played live by this band. I was in the zone this whole song and don’t remember anything else but the music.
4) Up For Breakfast – I think this is my favorite of the new songs. I mean, musically, “Learning to See” may be better. But I go around singing UFB to myself all the time. “You treat me like your personal Jesus!” I played this song at work the other day, and the guy who sits next to me turned to me and said, “Damn, it’s awesome to finally know what you’re singing to yourself all the time.” Yes, I know all the words, I sang along, and it felt damn good.
5) Mike’s Bass Solo – Personally, I feel the best solo Mike’s ever played was on the Live without a Net video (I still only have my VHS copy of that show although it is out on DVD now). The interlude he played for about first minute or so still runs through my head from time to time. I wished he would play that at some show that I was attending. It’s great stuff. In any event, Mike’s solo was fun, but nothing from it is sticking in my mind outside of seeing him down Jack and toss little bottles of the stuff hidden in the bass into the crowd.
6) Somebody Get Me a Doctor – I’m glad that Mike is still doing this like he did during the VH 3 shows. It was a lot of fun, high energy, and it was cool seeing Sammy go around the stage and sign autographs for fans. In fact, Sam signed off and on during the whole show. It was cool. I wasn’t close enough to the stage to get anything signed, but it was good to seeing it happening. We, the fans, deserve it – and more.
7) Poundcake – It was cool as hell hearing the drill in a live concert again. This is one of my all time favorite songs. The energy in the building was awesome during this tune.
8) It’s about Time – Before they played this song, Sammy was talking about how it had been too long but they were going to do all they could to make it up to us…big time! As far as I’m concerned it’s all water under the bridge. I’ve turned the clock back. It’s painted red on black. All is right in the world again.
9) Alex’s Drum Solo – Wow. Wow. Wow. All I can say is Wow. If there was any bad mojo in my soul, Alex pummeled it the hell out of me I can tell you that. It was so awesome. The vibration enveloped me completely. My lungs were vibrating. Every fiber of my being felt as if I was inside an incessant thunderclap. Alex is the man. It was the most amazing drum solo of all time.
10) Top of the World – I’ve always thought that they should play this song directly after Jump since it’s main guitar riff is based on the closing guitar riff in Jump. It was cool to see Sam singing up on the upper part of the stage directly in front of the video screen for this tune. I was already on top of the world, though, and had been since “Jump”.
11) Unchained – This is my favorite Dave era tune, with a close second to “Jump”. Tonight, however, it carried a special meaning for me. Nothing stays the same. Everything changes. I’m happy that Sam has decided to sing more Dave songs. This is definitely one of the best.
12) Why Can’t This Be Love – This is one of my least favorite Sam era VH songs. That being said, there is something about it that makes it awesome during a live show. It just seems the crowd really gets in to the tune and jams while it’s being played. So I sang along and enjoyed it as much as any other tune – just like always.
13 and 14) Sam’s Solo w/ Eagles Fly and Tropic of Capricorn – Sam is the man. What else can I say? I love most of Sam’s solo stuff, but I wish that he would play “Salvation on Sand Hill” from the “Marching to Mars” CD. That is one of my favorite Sam songs of all time. I love “Eagle’s Fly” though, so it’s all good. Sam talked to the crowd for awhile about how the hurricane almost caused them to cancel or move the Atlanta show. I just do not know how I would have dealt with having 3 shows canceled on me in a row. Leah was already laughing at me for continuing to buy tickets. He dedicated “Tropic of Capricorn” to the hurricane, which is all right by me. In any event, Sam is like a dude whom you could invite to sing in your living room and he would show up and chill and red-rock your neighborhood.
15) Seventh Seal – After Sam’s solo Eddie came out on the stage and yelled “Sammy!” Of course Sammy yelled back “Edward”! The only 2 bad vibes I got the whole show were this moment, and before & after Ed’s Solo. At the other shows I’ve been to, Ed would come out after Sam’s stuff and say something positive about his solo, and Sam would do the same following Ed’s solo (like he did Mike’s and Al’s). But neither said anything about the other before or following their solo’s other than each one calling out the other’s name. It made me wonder if Ed and Sam we’re pissed at each other during the show. Look, I just want them to get along so they will get back in the studio and record a new album. Anyway, after Ed yelled “Sammy” and Sammy yelled “Edward” the monks started chanting for this song. The monk chanting went on a lot longer than it usually does, but it was cool because you knew that Seventh Seal was on the horizon. I’ve always thought that this song kicked ass, as most of “Balanced” does, and I’m glad they’re playing it on this tour.
16) Best of Both Worlds – This is another tune that personally I don’t favor but it’s always awesome live. When they play this song live, they usually all start doing a funky walk that the fans have dubbed the “5150 Walk”. It’s just something we all look forward to seeing. Well, this time only Sam and Mike did the walk. It looked like Ed wanted to, but he was getting tangled up in his cord all night long, and he was playing around with it at the time. It was like he started to, but then said, “Fuck it.” I don’t understand why he’s not using the wireless stuff like he did on previous tours. It seems to me that it would be a whole lot easier trying to navigate a stage as wide as the length of an arena like Philips Arena without a wire attached to you the whole time.
17) Ed’s Guitar Solo – Edward Van Halen is the man. I always look forward to his solos, and tonight he certainly did not let us down. Especially right before he started when Al was still sitting at his drums. They started jamming together and suddenly Al was playing the drum intro to “Hot for Teacher”. Ed joined in a played the whole guitar intro as well. The whole place just went wild. I was hoping against hope that Mike and Sam would come rushing back onto the stage and they would just play the whole tune. But it was cool to at least hear that much of the song played live. After those all too brief moments of complete jubilation, and the minute or so of cheering that followed, Ed turned to the mic and said, “Ok I’m gonna play some stuff. If any of you aren’t digging it, I want you to throw something at me.” Needless to say, there was no need to throw a damn thing. He just started jamming. It wasn’t as structured as the other guitar solos I’ve heard him play. It also went on for longer than usual, which is all good by me. The highlight for me is when he started playing “Little Guitars”, which I don’t recall ever hearing live until tonight. Anyway, I’m no guitar player, but I had an idea how he pulled this off and it was cool to see that I was right. It seemed like Cathedral went on forever, but I love it so it was all good. In any event, he sprinkled most of the classic Eddie moments through the solo, but he didn’t play 316 at all for some reason. Anyway – it was just amazing from note one to note last. He could have soloed for an hour and I would have kept standing and cheering the whole time.
18) Dreams – Sam ran out onto the stage and yelled “Edward” and Ed yelled back “Sammy”. Then they moved right on into Dreams. Sam climbed back up the stairs and sang this song in front of the giant video screen. I love this tune. I love it even more played live. “…and in the end, on dreams we will depend. ‘Cause that’s what love is made of.” I had stopped hoping and dreaming that I’d see these guys playing live together again. Now I’m hoping and dreaming that they go back into the studio and record a new album. Maybe if we all hope and dream enough, it will happen. “I got my dreams…I got my dreams….”
19) Ain’t Talkin’ ‘About Love – This is another Dave era tune that I love, and another tune that the whole arena always seems to be completely in to with the band. But what was awesome about this was when Sam would take the mic around the crowd and let them sing parts of the song. Everyone sounded great (damn why can’t I be in the freaking front row?!), so kudos to all of them. However, the best part was when Sam gave the mic to some little kid and the kid actually knew the words to the song! Hey, if I ever have children you can bet your ass that they will know the words to most Van Halen songs just like I know the words to most Beatles songs thanks to my Dad. Anyway, as funny as it my seem, that was one of the highlights of the night.
20) Right Now – I love this tune. Although I don’t agree with some of the political statements made on the video screen during this song, I still agree with the theme of this song. All that matters is right here, right now. At the end of the tune, on the video screen, it read, “Right now Van Halen is kicking ass in Atlanta!” That was for damn sure!
After “Right Now” the guys all gathered at the head of the stage and took their bows. They thanked us and said goodnight, but we all knew we weren’t going to let them get outta there just yet. In the past, they guys have made us cheer for a while longer before they finally came out to play an encore. Tonight, however, it was only a few minutes before they came back out on to the stage. They all gave us some thumbs up and some smiles before kicking it into gear again.
21) You Really Got Me – This is more Dave era awesomeness that is a lot of fun live. Even at this point in the concert, on the 2nd leg of this massive tour, the band still had great energy and it seemed focused and tight to me. However, I was getting my ass kicked and losing my voice. Whew!
22) Panama – The drum intro that Al plays before this song (when they do it live) sounds a lot like the drum into at the beginning of “Everybody Wants Some”. Well, for a minute there I was sure that they were about to shock everyone and slide into “Everybody Wants Some”. I started thinking about the movie “Better off Dead” of course. If you’ve never seen it, you gotta check it out! Anyway, it was actually “Panama”, but that’s all good by me. This tune kicks major ass live! At the point in the studio version of this song where it’s Dave just talking about not being able to see the road for all of the heat coming off of it, Sam hands the mic to this dude so he can sing that part. Well, when the dude said, “I reach down between my legs…,” Sam took the mic back and said, “No, no, no, no you reach down between HER legs!” Sam gave the mic back to the dude and he repeated, “I reach down between her legs and ease the seat back.” It was cool. Damn I wish I had the cash to drop on golden ring seat! At some point in the show, I don’t remember when, but Sam actually climbed down into the golden ring on Mike’s side! Talk about a kick ass moment for a group of fans! (The golden rings are two rings, on either side of the stage, where fans are even closer than they are at the front row. The Golden rings tickets were going for hundreds of dollars, whereas I paid $90 for my ticket.)
After Panama, the guys gathered together again and took more bows and headed off the stage once more. Again, we weren’t letting them go just yet. Shortly after they left, they came back on the stage for one final song.
23) When It’s Love – This is one of my all time favorite songs. The only other song that would have been more special is if they had closed the show with “Love Walks In”. That song is what motivated me to learn to play the piano. Granny would ask me to play it for her all the time. It’s just a special song for me, but “When It’s Love” is as well. It brings back very fond memories of my college days in ’88 and ’89. It’s great in this song when the whole crowd is singing “Na, na, na. Na, na,” along with the band at the end of the tune. I love this band and I love their music. No matter if they decide to go back into the studio again or not, at least their music and my love for it will last forever. Na, na, na. Na, na.
The guys came forward to the head of the stage for their final bows this time. They waved goodbye to us and thanked us. We were cheering them on and thanking them for a serious ass kicking. It was utterly, completely, totally, and in all other ways one of the most amazing nights of my life and the best concert I’ve ever attended. If you have the chance to go to one, or several, of these shows you owe it to yourself to do it at all costs.
I stumbled out of the arena and immediately had to go to work as I do technical support for a local Atlanta ISP overnight. It was all good, though. I was naturally wired. My ears were ringing (good thing the headsets have a separate volume control with which you can jack up the volume) and I barely had a speaking voice. Our building is just a few blocks away from Philips Arena so I had parked there (for free haha). So I slowly walked down Marietta Street and enjoyed the wind blowing through my hair. My mind was clear for the first time in recent memory. I still miss Dad, of course. I miss him every day. It’s just that now I really feel like I can move forward, whereas until the concert that was just something I said…not something I totally believed. I want to thank Van Halen for an amazing concert. I want to thank every single fan who was there with us. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
Well, it’s Saturday the 25th now, and a week has past since the concert. I wanted to take my time with this so over the course of the week I could write and rewrite this in my spare time, and refine it to the best of my ability. I’ve got my voice back although my throat is still a little scratchy. My ears have stopped ringing, although they continued to ring all through that night and well into the next day. Now I hope that they will go back into the studio. I’m reading that there was a recent interview with Al saying that after the tour they are going to do exactly that, and that there will be more touring in 2005 and beyond. Wow – I can only hope and DREAM that this is true. The mighty Van Halen has returned. All is right in the world again.
Here’s to looking forward to a new album, new songs, hopefully a DVD of this tour, and I’m hoping I can get my hands on a bootleg of this particular show (perhaps the band will release them all like Pearl Jam has been doing as of late). Until then – thank you for your time. Goodnight!