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Van Halen: Tokyo Dome Live In Concert

The VH brothers and Dave are back, but has the ship really come in for their old fans?

In many ways this is a record about the passing of time. There are few things more 80s than a double live album, even more so one recorded in Japan [that notion of exotic distance always made the gig feel somehow more special].

And on it are new versions of songs that, it’s no exaggeration to say, were the foundation of 1980s heavy metal in America: Runnin’ With The Devil, Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love, Ice Cream Man, Hot For Teacher, Panama, the touchstone guitar solo Eruption. They’re played by the most influential musician of that era in Eddie Van Halen, and its most revered frontman, David Lee Roth. There is a heady nostalgic power to it all.

Yet this record emerges into a very different time. There are pre-teen kids putting up YouTube videos of themselves playing Eruption. David Lee Roth’s initial incarnation, which played with the conventions of the heroic metal frontman while enjoying all of its benefits, has been imitated and subverted so much that it leaves the originator with far less wriggle room.

So after an initial run from 1974-85 and then a return to full partnership in 2006, here comes this pair’s first live recording [a Van Halen live album with Sammy Hagar was released in 1993], and it is as much a requiem for what was than a valediction for what still exists.

Eddie’s gifts, despite rehab, divorce, cancer and a hip replacement, remain undiminished. He may be able to play these songs in his sleep, but it’s still a thrill to hear the hot, chunky riffs of Panama, or the dazzling fretboard tapping of Eruption, or the breathless raunch of Hot For Teacher performed with knuckle-snapping dexterity and obvious relish for their greatness.

Roth’s gifts, however, were always more ephemeral. No one could sell a song like Diamond Dave, and yet much of it was bound up in persona. The voice came accompanied by the overwhelming force of his charisma. It now sounds robbed not just of range but also of conviction. The belief in it all has gone.

He’s also surrounded by Van Halens – Eddie and Alex have been joined by Eddie’s son Wolfgang on bass – and that may be isolating too. Whatever the reason, the vital snap has left him, and one of rock’n’roll’s central partnerships now runs at half speed./o:p

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