Van Halen – Us & Them: US Festival 1983 (Bottoms Up)

Us & Them:  US Festival 1983 (Bottoms Up)

Glen Helen Regional Park, San Bernardino, CA – May 29th, 1983

(2:04:03):  Romeo Delight, Unchained, Drum Solo, The Full Bug, Runnin’ With The Devil, Jamie’s Cryin’, So This Is Love, Little Guitars, Bass solo, Dancing In The Streets, Somebody Get Me A Doctor / Girl Gone Bad jam / I’m So Glad / Somebody Get Me A Doctor,  Dance The Night Away, Cathedral / Secrets, Everybody Wants Some, Ice Cream Man, Intruder / Pretty Woman, Guitar Solo, Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love, Bottom’s Up, You Really Got Me / Happy Trails / You Really Got Me

Apple executive and co-founder Steve Wozniak sank a lot of his own fortune into the US Festivals, the first held over Labor Day weekend in 1982 and the second over Memorial Day weekend in 1983.  

Each of the four days of the ’83 festival were given themes.  The first night, Saturday May 28th, was “New Wave” day featuring bands such as A Flock Of Seagulls, Men At Work and The Clash as headliners.  Sunday, May 29th was “Heavy Metal” day with Ozzy, Judas Priest and Van Halen headlining. 

Sunday not only had better attendance than Saturday with over 300,000, but the headliners were paid more with Van Halen receiving $1.5 million over against David Bowie’s cool $1 million for his headlining performance on the Monday “Rock Day.”  Both figures set records. 

An earlier release on DVD can be found on Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love (WOW-156).  Us & Them:  US Festival 1983 on Bottoms Up is a two VHS source mix.  The first video source is complete up until “You Really Got Me” and the second is used for “You Really Got Me,” taken from the Showtime “Heavy Metal Day” special.  The picture quality is very good for a non-master source.  There are some technical difficulties from the venue before “Ice Cream Man” resulting in the loss in the video feed for several seconds, showing only the test pattern to accompany David Lee Roth’s drunken prattling.  

The concert itself is a phenomenal example of Van Halen’s showmanship.  They were one of the few bands who were able to translate the big 70’s arena rock shows into an 80’s sensibility.  One commentator states, “the set that followed remains ever a drunken classic of testosterone-fueled pop metal campiness.”  (Isn’t this true for all early Van Halen concerts??)

The show erupts when the band come onstage.  There was such rowdiness, and things were so out-of-control, that the AP reported that “A man was beaten to death and 44 people were seriously injured today at a festival of rock music and technology that drew 300,000 people in its second day.  Police arrested 87 people at the three-day US Festival, held here for the second year.  Most were charged with drug use, drunkenness, car stealing or theft.  ‘It’s an absolute zoo,’ said San Bernardino County Sheriff Floyd Tidwell. ‘This is a different kind of crowd than last year. They’re a little more prone to violence and selling narcotics.’  He said nearly all the trouble happened outside the huge natural amphitheater at Glen Helen Park, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles. James Estell, 23 years old, of Pomona, Calif., was hit in the head with a tire iron and died several hours later at San Bernardino County Medical Center. Police said a drug deal had apparently gone sour. David Planton, 22, of Stanton was arrested in the case.”

David Lee Roth revels in the insanity, inciting the crowd and playing the role of the drunken oversexed rock and roll star to the hilt.  Tensions are also raised by the rivalry the band started with Saturday’s headliner The Clash.  A month prior Eddie Van Halen was quoted in Rolling Stone that the Clash were “like what I played in my garage when I was a kid, man” and during the show, after DLR takes a large swig of Jack Daniel’s says “I wanna take this time to say that this is real whiskey here.  The only people who put iced tea in Jack Daniel’s bottles is The Clash, baby!”

The performance isn’t as bad as some say.  The highlights come in the middle when they play their current hit “Pretty Woman.”  But all of it is a stunning reminder of their showmanship in the early eighties.  Normally I wouldn’t review Van Halen because, as much as I wanted to like them in the late seventies and early eighties, I wasn’t “allowed” to like them because of my dickhead older cousins.  This was their band and they would hate me if I showed interest in their music.  Thirty years on it’s hard to comprehend why that was important, but for all that time the band held that kind of stigma.  If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s never let the negative antagonists in your life dictate your taste.  (And I don’t like to get too personal on this website, but I wanted to get that off of my chest).  

Overall Us & Them:  US Festival 1983 is an essential document to have, not only for Van Halen fans, but for a sterling document of early eighties arena rock.  Bottoms Up did a great job in presentation and is worth having.  

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  1. How does this compare to the WOW release?


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