Reporter’s Notebook: Random Scrawlings from the Van Halen Show

Categories: Live Shots
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Whether for space or continuity considerations, music reviewers usually find that half of what they write down during a concert, or more, winds up on the newspaper equivalent of the cutting-room floor. Sometimes this is for the best, but thanks to the Internet such jottings can now be put to good use. More from last night’s bro-down at Toyota Center:

First indication Van Halen was in the vicinity: Around 7:35 p.m., two dudes jumped off the MetroRail at the Bell Street station and sprinted toward Toyota Center.

Biggest parking bargain: The AT&T garage at Bell and Caroline was five bucks. It was $20 across the street from Toyota Center and $10 for the Tundra parking garage.

First sign it’s an old-timers’ show: For the first time I can remember at a non-club show, I didn’t have to empty my pockets on the way into the arena. What kind of rock show is this anyway?

If you can afford it, or are lucky enough to score media or sponsor tickets, sitting in Toyota Center’s bottom level (the 100s) is the only way to fly. Private concession areas, including full bar, are situated between the main concourse and the curtained-off entrances to the arena. There’s even separate merch booths in there – a good thing, because the lines in the main concourse, upper and lower areas, were, like, 50 yards long. That’s no exaggeration – it may even be closer to 100.

Showtime was 8:30 p.m. sharp, over at about 10:40. Everyone except Wolfgang Van Halen had the stage all to himself at some point during the show, so all told the four members probably spent about an hour and 45 minutes onstage together.

Sign No. 2 it’s an old-timers’ show: The area inside the catwalk extending from the stage, similar to the heart on U2’s Elevation tour, had seats in it.

Speaking of old-timers, I’d estimate the crowd was 60 percent over 40, 70 percent male and a fair – but not quite even - mix of white and brown and mostly, though not completely, middle-class. One dude in particular didn’t realize it’s OK to untuck your blue oxford shirt from your khakis at a rock concert – and every other person was wearing some sort of Van Halen gear. Many people on hand appeared to have at least some experience in either the nightclub security or exotic dancing trades.

Like last week’s Foo Fighters show, there were odd lighters among all the cameraphones in the crowd. Unlike Foo Fighters, at least one of those lighters was used to light some rather pungent weed very close to where I was sitting. Dave Grohl mentioned smelling weed from the stage, but I did not.

As Van Halen didn’t play anything past 1984, every song was written well before Wolfgang Van Halen was born on March 16, 1991. Van Halen’s most recent album at that time was 1988’s OU812 (“When It’s Love,” “Finish What Ya Started”).

Like many others, I think Sammy Hagar is just fine on “I Can’t Drive 55” and “There’s Only One Way to Rock,” but never much cared for the Van Hagar years. As a show of solidarity with the David Lee Roth version, I eschewed Toyota Center’s frozen margaritas in favor of its extremely well-named strawberry “Rocket Fuel” concoction.

David Lee Roth never passed up a chance to mention Texas in his during- and between-song banter. During “Everybody Wants Some,” after a particularly industrial guitar passage by Eddie, Roth did his own passable impression of a Harley-Davidson engine – “Made in Texas, motherfucker!”

Roth’s introduction to “Pretty Woman”: “Let’s sing another song about girls!” This made me wonder: Is Wolfgang even old enough to like girls yet? Because babyfaced as he is, they’re sure going to like him.

Sample merch prices: Van Halen hoodie, $65; short-sleeved T-Shirt, $35; baseball T, $50; red Van Halen thong, $15. Guess which one was my favorite?

I spilled beer on my notebook during “Hot for Teacher,” the exact moment this became a great show. Special shout-out to my friends in the Austin band Prescott Curlywolf, whose cover of “Teacher” was nearly as smokin’ as the original.

Eddie switched between a cream Gibson Les Paul and red/white/black Fender Stratocaster for most of the show.

During the introductory monologue to “Ice Cream Man,” David Lee Roth accompanied himself on acoustic guitar (pretty well, too) and insisted “I know this place [Houston] like the back of my hand.” He may well be right: his uncle, Jack Roth, M.D., is a cardiothoracic surgeon with a practice in the Med Center. Roth didn’t say whether or not Dr. Roth was on hand last night.

Around the time Roth was talking about passing joints at his friend Kenny’s house (“We all had a friend named Kenny, right?”), the smoke in my section, Section 106, became especially thick. No wonder they had one of Bob Marley’s kids open the show.

About that: Exactly how many children did Bob Marley have? I had never even heard of Ky-Mani Marley before. His chosen cover from his dad’s repertoire was “I Shot the Sheriff.”

Van Halen did snatches of two covers last night: The Who’s “Magic Bus” during “Romeo’s Delight” and Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads” – by way of Eric Clapton and Cream – during “Somebody Get Me a Doctor.”

The night ended with Roth clad in a naval admiral’s hat, saluting the crowd as confetti rained from the rafters during “Jump.” And… scene. – Chris Gray


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