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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Van Halen in Atlantic City

Roger Ebert, the great movie critic, says that when he writes a movie review, he reviews the movie they actually made, not the one they should have made.

So for snark about David Lee Roth's strained voice and dance missteps, Wolfgang's portliness, Eddie's intermittent sobriety, or tequila hawker Sammy Hagar's sour grapes comments about backing tracks, I'll ask you to look elsewhere.

If you are of a certain age, Van Halen has a indelible place in the soundtrack of your life.

Like The Doors, they are sui generis --- they bring a mix of elements together that is not quite like anyone else. Even their covers of other artists hit songs, like Roy Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman", Martha and the Vandellas "Dancing in the Streets", and The Kinks "You Really Got Me", are original. Music critics can argue about the relative quality of remake to the original, but I think you can make the case that Van Halen made these songs their own. They sound like Van Halen songs.

Speaking of being a certain age; Van Halen, as presently constituted, is a nostalgia act, and they, and we, are totally cool with that.

To me, music at its best is a shared communal experience, not just a consumer exchange of a ticket for 2 hours of entertainment. Gathering at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City for the purpose of a shared experience is more than just hearing a band play. A generation or so ago, folks engaged in the now lost art of the sing-a-long. Today, with our entertainment spoon fed to us via wire and Web, going to a concert where every song is part of your youth, and every lyric is known by heart, and every 40 to 50 year old in the Hall is singing along with you, fueled by memories and huge cups of beer, is a richly evocative and sublime event.

For some, like my wife, it is a corrective emotional experience. Having been told in 1984 that she was "too young" to go see Van Halen, with the promise of being able to see them "in a year or two", only to suffer the "Van Hagar" dark ages for over two decades, my foul-mouthed, Jersey Girl wife had tears in her eyes as David Lee took the stage.

Our two companions, friends made in adulthood and therefore without shared youthful experiences or memories, were right there with us, recalling cruising down whatever  "the strip" was in their respective hometowns to "Running With the Devil", playing air guitar to "Eruption", drunkenly singing "Ain't Talking 'Bout Love" at a parents-away kegger, and  sotto voce reciting "Hot For Teacher" in reaction to a shapely high school substitute. And so was the rest of the crowd; suburban dads raising fists and bull's horns above their greying and balding heads, and soccer moms in their vintage black T-shirts, teasing that hair way, way up for the first time in decades.

Whether you call it the soul, the spirit, memory, or the unconscious, there is a part of us that is heedless of time and its passage, that always just "is", both a repository and source of our experience. Sometimes its a smoldering ember. Sometimes its a roaring flame, if we let the wind blow across us and fuel it. In our younger, less responsible days, that flame roared, and losing ourselves for a few hours with others lets us find it, briefly, again.

P.S. Kool and the Gang was the opening act- However, due to an adolescent appetite for beer combined with a middle-aged bladder, other than a joyous, energetic "Celebration", I missed most of their 25 minute set!

Set List below:

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