The Strange Path Van Halen Took to the First Roth-Fronted Live LP
Van Halen released their Tokyo Dome Live in Concert LP on March 31, 2015, but a live album wasn’t originally what the group had hoped to put out.
By this point, the band had endured many changes, transitioning from the original David Lee Roth-fronted lineup to Sammy Hagar’s vocal tenure and even a short-lived stint with Gary Cherone. A 2007 reunion tour with Roth was followed by A Different Kind of Truth, the band’s first studio album in 14 years and their first LP with the singer since 1984. It also marked the recorded debut of Wolfgang Van Halen, who replaced Michael Anthony on bass in 2007.
As the band geared up for its 2015 tour, they wanted a new release to help build anticipation. Thoughts first turned toward an album of new material, but it quickly became evident that such an effort wouldn’t be in the cards.
“We didn’t have time to put a studio record together,” confessed Eddie Van Halen in an interview with the Washington Post. The guitarist also noted that Wolfgang, his son, was working on a solo album, as was Roth, further complicating timing.
Instead of looking ahead at new material, the band next decided to look in its archives - all the way back to Van Halen's earliest demos.
"What I originally wanted to do was remix the original 25 song demos," Eddie Van Halen explained. "That would have been really cool. But the tapes are lost. They are gone. So that was out the window. Then we started digging through bootlegs from the club days. We tried our best to make those sound good, but ultimately it wasn’t good enough to put out. The quality of the recording was so bad that we tried to enhance them and make them better. Once we made them better, you lost that fly-on-the-wall aspect of it. It just didn’t jive.”
With options of what to release quickly drying up, the band pondered the idea of a live album.
Van Halen had previously released Live: Right Here, Right Now in 1993, but that effort captured the group in its "Van Hagar" era. To this point, there was no live album featuring Roth on vocals.
The group agreed that a live LP would be the best way to go, but the amount of material to sort through was daunting. "When it came to doing a live record, none of us wanted to sit there and listen to 200 shows to pick the best one,” Van Halen admitted. “So we left it up to Dave.”
“Performing live is a lot harder on a singer,” Van Halen further explained in a conversation with Guitar World. “When your voice is your instrument, you can be affected by a lot of different things. If you sleep with the air conditioner on or the bus ride is too long, you can wake up the next day with a fucked-up voice. That’s the main reason we decided to let Dave pick.”
Roth chose a 2013 concert recorded at the Tokyo Dome. The Japanese capital held special meaning to the singer, who maintained a home in the bustling metropolis. During the performance, Roth was even heard speaking in Japanese, interacting with the crowd while showing off his linguistic skills.
Listen to Van Halen's Live 'Runnin' With the Devil'
Van Halen decided to present Tokyo Dome Live in Concert warts and all, skirting the use of post-production tools to enhance the audio. The choice was polarizing, with some praising the album’s authenticity, while others criticized Roth’s pitchy delivery. Among the critics: former Van Halen frontman Hagar.
"They've got some pretty rough vocals," the Red Rocker said of the Tokyo Dome Live in Concert tracks. “It's impossible to stay away from [criticism]. Standing back, I'm just going, 'What the [expletive] are these guys thinking?'"
Still, Eddie was quick to defend the quality of the album. “The rawness of the recording adds to the power,” the guitarist explained. “There’s this uncontrolled energy that exists in us that spills over the edges. It’s never really right or perfect, but it creates tension. It’s like, 'Okay, who is going to blow it?' When you keep waiting for someone to fuck up but no one does, it keeps you on the edge of your seat. It’s just raw. It’s the real thing. If people are expecting a perfect live record, well, then it’s not really live anymore.”
Tokyo Dome Live in Concert was released in March 2015; the ensuing tour would launch that July, wrapping Oct. 4 at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Despite talks of a return to the stage - including persistent rumors of a 2019 tour - it currently stands as the last performance by Van Halen.
Following the conclusion of their 2015 trek, Eddie predicted the band would “probably hunker down and do a studio record. We certainly have enough material. It is a matter of timing and getting everybody together. That’s the only way it can be done.” Despite his confidence at the time, such a release has not come to fruition.