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Sorry. Does that header come off as too braggy? Damn right, I’m going on about it. You would, too, if one of your latent childhood dreams became a blaring, sweaty reality last night.
When I received the email invite — “Van Halen, Thursday, January 5, Café Wha?” — with no flourishes or extraneous details, just facts, it seemed so comically improbable, internet hoax-y even, that I almost disregarded it. But, on the off chance Van Halen really was playing an impossibly small venue in the Village, I wasn’t going to let stupid ol’ Brooklyn knee-jerk skepticism stand in the way of seeing Diamond Dave in the flesh.
Ends up it pays to follow your curiosity (except down wells — remember Baby Jessica?), because Van Halen really, truly did play the tiny Café Wha? (the door of the ’60s beat-era haunt has been darkened by the likes of Bob Dylan and is owned by David Lee Roth’s 92-year-old uncle) to a small, private audience to promote their upcoming album, A Different Kind Of Truth (Feb. 7), and corresponding national tour. It was tiny, it was 99 percent humid, we were stuffed in there like way too many gym socks in a shallow drawer and it was f***ing fantastic.
Read more about Van Halen’s New York club show after the jump.
Like most kids (er, now-adults) who were cognizant in the early ’80s during Van Halen’s meteoric ascent and who had cable (or spent time at the homes of kids cool enough to have cable, which at the time was as groundbreaking and entertaining as an iPad), Van Halen’s videos were some of the first videos I remember seeing on MTV. Girls whipping their hair (decades before Will kicked it to Jada and made their own little hair-whipper)! David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen whipping their hair! Buxom ladies with their mouths half open making sex-hungry faces! Everyone in some kind of zebra print! What did it mean? What the f*** did I know? I am not kidding you when I say that I was 6 years old and wearing polyester bell-bottoms and a turtleneck with ballet shoes printed all over it at the time I was first exposed to Van Halen. MTV was strictly forbidden in my household (side note: LOL, HI, MOM!), but my babysitters were too busy ratting out their hair to look like Van Halen’s to turn the channel to the Smurfs. I was too young to know what it all really meant, but holy s*** Van Halen made being a “grown-up” look fun! And they made the faraway land of California look like a mysterious, perpetually tanned place where everyone wore bikinis and roller skates every day. And their music — wanton, brash, menacing and yet somehow sanctioned (it must be OK if it’s on TV and a 6-year-old is watching it!) -– felt like the kind of excess that came with a blessing. These guys were party-prone bad boys, but they’d still have you home at a reasonable hour and walk you to your door.
And last night, almost 30 years later, Van Halen — David Lee Roth, Eddie Van Halen, Eddie’s son Wolfgang Van Halen on the bass, and Alex Van Halen — took the postage-stamp-size stage. “We’re climbing into a rocket! A rocket from the past that’s headed for the future,” David Lee Roth announced, and the music that was the backdrop to my almost-formative years was happening right in front of adult me. Via some magical Van Halen time-shifting trickery, I was clearly grounded in the present, but I was completely transported back to my childhood, except with the understanding that California isn’t its own separate country and doesn’t mandate swimwear. What was once a sea of en flame Bics was now a blanket of iPhones and BlackBerrys, and fans who once showed up in cutoffs and ripped tees wore fitted button-downs and sensible shoes. But otherwise the crowd’s sentiment was the same, and the feeling was unanimously mutual: “HOLY F***ING S***, YOU GUYS! WE’RE SEEING VAN HALEN!”
The band ripped through early classics like “Ice Cream Man,” “Hot For Teacher,” “Dance The Night Away” and, yes, even “Panama,” (GOD! “THEY DID PANAMA”!!!!) with an even keel and at times a slightly darker, more psychedelic bent. But, hand to pearls, never did I ever think I’d see the day when David Lee Roth sang “Jump” from a distance of approximately one Bieber length away from me.
And allow me, please, to spill some ink (-ish) about David Lee Roth. First, wearing Carhartt overalls, a hoodie that appeared to be made of some wicking material appropriate for running in the dead of February, a newsboy cap and a keffiyeh, he looked like the guy who shows up to your house to sweep your chimney or put up a drywall partition in your basement. He’s getting up on 60 years old, but he could match Usher in a dance-off (should that sort of thing ever happen). His voice is untouched by time, and is as ever-elastic as it was in 1983. He remains part man, part hyena, part dancing marionette. The consummate snake-charming ringleader. As he always, David Lee Roth had the look of a man wholly pleased with the sound of his own voice and the look of his own face. Every one of his endless million-watt smiles felt like a million bucks, and the band’s jubilance was apparent in every note. No phoning it in, no pretense. Just heart.
After three encores, the show closed to the kind of high you can’t get from any pipe or bottle. It felt like seeing Santa in the flesh after years of being told that no Santa exists. I was reminded that all these years later, it’s still possible for music to deliver you back to that innocent, honest, pure place you thought ended during your “Wonder Years” days. Van Halen 2012 is hotter, heavier and happier (seriously) than ever before. And the dream is most definitely not over.