Starwood 1976 (Zodiac 417)
Starwood, Hollywood, CA, USA – June 29, 1976
(77:45) Somebody Get Me A Doctor, Babe Don’t Leave Me Alone, MC, Show Your Love, D.O.A, Runnin’ With The Devil, Let Me Swim, Drum Solo / Let Me Swim (reprise), She’s The Woman, Ice Cream Man, Believe Me, Honolulu Baby, In A Simple Rhyme, Guitar Solo, House Of Pain, Eyes Of The Night, Fools / Story Of Joe
The evolution of Van Halen from playing cover songs in clubs to focusing on original music took place in 1976, specifically at a prestigious opening slot for English Rock band UFO at the Golden West Ballroom in early May 1976. Sure they had the original material to fill a set with, but like many groups, played what the club owners wanted which was known music. By all accounts the band’s performance that evening at the Golden West was that of legend and by all accounts the Little Ol’ Band from Pasadena blew the English Hard Rock Heavyweights off the stage. The success of that concert would help give Van Halen the leverage to play more of what they wanted, and the ratio of cover songs to originals was greatly affected.
The recording from the Starwood a month later features one of the earliest known soundboard recordings of Van Halen. There have been a few previous releases of a portion of this recording, Party Time (Great Live Concerts GLC D551/6012-4299) is a vinyl release and Just Before The Eruption (Bondage BON300/301/302) and Pasadena Hilton (Aces High AH CD 096) are compact disc titles. For this new title Zodiac presents the most complete version of this recording to be released on silver disc yet and is taken from a torrent from a well known tracker and is from a low gen copy, somewhere in its lineage is certainly noise reduction as you can hear the swish in the very top end. It is a shame as the recording is very well balanced, vividly clear and extremely enjoyable, its only detractors are the noise reduction and it’s just a bit low in volume, the louder you turn it up the more you can hear the effects of the mastering. You do get used to the mastering once you let yourself surrender to the performance.
Before we go into the performance, for fans of Van Halen who also enjoy reading, there is a book that is a must have and goes perfectly with listening to early Van Halen. Van Halen Rising by Greg Rehoff, an excellent book that takes the original bands humble beginnings through the tour for their debut record. Lots of early insight into pre Van Halen and how the original four musicians got together. Cannot recommend it enough.
The beginning song Somebody Get Me A Doctor cuts in and is only three minutes in length. Dave does a rather funny intro for Babe, Don’t Leave Me Alone, a bit of advertising for the Joe Weider Body Builder. A rather simple song with just an average riff but the trademark Van Halen backing vocals are in place, Michael Anthony in the house, the tape cuts at the 2:23 mark. Dave is doing his master of ceremony act, Show Your Love aka I’m The One is brilliant, this is the first song on the tape that Eddie rips into. D.O.A. features a cool intro that would eventually evolve into Jamie’s Crying. Runnin’ With The Devil has got a funky dance drum beat and bass line that leads into the song, it sort of reminds me of a slower version of KISS’ I Was Made For Loving You.
Dedicated to those who have sand in the britches is Let Me Swim, the band’s version of the Cactus classic from the their 1970 debut self titled record, the song also features an Alex Van Halen drum solo. Another great song in the set is She’s The Woman, a song that would be in the early sets and on their first two demos as well, this version has the Mean Street portion still in. Ice Cream Man is more or less like it would be two years later for their debut, Dave playing a guitar he got from a pawn shop for 12 bucks. Believe Me is one of the few early songs that never made a demo, it’s certainly one of the more interesting early VH songs, it has a chunky riff and several time changes. There is a cut in the tape and we get another early song that never made the early demos, Honolulu Baby, certainly for good reason as it’s just average, it does have an interesting falsetto chorus and some really nice drumming by Alex.
A highlight of this tape is certainly this early version of the Women And Children First closer In A Simple Rhyme. About fifty percent of the lyrics are different but the music is pretty much together, Mike Anthony’s backing vocals are spot on…great version. Eddie’s guitar solo is an intro to House Of Pain and is a precursor to Eruption, the beginning starts the same although not as dynamic but once Eddie gets going he soars over the fret board with ease, about two minutes in he stops then goes into what is reminiscent of Tony Iommi’s Orchid before it devolves into an electronic piece ala Jimmy Page’s 1977 solos. There are sheer flashes of his brilliance then other times where he simply noodles. The entrance into House Of Pain is really heavy, the band is on fire, guitar bass and again Alex’s drumming is fantastic, Dave’s lyrics are nonsense. Eyes Of The Night is the first song of Van Halen’s “Rock Opera” with lyrics about a voyeur. Another early version of a Women And Children song is the last song in the set, Fools. The nearly eleven minute version features Dave’s Story Of Joe rap that he would use on later tours, about a card game gone wrong. The excessive noise reduction sucks, but this is an amazing performance by Van Halen.
The packaging is great, early live shots of the band from the club days, great shots of Eddie playing a Gibson Explorer and on the interior a Fender Stratocaster. The shot on the rear is amazing, the band working the stage playing before a relatively small crowd. The Zodiac releases since Eddie Van Halen’s death on October 6 of this year have been all over the place 1976 and several from 1984, I was really hoping we would get something from 1981 like the excellent Greensboro recording, or better yet a title from 1980. Nonetheless this is an incredible recording and despite the mastering, no fault of Zodiac, is a great listen.