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Van Halen – Wichita 1978 (Zodiac 303)

Wichita 1978 (Zodiac 303)

Pogo’s Night Club, Wichita, Kansas, USA – April 3, 1978

(43:31) On Fire, I’m The One, Bass Solo, Runnin’ With The Devil, Atomic Punk, Drum Solo, Little Dreamer, Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love, Ice Cream Man, Eruption, You Really Got Me, Summertime Blues

In 2016 the Mad Hatter label released an extremely limited edition vinyl record Catch a Rising Star (Mads Hatter Records) that featured a previously unknown concert by Van Halen during their first American tour where they were an opening act on a bill with Journey and Montrose. The concert was performed during an off night of that tour and a headline gig was at a nightclub called Pogo’s in Wichita, Kansas. On a Facebook site devoted to memories of the club, owner Michael Kirsch posted this remembrance, “I booked them right after their first album came out. Roth was totally blasted and stoned when they took the stage. Had me a bit worried about the potential quality of their performance, but he was in his element. The rest of the band….clean and sober. Surprised Roth made it past his 20’s. I brought a white laundry marking pen to the club that night for autographs on the dark album cover of that first LP”. The Pogo’s advert for the concert boasted “If you like Steve Miller, Foreigner, Arrowsmith, or Frampton, you’ll love Van Halen a 4 man Hard rock band”, tickets were just $4.00 and apparently the crowd was only around 300 people.

Thankfully the record was copied digitally and early this year was shared on several torrent sites much to the delight of fans and bootleggers alike, in short time the Zodiac label would quickly release it bringing us to this point. The recording is a perfectly balanced excellent soundboard, to my ear the sound and timbre is quite similar to the Pasadena Convention Center on October 15, 1977 and would assume the same recording gear was used. All instruments and vocals are perfectly balanced and the frequency range is great, clear highs and a nice bottom end, there is just enough audience noise in the mix to give it a bit of atmosphere, this recording demands to be played at loud volumes.

The set list is standard for this tour and follows the same pacing as other recordings from this tour, On Fire is a natural opener, there is just a bit of distortion as the tape starts but it is quickly remedied, the band command the stage from the first seconds. David greets the crowd with “Wichita….the night is young” and they blast into the killer I’m The One, the song has that great galloping riff that the band would use on Hang ‘Em High, just gets you moving. The audience is into it, they are clapping during the “Shooby do wah”, obviously blown away with what they are witnessing. After Running With The Devil, Dave finally does a rap, he talks of hearing great things about the city and introduces himself as Diamond David Lee Roth and testifies they are a “virgin” band having just released their debut record, so much charisma. Atomic Punk is proto metal brilliance, Ed’s effects mix well with the echo on Dave’s voice giving the song a powerful and fresh twist on Hard Rock. Little Dreamer is almost like a lull in the performance, it’s their mellow song if there was one, love live versions of the song since it was relatively short lived.

Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love is a full frontal assault, it grabs you by the throat and does not let go, the band and audience feel it afterwards, lots of “whoos” from the band amid cheers from the crowd. “It’s hotter than hell in here…it feels good” Diamond Elvis Dave says as he straps on his acoustic guitar for a rave up on Ice Cream Man, ones wonders if they know what’s coming when the rest of the band join. “All the way from Amsterdam Holland, the MAN himself…Edward Van Halen”….Eruption! Ed had to have known he would leave people awestruck during his solo, lightning fast and not a flaw in this performance. You Really Got Me seals the deal, and for me the highlight of the disc is a superb sounding rendition of Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues, based upon other set-lists from the tour they would play different encores on most nights, the band play a great version of this song complete with a cool Metal Jam at the end. Simply a stunning performance.

The packaging is typical for Zodiac, full color inserts with live shots of the band from 1978, young and full of vigor. Zodiac released two other titles from this batch of soundboards, Tucson 1979 and Osaka 1979 2nd Night, both are just as good as this sound wise. Pretty much a great title, early Van Halen with excellent sound quality and a superb performance by a still relatively unknown band who would quickly rule the world.

If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)

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