Am I a fan of Van Halen? Honestly... not really. Was I ever? Hard to say. I've seen them a grand total of 4 times. Twice when they headlined the Monsters of Rock show back in the 1988 Van Hagar days. You remember that show at Three Rivers Stadium with Scorpions, Dokken, Metallica and the bizarre Led Zep rip-off band Kingdom Come (yeah, I know... there sound was totally unique). It was the all-day concert where everyone had to piss in the woods on the 279N parkway. High school kids just didn't know how to hold it in congested traffic. For god sakes, we could have gotten uromysitisis (Seinfeld). I saw them at the Akron Rubber Bowl, too. Me and my buddy Smitty drove up for that one. It was my first memorable parking lot encounter with the bumper sticker selling Krishnas. If you've ever wondered what happened to the Marshall County Krishnas selling roses at the Pittsburgh airport... well, they never left us. They just migrated to concert and sporting venues. I'd kill for one of those original "In Search of the Eternal Buzz" bumper stickers.
Isn't it crazy that people would drive around with that shit on their cars? I guess they still do (Bad Cop: No Doughnut, Legalize It, What a long strange trip it's been... etc.).
I also saw an incredibly lackluster reunion performance of Van Halen in 2008 at Mellon Arena. That's 4 times I've seen these guys, so I believe my input is credible. Have I ever seen Kool and the Gang? Honestly, I'm not entirely sure. I recall a show from Station Square about a decade ago, but it turns out that was KC and the Sunshine Band. I've also seen a few of those funk festivals or as their labeled in the Burgh, "Beat Bashes." I might have seen Kool and the Wang at some WDVE rib cook-off or chili fest. Maybe it was a Pirates game. I do not know. I do not care.
But like many of you, I immediately questioned, "Why the hell are they opening for Van Halen?" What a peculiar double-bill. So I googled it. It turns out they both played the Glastonbury Festival (Europe) last summer and became friends backstage. Eddie Van Halen proposed the pairing. Apparently, he thought their band epitomized 1980's hard rock and Koolio and the Tang were the essence of 1980's funk party music. The more I think about it, the more it seems to make sense. And the Van Halenites have some pretty big egos while trying to relive their glory days. It would likely hurt their feelings if people said, "Whitesnake, Winger or some other sub-par 80's hair band blew them off the stage." Therefore, you go with a different genre altogether. Wise.
So Gigi and I took our usual non-circuit path to Consol. Pig Bar > Springhaven > Pollock Hill > deep into the hood and parked at the Church of the Moops. Gig prepared a bad ass chicken salad with all the fixins. With the exception of an avocado that was on its last legs, I would term that salad "fresh" (in honor of Kool and his Gang). And she even provided high-end Saltine crackers for the obligatory crunch factor. Way to go! So what's the best brand of Saltine you ask? Here is the top 3 in descending order.
We arrived at our usual staging area (any cement block outside the 5th avenue entrance). I displayed a really weak ghetto sign that read "I want 2 free tickets." Of course we ran into Tim aka "the best scalper in Steeltown." He wasn't having much luck. Then, we were mildly harassed by 2 cops - one a homely male, the other a beefish female. When I use the term "beefish," it just means she seemed like someone who'd have an affinity for Dinty Moore Beef Stew. The pigs made us take down our sign. Whatever.
Well, much to our surprise, the sign had worked retroactively. About 10 minutes later, 2 large bald men approached us and handed over 2 freebies. Ka-Blam! Good seats, too. Section 112, Row K ($142 face plus service charge). Their only stipulation was that one of them wanted to be on the end of the aisle because of a self-admitted "bathroom problem." I silently reasoned, "Well, that's fine with me. His urinary issues shouldn't have any definable impact." I think that same guy had another 2-4 tickets. Makes you wonder who actually paid hundreds of dollars for this David La-Roth-Crap. What's the world coming too? (Robert DeNiro in Good Fellas just before Joe Peschi shoots Spider)
Kool and the Gang was halfway through their set as we wandered the lower level. We stopped by the t-shirt stand. I always enjoy watching the impetuous t-shirt buyers. They always seem so determined and focused. Most need the official, properly licensed memorabalia for $35 - $40. No, the $10 t-shirt sold in the parking lot will not suffice. A generic, knock-off tour shirt would dampen my concert expectations. For we are rock stars and this is a great concert. Live this night as if it were your last! (Commander Kurn - Worf's brother during the Klingon Civil War).
So we're checking out the motley crew of t-shirt purchasers. Gigi turns to this guy and asks, "Which t-shirt are you thinking of getting." They both exchange weird glances and take a mutual step back. Gig asks with an inquisitive look, "Hey, did I work with you? Are you an intern?" The guy looks at her and says, "Georgiann, I'm you're cousin!" They both immediately busted out in laughter . He explains that him and his buddy drove down from Cleveland for the show. Kind of an amusing coincidence. Neither of us generally talk to random strangers, unless the situation calls for it. We prefer to just people watch. Well, except when she feels an overwhelming inclination to take photos for everyone.
As Kool and the Gang finished with an endearing "celebration," we watched from the usual overhang in the Captain Morgan's lounge. Most of the crowd seemed into it. They sounded decent. 20 minutes later, Van Halen burst onto the stage opening with Unchained (my favorite song of theirs). It was so loud, it was beyond absurd. Not distorted, just loud for the sake of volume. Reminded me of Spinal Tap and the volume setting of 11. A father in front of us had his two kids for the night. Probably their first rock concert, they looked like 3rd or 4th graders. All were wearing ear plugs but one of the kids was still covering his ears in obvious discomfort. The more I thought about, the more I think it constituted some form of child abuse. Honestly, this was one of the loudest concerts I've ever attended. And I've seen the whole spectrum (hard rock to death, thrash, speed or whatever you call heavy metal). All size venues, too. It was just way too loud.
Nonetheless, Van Halen sounded credible I suppose. Way better than the last time they came in 2008. That show was abysmal. While taking a piss, this drunkard a few stalls over bellowed, "David Lee Roth sounds like's a hundred years old." Rest assured, their lead singer still has all the goofy mannerisms. He struts around like an NBC peacock and makes these aberrant gesticulations, pointing in Tebow-like fashion at Eddie's guitar. He's the perfect parody of himself. Completely unaware of his self-mocking speech and ego-maniacal behavior.
I do like some Van Halen songs. Hot For Teacher, Panama, Unchained, that's about it
I don't like some Van Halen songs. I'll Wait, Jump, anything with Sammy Hagar
I find it odd that a band with such an array of original material would play so many cover songs (You Really Got Me, Ice Cream Man, Pretty Woman). This reminds me that it's a party, not a concert. Perhaps another reason why Kool and the Gang opened up. All in all, I don't love Van Halen. I don't hate Van Halen. I just kind of accept Van Halen. They're a lot like a spaghetti church dinner. Sure, it's not the greatest atmosphere or finest cuisine. But your hunger will be satiated and you get to hang out with your companions. Kind of like the feeling a baby must get when you stick a pacifier in its mouth.
One last thing, as a connaisseur of concert venues... I'm beginning to miss the old days. Consol is just too damn pristine. I miss the stomped out cigarette butts, the spilled beer and the sticky floor, the multiple piles of vomit in the stairwell. I miss the urinal stench and discarded hot dog wrappers. But I will admit, at least we got to see the sights. A few scattered rat-tails and mullets with varying degrees of plumage. Some teased up, bouffant hairdos and ill-defined boob job recipients. For many it was a special night out on the town. For some, it was the "greatest night of their adult lives." For us... well, we had some dinner and walked around for a bit. And we even got to see some of our friends. Just like a spaghetti church dinner. Thank god it didn't cost us.