reunion deathmatch: the police v. van halen
a look at both shows and a little gen-x nostalgia
by joe procopio
If you had asked me which bands I regretted most never having seen live, the answer would have been easy.
Everything I know about rock music begins with the Police. The Beatles broke up 7 years before the first Police record came out. In 1984, U2 was passed the torch of biggest band in the world by the Police (some say it happened onstage at Live Aid). Men at Work was for babies and nerds, but cool kids like me were into the Police. I had the chance to see them in 1983, but I was a little kid and I chickened out, figuring there was no way the rents were letting that happen. And when they broke up, it was acri-freaking-monius. Sting turned into a dick, or maybe he just finally had the chance to let his inner dickness shine. They were never getting back together. In fact, I wrote a column long ago calling out the last nail in that coffin.
Everything I know about guitar begins with Eddie Van Halen. I never dug metal, and I really never bonded with classic rock. My own version of hell's house band has Steve Miller on guitar, Jack Bruce on bass, Don Henley on drums, that dude from Kansas on keyboards, and all of them singing lead vocals at the same time. But man, I loved some Van Halen. I spent days and weeks trying to figure out how he did those awesome things he did. And it wasn't just the pyrotechnics, it was the sound. I'm still tweaking trying to find the punch he gets on the opening of Panama. Now, I'll admit to you that 1986 was a weird year for me. I was way into girls and stuff, and had kind of put rock on the back burner. I picked up 5150 for my walkman right before a weeklong family drive from New York to our vacation place in North Carolina. I unwrapped the cassette, popped it in, hit play...
Wait a minute... that's not Dave. THAT'S NOT DAVE!
I saw Van Halen once, in 1991. It was not. It was so not.
Now, if you had then told me that I would get to see both bands, fully intact (sorry Michael Anthony, but you're the Ringo), within six weeks, I would have punched you in the mouth for being a filthy liar. Then I would have given you a big weepy hug and asked about getting on the list.
I'm not alone. Both bands achieved classic rock, arena rock greatness. Mythical big. But both were either too quirky or ended too quickly to get stale like said Eagles, Cream, Kansas, or Midnight Toker. Sting's solo work is exactly what the Police would have sounded like without input from Andy Summers or Stewart Copeland, which is maybe what he was shooting for. Van Hagar is a different band. It trades wink-nudge for "Hey, is my dick out?"
So these reunions were events. And if you didn't go, shame on you. If I catch you buying tickets to Smashing Pumpkins, that's another punch in the mouth. But it's understandable. They were expensive events, they were hard to get tickets for, and it's just plain difficult to catch a concert these days. Most of us wanted to go. Most of us didn't go. So for those of you who are most of you, here is what nostalgia is like, Gen-X Style, no punches pulled.
I'm not young. I won't try to fool you. I've got kids. But they're little kids. They still pee everywhere. So I'm not that old. I was also aware that I was on the tail end of the arc of both of these bands. But the average age of this concert was just a little bit above narc. It wasn't like a James Taylor concert, where alongside the T-Shirts and programs you can buy a nice warm blanket and a bag of Werther's Originals, but it was definitely gray. This was kind of cool, in the way that seeing old people rock out is kind of cool, but it was also kind of creepy, in the way that seeing old people in tank tops is kind of creepy.
Hollywood had us pegged after all. While both of these crowds were older, they were definitely two distinct crowds. Van Halen fans wore leather and denim, screamed their heads off for solos, karate kicks, and any mention of anything remotely local ("We thought they knew how to rock in Shelbyville"). Flip side, entire sections, including mine, sat during the entirety of the Police concert. And make no mistake, the Police killed it, and the crowd sure did appreciate it, but that's where it ended. Let's put it this way: After a blazing Andy Summers guitar solo to open "Driven to Tears," the guy next to me in the sweater and khakis put down his binoculars long enough to go "Woo."
That's "Woo." Not "Woo!"
We're Apparently Hard of Hearing
The Police was kind of loud, and Van Halen was HOLY SMOKE I THINK I CAN FEEL MY PANCREAS VIBRATING loud. In an ironic twist, I forgot to bring earplugs to Van Halen, and remembered for the Police, where I didn't need them. What?
We're Still Cynical
Bless them. They still get us. The sets were spare. The lightshow was cool but not overpowering. Neither band bantered much. In fact, at the beginning of the Van Halen show, Dave came right out and said, "We're not going to waste any time, so let's go." No pyrotechnics. No wires. No props save a giant inflatable microphone that Dave rode at the end of the concert. Oddly enough, that worked.
There were two cool moments. The Van Halen show was only the second of the tour - which was great because we were pretty sure they wouldn't have broken up that quickly - and at one point while Dave was reminiscing, he put his arm around Eddie for a second and got all choked up. Also, during "So Lonely," Sting quipped the line "Welcome to this stupid corporate show." Both moments could have come off condescending, neither did.
There were two moments that didn't ring. At one point Dave appeared with an acoustic guitar and went into this long, rambling story about being a kid and getting high and having no responsibilities, and that vamped into "Ice Cream Man," which is about as nostalgic and deep and a Girls Gone Wild ad. It's like he had almost talked Eddie into letting him do "Good Times" from his solo record - which actually would have been kind of cool - and at the last minute they chucked it but needed to keep the speech so the Van Halens could all go smoke.
The other was during "Invisible Sun" when on the giant video monitors they put up pictures of obviously emperiled children from either Africa or South America or maybe both with no explanation as to why they were so sad. I mean, yeah, it sucks that there's poor kids. Why this was brought to my attention between "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" and "De Do Do Do De Da Da Da" is beyond me. Just tell me who to throw money at, Sting.
We're Not Posers
The set lists for both shows were incredible. They did all the hits, and I can forgive them for the cheesy hits ("Jump," "Every Breath You Take"), but they also dug deep and went for songs I wasn't expecting. Van Halen didn't have to do "Little Guitars" or "Atomic Punk." The Police could have gotten away without "Synchronicity II" or "Truth Hits Everybody." They did them because those were the best songs on the record and the labels didn't want to release them as singles. They knew we dug them, so they played them. I would have killed to hear "Drop Dead Legs," "No Time This Time," or "Rehumanize Yourself." But I got more than I was expecting.
Our Rock Stars Are Rock Stars
Take out Wolfgang Van Halen (who actually was probably in the worst physical shape of the seven anyway), and your youngest guy is what, 55? 60? Somwhere in there. Eddie Van Halen didn't wear a shirt. Are you kidding me? I don't lead a rock star life of expensive catered meals, ample free booze, and a workday that runs from 10:00 p.m. to midnight. I work out every day. I watch what I eat. I'm an ectomorph with a type A personality. I HAVE TO WEAR A SHIRT.
It isn't fair is all.
Everyone looked great. Andy looked a little pudgy, but he's, like, 90.
Some Of Us Really Suck
How do you pay upwards of $100 per ticket plus parking for a once-in-a-lifetime show that's the hardest ticket in town and leave before the end of the set? Not the encore, not the second encore, but before the guys pretend to walk off stage for the first time.
So Christmas came early for me this year. Twice. And it may have been that way for a lot of you. I hope so. And I tell you, if something like this comes around again, don't hesitate. Go. If it's Led Zeppelin or the Replacements or even McCartney and Ringo. Go. Make sure you have a babysitter that can stay late. Go. Rock out, dust off your denim, bring earplugs, buy the shirt.
Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
12.3.07 @ 7:35a
This is awesome.
But don't kid yourself: you love Men at Work.
12.3.07 @ 10:50a
McCartney & Ringo? Yeah, that would be real weird.
Sting turned into a dick, or maybe he just finally had the chance to let his inner dickness shine.
I'll take the latter for $500, Alex.
12.3.07 @ 4:37p
Am I the only person here who actually likes Sting? I mean, I love the guy, actually. Would I get lynched if I were in you guys' presence for feeling that way?
12.3.07 @ 5:50p
You wouldn't get lynched by me. I don't dislike Sting -- I've never met him -- I just prefer the Police music to his solo work. Plus anytime you see a Police documentary, his unfathomable capacity for prickishness is always discussed in detail.
Usually, if there's that much smoke, something's on fire.
12.3.07 @ 10:53p
I always hoped that the Police reunion might have Sting the pro-wrestler involved instead of the other Sting.