Four Quotes From the Van Halen Show Last Saturday, aka The Greatest Night In The History Of Tacoma

eddievanhalen
1. Every member of Van Halen, save for Wolfgang, got a solo highlight at some point during the show at the Tacoma Dome. Alex did an extended drum solo, accompanied by a backing tape of some shockingly cheesy, Miami Sound Machine-esque horn arrangements. It was out of character with the rest of the show, even more than having Kool & The Gang as opening act, which turned out to be a fairly effective, savvy play on ‘80s nostalgia.

We’ll get to David Lee Roth’s solo portion in a sec. But Eddie’s solo spotlight, as you might have guessed, was the 10-minute sensory manipulation everybody was waiting for. Normally I don’t fall into the thralls over guitar wankery. It’s no more impressive than those kids who can switch out Solo cups in stacks at lightning-fast speed. But Eddie Van Halen doesn’t just master the guitar: He disciplines it. Finger-tapping’s just the tip of the iceberg. Eddie beats that guitar in places where no free-standing object deserves to be beaten. His command of the volume knob is matched only by Jeff Beck, another guitarist I thought was “wanky” until I actually saw him play last year. It was a marvelous, downright salacious display of power, justifying my long-held opinion that, except for Hendrix, Eddie is the greatest guitarist ever in the ad-hoc genre of classic rock.

Mare, who went with me to the show, typed something out on her cell phone and showed it to me about three-quarters of the way through the solo:

“What a hack.”

Mare was joking. She cleared that up immediately. It was a joke.


2. The beginning of this story doesn’t even happen in Tacoma. In fact it goes back a few weeks, when I had lunch in Redmond with an up-and-coming Croatian dance-pop artist, Kerli. She was a very nice person with a penchant for very high, self-constructed platform shoes. Along with the rep from her record label who’s a good friend of mine, she was accompanied by someone whose exact title in relation to her escapes me. I think he was defined as her manager? Some sort of guiding, managerial title. I told you I don’t do well with titles. But his name was Bruce Roberts, a gentleman older than myself with some good-natured gravitas in his demeanor.

My cohorts and I (I have cohorts) of course paid most of our attentions to Kerli, but in engaging Bruce in some conversation he told us he’d been in the business for years, and had some success as a songwriter.

“Really?” I asked. “What songs of yours would I know?”

“You remember this one song,” he said, “called ‘Enough Is Enough’?”

I gasped. “The Donna Summer song?”

“Yes, that one.”

“Of course I remember it!”

It was actually a duet between Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer. And to be completely accurate, lest we forget, the actual title was “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” and he co-wrote it with Paul Jabara. But who cares! I remember the song well.

So that evening when I got home, I looked up Roberts on the internet to see what other things he’d done in the business. He has his own Wikipedia page, in which I further discovered that he had co-written quite a few songs I knew, including Babs’ theme to her film The Main Event, and a curious little number I’d always had some fascination with called “You’re Moving Out Today,” co-written by Roberts, Carole Bayer Sager and Bette Midler.

But that wasn’t the killer takeaway from Roberts’ Wikipedia article – that, my friend, was this:
Roberts, according to Danny Bonaduce, provided most of the vocals accredited to Bonaduce on his self-titled album Danny Bonaduce in 1973.
I checked the reference, and this fact was indeed confirmed in an interview with Mr. B himself:
“That should have been called Danny Vanilli! You can barely hear me on that, I hardly sang. A really talented singer and musician named Bruce Roberts sang most of it, especially the high notes.”
Well, I thought. This internet thing might be more than a craze, and I filed it away.

Cut to Saturday night, when Mare and I are walking from the Tacoma Dome light rail station to the venue. We’re hoping to see some of Kool And The Gang, ‘cause we’re all Romy and Michele, but we’re not going to be upset if we miss some. There is, of course, a radio station on the premises underneath one of those porta-tents, and in this case it’s Seattle’s classic rock station, KZOK. As we pass, Mare and I notice that there’s a small line forming in front of the tent and a guy in a leather jacket holding court. I take a look at the guy from a distance, then stop in my tracks.

“Mare, do you know who that is?”

“No, who?”

“That’s Danny Bonaduce!”

It then dawns on me that when I had done internet research on Roberts and Bonaduce that day a few weeks ago, I had come across a news item from last year about how Bonaduce was the new morning man at KZOK. So that made sense.

I pause and quickly measure the casualty count if I miss K&TG’s “Hollywood Swingin’.” I come to the conclusion that I’ll live.

“We have to get our picture with him. We just have to.”

So, possibly against better judgment, and just as we can hear some Kool And The Gang coming from inside the Dome, Mare and I get in a line of about 12 people, waiting to get a tell-tale shot of them posing with the former child star of The Partridge Family. I won’t go deeply into his intervening tabloid trouble years ‘cause I believe in redemption and all that. He seemed to be a gregarious and welcoming, if slightly excitable, guy.

While Mare and I are in line, I tell her the story about meeting Roberts. “By the way, you know who I had lunch with a few weeks ago? The guy who did most of the vocals on the Danny Bonaduce solo album!”

“No kidding?”

“Yeah, he was a real… a…”

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the children’s novels with the umbrella title A Series Of Unfortunate Events, but I’ve been reading it to Lucie basically this whole calendar year. They’re great books. It’s not important. One of the children in the books is named Violet Baudelaire, and her skill is inventing things. When she gets an idea to invent something the narrator, Lemony Snicket, depicts her getting a look on her face, scrunching up her hair, and tying it up in a bow. That’s her thinking pose.

At this moment, I am Violet Baudelaire, except I can’t bunch my hair in a bow because I’m bald.

Sometimes I struggle in conversation to find an “ice-breaker.” I’m kind of hit-or-miss with small talk, believe it or not, especially with celebrities, because they exist on a plane of exposure I’ve never really been on, and they must see all us little people shrieking or wilting upon impact, and I’m a little more self-conscious of acting like a buffoon, so usually I just stand there awkwardly and try to find an opening for a joke. It’s gotten better through the years, especially with musicians. I don’t really have to find an angle with musicians. We almost always get along fine. But celebrities of another type – actors, DJ's, tabloid figures? A bit tougher. That’s why I need a good ice-breaker with those types.

I had a killer ice-breaker with Bonaduce, and I knew it.

“Mare, you know what?”

“What?”

“I’m gonna tell Danny Bonaduce that I just had lunch with Bruce Roberts.”

“Oh, yeah!”

“Let’s see what happens.”

What I meant, of course, was “Let’s see if Bonaduce expresses a warm, shocked remembrance from his adolescence and greets me fondly, or whether he hauls back and clocks me upside the grill in post-steroid rage.”

We finally get to the front of the line. We hand our camera-phones to the people behind us, which seems to be an accepted tradition in these kinds of events, but I’m not certain.

Bonaduce’s a nice guy. The three of us take a series of snaps together first, like this one:
memareanddanny

Then Danny says something to Mare – I think it was about some sort of fashionable thing she was wearing – and I see my chance and shake his hand.

“By the way,” I say, all insider-like, “a couple of weeks ago I had lunch with Bruce Roberts.”

Danny’s reaction? Shock. Stun. Extreme surprise. Sort of like this:
bonaduce

The name has completely caught him off-guard. Then Bonaduce, who is the very definition of muscular and stocky and more than a little intimidating in person, rears back a bit, and says in the booming voice that’s become pretty familiar to us all:

“HOW’S HE DOING??????”

“He’s doing great,” I say. “Looked very well.”

“WHAT IS HE UP TO THESE DAYS????”

“Well, he’s managing this dance-pop star from Croatia…”

Then Danny gives me this rather forceful, strong endorsement:

“THAT MAN’S A FORCE OF FUCKING NATURE!!!!”

And then he walks away.

That’s it. End of encounter.

I mean, I suppose I could have chased him for further explanation, but he’d moved on to another group of well-wishers and turned his back to us. I felt okay with our exchange. Besides, it wasn’t even close to the last surreal moment of the evening.


3. There is a giant video screen behind Van Halen on this tour and it remains engaged the whole show. You see why they need big rooms: It’s the biggest video screen I’ve ever seen at a concert, and that includes the 6 million or so that played behind, over, under and sometimes alongside U2 in their tour last year. Most of the night this screen sticks to images of the band playing live, shots of Van Halen posters, the logo, press photos, and perhaps most helpfully, a giant shot of the cover of the new album A Different Kind Of Truth and a blurb that explains the new album is “now available at Best Buy!”

(BTW, in re: the new VH album, despite my lampooning of the lead track “Tattoo” earlier this year, I really like the album a lot. That wasn’t expected. But it’s a very, very good Van Halen album. So that’s settled.)

As I mentioned, everybody in the band except Wolfgang (who’s a very good bassist) gets their own solo part of the show to shine onstage all by themselves. Diamond David Lee Roth gets one too. It happens about two-thirds of the way through. Stage goes dark. The video screen suddenly comes to life.

Dave stands on a riser to the right of Alex’s drums, tastefully dressed and picking on an acoustic guitar. That was one surprise of the evening: David Lee Roth actually plays guitar, even more than serviceably. I was not aware of that. Mare couldn’t believe it – we even broached the idea that perhaps he was guitar-synching, but I think he was really playing it. He could more than hold his own in a folk club.

Anyway, he’s standing there, Elvis-like, watching what’s playing on the big screen behind him. That’s the interesting part. Because after having this screen assault us with various Van Halen propaganda and branding for most of the last 100 minutes, quite without notice, the video screen comes alive with shots of a dog running through a meadow.

Chasing sheep.

It looks a lot like the video on this page, in fact. Sorry, I’m having problems embedding it here. If I could, the still might look like this:
davesdogs

That’s David Lee Roth in the back with one of his shepherding dogs.

You know, like in Babe.

The video goes on for five minutes. During this entire time, David Lee Roth delivers a monologue, devoted exclusively to his activities in raising champion shepherd dogs.

The Tacoma Dome is filled to near-capacity. We had just seen the band perform “Hot For Teacher” a few songs back. It was a crazy, if somewhat middle-aged, scene replete with memories of debauchery.

And now, settling like ashes from the fiery highs of the evening, we’re all standing listening to one of the most flamboyant lead singers in hard rock history, a few decades removed from his salad days but still charming as a society lad, deliver a few words about the inner workings, pitfalls and emotional benefits of training shepherd dogs.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s a very moving moment. Dave obviously loves the dogs. He’s shown in the video helping to train the dogs, and he’s clearly loving every minute of it. This makes him really happy. It’s touching. It’s a rather sweet commentary on the satisfaction that can be harbored after the highest of high lives. Dave’s genuine. I really like the guy.

It’s just surreal that he’s taking the time to talk about it in the middle of a two-hour arena rock show. But screw it, it’s his gig! He can do what he wants! It’s a bizarre interruption, but you gotta love the moment. So eventually I get caught up in it. All right, Dave’s going to talk to me about his dogs.

Do you know they’ve been to nationals? They’re really good at what they do. It is an impressive demonstration.

Finally, in a night filled with the obvious audience response-getters – “How you doin’ Tacoma!!!” “Are you ready to fuckin’ rock out??” – and some not-so-obvious, humorous ones, Dave delivers what has to be one of the most earnest, hard-to-argue response-getters of my entire arena-rock history:

“I LOVE DOGS! AND I BET THERE’S A LOT OF YOU OUT THERE WHO ARE WITH ME, RIGHT??”

“YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!”

I'm not going to stand pat on that, though. I thrust my devil-horn fist in the air and shout,

“YEAH! DOGS RULE!!!!”

I do like dogs. I don’t have one but I like ‘em.

Dave then tore into “Ice Cream Man.” He played guitar.


4. Tacoma cops gots to get their shit together when it comes to directing traffic out of the Dome vicinity.

I managed to get to the venue early enough – three and a half hours before showtime – that I found parking on the side of 26th Avenue and didn’t have to pay for it. That’s good, because parking at the Dome was $40, which was my budget for the whole evening. I got there early because Mare and I had dinner downtown before the gig.

After the show Mare asks me to drive her back to her car, which is in a lot quite a few blocks away from the Dome, close to the restaurant. Of course I would. But getting off 26th Avenue is a little problematic, because I’d parked the car in the lane going in the direction towards the Dome, meaning I had to fight to get out. So for about 20 minutes, we’re in a single lane of traffic that is mostly at a complete standstill.

We eventually get to the intersection that’s the fulcrum of all the delay, and there’s a traffic cop in the middle of it. One side of the crossing street is closed for construction. I’m trying to get to Pacific Avenue, the street the restaurant was on, and to do that I’d have to go straight. But the cop is directing me to turn left, something I didn’t want to do. Nevertheless, he’s a cop. I don’t want to cause trouble, and besides I can always find my way back to Pacific since it's a major arterial street.

I turn left and start driving. In the opposite lane, up ahead of me, is a parked police car with flashing lights. I don’t think much of it. I figure he’s parked there to prevent cars coming from the opposite direction. I don’t really know what his strategy is, but I figure my pathway is unobstructed.

Keep in mind this is two days after my last close call on the roadways, which could have ended much more badly but didn’t.

I drive normally. Speed limit. I approach the plane where the cop car with the flashing lights currently resides. As the front of my car comes across the plane, the cop car starts moving. Since he’s positioned perpendicularly to the actual flow of traffic, that means his car is coming straight at my front door.

I screech on the brakes. The cop screeches on his. I think I hear a “pop” and that the cop has just plied his car directly into my door. “Fuck!”

Everybody’s stopped. The cop gets out of his car and roughly approaches mine. He looks like your typical cop – well, the plump kind. Not the heroic, peacekeeper kind of cop that's lean with a straight, defined jaw. Instead he's the balding, chunky, teenage-dreams-left-to-die kind of cop. Like me, in other words.

“DO YOU KNOW WHAT FLASHING LIGHTS MEAN?” he demands.

“But that cop back there at the intersection told me to turn left!” I protest.

“DO YOU KNOW THAT YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO STOP WHEN YOU SEE A POLICE CAR WITH FLASHING LIGHTS???”

“But… but I was just coming through! The other cop told me to turn left! I didn’t want to! You were in the other lane! I didn’t think you meant for me to stop!”

The cop retreats back to his car. I sense some milling about behind him but I don’t pay it mind.

I think the cop was probably buzzing someone at the station or something like that. He had already approached me closely enough to know I hadn’t been drinking. You kidding? I’m not paying $8 for a Bud Light. Of course I hadn’t been drinking. Well, I had two beers at dinner. But that was hours ago. Not at the venue. It's eight fucking dollars. Eleven if you want a Corona.

Suddenly, he gets out of his car and approaches me. He’s calmed down now. “All right. As you can see, my car stopped about one-quarter inch short of your car door. I am going to pull back very slowly and you will see that there’s no damage to your car.”

There is a dent in my back door, but that was from an earlier, minor accident with my mother-in-law's car that I just never bothered to fix. What the hell? We're family.

Cop gets back into his car and pulls off very slowly. I tilt my head out the window, observe my front door, and indeed confirm that the cop stopped short of my car door and caused no damage.

“You see that? I'm showing you that your car has no damage!” the cop says.

“Yes, I see,” I respond. “No damage.”

“All right, you can go!”

“Okay. Now – which way am I supposed to go?”

“Go as you were going. The I-5’s up that way.” I don’t want to get to the I-5 of course, but I just want out of there. I’m sick of cars.

But then I finally realize what’s happening in the buzz behind the cop car. There’s a group of people, fronted by two young, maybe college-age men, capturing the entire episode on their camera-phones.

Obviously they’d seen the pre-existing damage on the back door – which the cop did not cause – and were taping the whole thing to ensure that I would get justice. They're yelling at me, trying to reassure me not to worry because they had just gotten the entire incident on video.

“We saw the whole thing!!! We got it on camera, dude!!!”

“It’s okay! There was no damage! It’s all right, but thanks.”

“Hey dude, don’t let it go! Don’t worry about it!  WE GOT YOUR BACK, BRO!!!!!”

The cop discreetly, somewhat embarrasedly, returns to his car. Mare and I leave, and take a brief detour but eventually get back to her parking lot, at least fleetingly comforted that my “back” is “got” the entire way.


Other than that, the show was great.

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