I saw Van Halen on a Tinder date and it went about as well as you’d expect
In which one poor idea becomes two.
At 7:30 Monday morning I awoke and looked at my phone, as I do every morning. Per usual, I saw a billion Facebook notifications and a trillion work emails. There was also a lone email to my personal inbox from Ticketmaster. It was a friendly reminder that six months ago, amid a manic binge of purchases, I chose to throw down $94 for two general admission tickets (including parking and the dreaded Ticketmaster fees) to see Van Halen at the Circuit of Americas Amphitheater in Austin. That night. I’ve loved Van Halen since early childhood. I’ve loved women since seeing The Fifth Element in the theaters. I think I assumed that within the six months from purchase date to concert date, I would have found a girlfriend that would be willing to indulge my childish impulses to see dinosaur rock bands. I assumed wrong.
I had lost any desire to drive 45 minutes out of town to see Van Halen. As a young’un, Van Halen (never Van Hagar) was one of my favorite rock n’ roll bands. Van Halen II was one of my first vinyl albums. I was always stoked to hear the opening strains of “Eruption” and “Panama” when the FM rock station would deign to play them between extended bouts of 3 Doors Down and that terrible Fred Durst/Guy from Staind song. You know what I’m talking about. Unfortunately, my initial excitement was quickly extinguished by watching recent live videos of the band. Just… geez, it’s pretty rough, ya’ll.
Depending on your age, you may or may not know how difficult it is to get your friends to agree to do anything with you on a weeknight. My friends are great at assembling an impromptu bar crawl or kegger, not so much at following directions of any kind. At this moment I realized I could not sell my non-transferable Ticketmaster tickets (thanks, you fucks) so it was time to make a decision: go to the show alone knowing that I wasted a ticket, light 100 bucks on fire, or double down and make my night even worse. Gentle reader, I assure you I chose the latter; I opted to find a Tinder date for the affair.
I hate online dating. Aside from the very high likelihood that you’ll meet a Garbage Person, I have horrible anxiety. The prospect of meeting and spending a not-inconsiderable amount of time proving my value to a stranger is less than appealing to me. There are basic rules to going on a first date that you should definitely follow: Meet at a public place, don’t ride together to the date, plan an activity that allows the two of you to talk (movies and concerts are poor choices), and have an easy way to leave if you’re not feeling the date. I planned to ignore every one of these rules. JO(e)LO.
If you’ve never used Tinder (I envy you), here are the basics of the app’s functionality: (1) Swipe right on photos of people you think are not repulsive (2) If a person that deems you non-repulsive swipes right on you as well, you create a match (3) from there, you may message that person, or (4) Upload a “Moment” that all of your matches can see. A Moment is a photo that stays up for 24 hours. It’s designed to
create a conversational point share half naked selfies with all of your matches so that you can chat with someone who is currently active on the app. Armed with this #knowledge, I asked a question to everyone I’ve ever matched with on Tinder:
Shortly thereafter, I got a bite. So, I decided to lay it all out on the table:
After sorting out the details, I picked up my date at her home in South Austin and began the long and painful drive out of Austin, to Circuit of the Americas. Upon meeting her, I noticed that she didn’t much resemble the pictures in her profile, a common occurrence with online dating. But I wasn’t interested in her looks. I was interested in Van FUCKIN’ Halen. I attempted to learn a little about my date on the drive. Despite my myriad personality flaws, I’m actually capable at carrying on a conversation. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get much out of her. After a few dozen questions with single-word answers and aborted follow-up queries, the car was silent. Fellas: that’s a bad thing, especially on a first date. I began to regret telling this woman that I would write about our interactions on the Internet. The silence palpable, I opted to play some music from Spotify through the car stereo.
After a track of sweet, soulful Ryan Adams covering sweet, soulful TayTay, the playlist began to shuffle. For most folks, that’s fine. Unfortunately, I am a weirdo who listens to and writes about music that is bad and not good. “From the Womb to the Tomb” by the very excellent straightedge hardcore band Bishop began to blare through the speakers. I quickly hit “next” and my horrified date asked “What was that!?” I tried to explain that I’m a fan of all kinds of music, including metal. She remarked that it sounded awful, which is probably objectively accurate. I decided not to attempt a discussion on Van Halen’s significance within the development of metal, particularly that Eddie Van Halen’s groundbreaking guitar work continues to influence millions of metalheads. I also neglected to mention exactly where this piece would be published.
We arrived at the gate as Van Halen hit the stage, just as I planned (the opening act was Kenny Wayne Shepherd‘s band. I am not yet a cargoshort-ed and goatee-d dad, so I still have yet to learn to appreciate Blueshammer.) As the opening bass line of “Running With The Devil” thumped, David Lee Roth remarked to the crowd “Hey, I know that song”. This would prove to be a totally inaccurate statement.
The venue was utterly packed. There were were more people crammed into the amphitheater that night than there were when I saw a country music festival. In Texas. On the Fouth of July. My date and I pushed forward through the fairweather fans in the General Admission section as far as we could while trying not to upset the many, many wasted middle-aged men in cut-off Confederate flag Pantera tees. The stench of ditch weed permeated like a childhood friend; warm, familiar, and not just a little embarrassing. It was a Monday with a distinctly 40+ crowd, but these folks were here to get down.
The three men with the surname Van Halen (Michael Anthony was cruelly ousted from the band a few years ago, replaced by Eddie’s son Wolfgang on bass and backup vocals) were ripping through the set. Hit after hit, these gentlemen displayed the kind virtuosity and panache at their instruments you would hope for from men that have devoted their entire lives to hedonistic rock n’ roll. Alex Van Halen beat the everloving shit out of his drums in a way that would be inspiring from a younger man, let alone a man 3-years shy of an AARP card. Wolfgang was admirably competent with his basslines and almost as good at Michael “Cannon Mouth” Anthony’s trademark harmonies. Eddie was everything I ever hoped to see as a guitar-obsessed teenager. He is a man that lives and breathes these pop-metal classics; the way he carries rhythm guitar with seemingly-impossible lead fills, vocal harmonies, and of course, his blisteringly sweet guitar solos, blew my tits clean off. Which brings us to our frontman, the one-and-only David Lee Roth.
My date and I stood silently, awkwardly next to each other. The band romped from “Runnin’ with the Devil” to “Dance the Night Away”. She grabbed my arm and excitedly yelled into my ear “I love this song!” “Me too!”, I screamed back, “This was one of my first albums!”. “Cool!” she replied. You’re nailing it, I decided to myself. As the band moved on to some song I’ve never heard in my life and will likely never hear again, the siren call of a $9 domestic tallboy could no longer be ignored. I left to grab us beers, dropped the lone $20 in my pocket, and returned, halfway surprised that she didn’t bail.
DLR and EVH have had beef for years. It’s not difficult to see why. Eddie Van Halen is a Serious Musician. Technically and compositionally skilled, Eddie mastered the art of writing a rock hit. And though he is unquestionably a better singer, I have zero interest in seeing Van Halen with Sammy Hagar (or *barf* Gary Cherone). All the VH songs I know and love feature one lovable asshole on lead vocals. David Lee Roth is a cheeseball. He knows it and embraces it. You can watch any of the (amazing) old Van Halen music videos and see him inhabit his brilliant Sex God/Used Car Salesman/Gymnast/Sunset Strip Trash persona. Though he wasn’t a great singer, David Lee Roth is the consummate showman. The cultural treasure that IS Van Halen would not exist without him and his goofball antics. Here’s the problem: David Lee Roth can’t fucking sing.
After a couple of rough attempts that I tried to chalk up to rust, it was apparent: Diamond Dave has a vocal range about an inch wide and his memory is somehow even worse. He seems to have forgotten the vocal melody and lyrics to just about every song he’s performed thousands of times. I say this, not to be an aggressively hyperbolic and jaded, but to be totally honest. Whatever musical abilities DLR had are just about entirely gone. But somehow, he still has “It”.
Watching the man parade around the stage, aggressively spinning his mic stand like a katana, pelvic thrusting, and jump kicking like a madman is magical. It’s like seeing your drunk, burnout uncle slur and leap to the table at Thanksgiving dinner and, without missing a beat, perform a perfect Gene Kelly “Singin’ In The Rain” song and dance routine. David Lee Roth had no less than eight (my date and I attempted to keep count) outfit changes while shimmying, shaking, and otherwise musically destroying every song. Lest you think I’m being a Grumpy Pants Blogger, my date soon remarked “He’s… awful”. We spent much of the night watching in equal parts adoration and horror.
The Three Van Halens butted up against Diamond Dave for an entire set, their professionalism and skill at odds with his reckless showmanship and hopelessly off-tune voice. I began to understand why Eddie and Dave aren’t the best of bros. To his credit, near the end of the show a stage hand threw DLR an acoustic guitar. He picked away and beautifully sang “Ice Cream Man”. Right up until the rest of the band came in, then it was back to garbagetime. Perhaps our man was sandbagging this performance?
Probably not. DLR’s inability to remember lyrics brought the show to an absolute nadir (for me). “Unchained” is a perfect song. It begins with an iconic riff that carries the entire song, sweaty machismo throughout. The recording of the song’s bridge is an essential moment in rock history. In the studio, David Lee Roth notably began to heckle some dickbag label suit from the recording booth. “Hey man, that suit is YOU. You’ll get some leg tonight for sure…” From this moment, he requests a massive drum break and totally gets it. Unfortunately, our man forgot his stage banter for the night, stumbled a bit, and finally blurted out a meager “Break”, much to the relief of the rest of the band, I’m sure. But goddamn, did he look cool pulling off his hyperathletic moves on stage. I hope I’m in half the shape he is when I’m his age.
Alex and Eddie both got time for extended solo pieces, and both killed it. Watching a 10-minute warmup to “Eruption” was easily the highlight for me, and my date. After a mercifully brief closing, the band came back for an encore of “Jump” (my date’s favorite tune), and “Panama” (my favorite).
We joined the throng of buzzed suburbanites to leave this awful county tax boondoggle and head back to their respective homes. What happened next? Well, let’s just say wink, wink, say no more.*
*She fell asleep in the car, I dropped her off at home, drove back to my apartment, then drank beers while listening to records. It was enjoyable. I don’t think I’m cut out for dating.