CD Review: "Van Halen Live - Tokyo Dome In Concert"

When the announcement was made that Van Halen was releasing a complete concert from their 2013 tour with David Lee Roth, I had mixed feelings, as did many others. I’d watched some clips from shows on YouTube that didn’t impress me much-Although in fairness they were mostly fan recordings-But like so many, I wasn’t convinced that Diamond Dave could still front the band with the energy he used to.

Review by Christopher Bergmann

Then came the controversial appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel show, where during sound-check, Dave smacked himself in the face with his mic forcing him to wear a bandage on his nose (Several people had commented that it was a Breathe Right strip) and like many others, I wasn’t sure Dave still had it.

The band, however, was fantastic as Eddie’s son Wolfgang, who’s been the bassist since the departure of Michael Anthony and is ten times the musician Mike was and his backups along with dad, were spot on. But Dave’s voice fell flat and his performance was not what I’d call electrifying. The strikes were piling up against me even bothering to pick up the new live album, Tokyo Dome-In Concert.

However, I was in Newbury Comics in West Lebanon a few days after its release and aside from the fact that it was a double set at a really low price ($13.99 for two CDs), upon seeing the track list a wave of nostalgia got the better of me and I bought it. Did I do the right thing?

I jumped in my car and opened the package, which includes a booklet containing all of the lyrics-And a suspicious lack of band pictures-There isn’t one stage shot anywhere in the packaging. I started to worry. I double checked to make sure I still had my receipt then popped in the first CD. That’s when it happened-From the opening flourish of drums and guitar, it was clear that musically this band was still burning with energy.

As the intro to “Unchained” kicked in, I started to feel excitement-Even if Dave wasn’t the over-the-top front man he used to be, the music was going to be great. Then came Dave.

Like many singers who still perform in their 50’s and beyond, at first you could tell he was working out the rust-But was he ever working. By the time they reached the fourth track, “I’m The One” from the first album, Dave was warmed up-And kicking ass! From then on, the show is fantastic.

Yes, Dave doesn’t quite hit some of the notes he used to, but not for lack of effort. With every song, he gets better and better-And along with some nice deeper cuts (“Women In Love”, “Romeo Delight”) and all the standards every true VH fan loves, it became clear that this is now our Van Halen, and they still rock hard. Eddie’s playing hasn’t diminished at all and Alex and Wolfie are tighter than I’ve ever heard from live Van Halen-And I mean ever. And most important, unlike much of the Sammy Hagar years, they are having fun and it shows.

In recent interviews with Eddie he confirmed that there were absolutely no overdubs or fix-ups in this recording-A purity that has been lost in live albums over the years-Plus the band let Roth pick the show he thought was the best of the tour. And that’s what you get here.

Dave has evolved into a more mature front man, but his quips are still stingy, and his love not only for the music but for his band and the audience is evident throughout-At one point he praises Wolfie’s backups, and that’s not the only time he brings the love for his band mates. I like this new and improved David Lee a lot, no longer the arrogant (albeit hilarious) guy of old, but a fun guy loving what he’s doing and not taking a moment of it for granted.

In the end, if you long for the “real” Van Halen, the original monsters of rock, not the syrupy Sammy or the ill-fated Cherone stuff, you will love this concert. I’m going to listen to it for the tenth time in two days now. Everybody wants some, and I want some too!

Editor's Note: After seeing the "Jimmy Kimmel" TV appearance on YouTube I honestly felt embarrassed for the band... for they just sounded tired and looked worn down, especially Diamond Dave. But this review gives me hope and maybe I'll give it a chance.