Van Halen. Van Roth. Van Hagar. Van Cherone. One of the most deeply divided sub-splits in the world of Rock and Roll is the long traveled history of Van Halen, the band that seems to undergo major roster changes every decade. Few fans are accommodating of all three lineups, or even two of the three; and most have a very definite favored lead singer out of the three who have tackled the duty thus far.
This disc, recorded from performances on their 1991-1992 tour, takes place during the beginning of the end of the Van Hagar days. Sammy Hagar was still the front man, surrounded by one of Rock and Roll's guitar virtuosos, Edward "don't call me Eddie" Van Halen, and one of the most solid rhythm sections around, Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony. The band hadn't begun to experience the blatant personality clashes that would lead to Hagar's expulsion, and the onstage chemistry was still dynamic. How does the disc stack up?
Van Halen is one of the few remaining "mega bands" of Rock, to have survived the rise Rock saw during the '70s and '80s, and the heart breaking crash of the format during the '90s. They appeared in the late '70s and rapidly climbed the charts, both in sales and in fans' rankings. Their music featured the incredible work by the massively talented Edward Van Halen, and had a mischievous, sexual edge to it many found appealing. It was Rock in one of the purest forms it can be found in.
Between their 1984 and 1986 albums, the band underwent a lead singer change. David Lee Roth was out, Sammy Hagar was in. Fans instantly became forever divided, and the labels "Van Roth" and "Van Hagar" were coined to describe music pre and post roster change. Some swore off the band, but others found Hagar to be as good, or even better, as a front for the music. The recording continued. Then again, this time between their 1995 and 1998 studio albums, the front man was changed. Now Hagar was out, Gary Cherone was in. At this point, the divisions became deeper and more numerous, and the band has been adrift ever since.
In 1992, however, Van Halen had not yet begun to experience the fade they're now experiencing. For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge was a chart toping album with fan favorite tunes. The world tour was a sell out in city after city. Live: Right Here, Right Now, is taken from a pair of performances given at the end of the tour (the Fresno dates, I believe). The CD and VHS were the first recordings available of live Van Halen, which is confusing considering the band has always been a strong stage performer. This disc is adapted from the previously available video.
By and large, the transfer is quite strong. It has an odd aspect ratio, leaving three quarters of an inch, or so, of "black bar" on the top and bottom of the television screen, but otherwise seems to be a full frame transfer, as I'd expect it to be. It was always filmed with a 4:3 release in mind, and was never intended to see the theatrical screen. The footage of the band is in great shape, with only slight softness in the image. Colors come through bold and strong, and the edges don't bleed out despite the antics of the band members on stage. Most of the show is dark, but even this doesn't cause the image to degrade. Some good transfer work, considering the prints are about eight years old.
But how does it sound? That, after all, is the key component of a concert disc. Gladly, the audio is up to the task. Lyrics are forward and discernable, the instruments properly mixed, and everything projects forward clearly and strongly. A lot of power is in this audio transfer, very dynamic and striking. Good use is made of the low frequency channel, and the front sound stage is nicely expansive for, again, an eight-year-old master.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Unfortunately, there are some minor negatives. The entirety of the video transfer is not perfect. It appears the attention was given to the stage shots only; crowd shots degrade heavily. Almost all instances of crowd footage are grainy, unclean, and somewhat pixilated. This is unfortunate, as it serves as a sharp reminder that you are watching a recording. Also, the image is softer than it perhaps otherwise could be. The edges aren't as clean as they really should be, and the overall feel of the video isn't quite perfect.
Audibly, the disc missed a great chance to showcase how good a concert can sound when presented in full Dolby 5.1. As the disc features only a 2.0 mix, the surrounds aren't used. Certainly not used as aggressively as the Metallica Cunning Stunts audio mix does, which is a reference quality concert DVD. The audio sounds wonderful, but, again, isn't quite as expansive as the Metallica audio sound stage is. Warner really could have stepped up and presented a surround mix, and didn't.
The most jarring element of the disc, however, has to be the director's choices. While this isn't he fault of the disc, the director saw fit to use footage from two nights of shows. This isn't unusual; concert footage is often taken from several performances and put together to present a single showing. The problem comes from the band having not worn the same clothing each night. Further, the editing jumps back and forth from night to night constantly. The result is band members seem to sometimes teleport around the stage, and are continually wearing first a red shirt, then a white shirt, and so forth. Their body positions hardly ever match up from one cut to the next. Everything about the director's choices serves only to take the viewer harshly out of the experience, and remind strongly that one is viewing a recording. Not that we advocate people drift into the realm of the unreal or anything, but it's hard to get "lost in the moment" with this live footage.
Unfortunately, this the disc is a bare bones release. The only option available is to play it, though there is screens on the menu that break out each track for the viewer to jump directly to. There aren't any lyric screens, band discography or biographies, or even trailers or plugs for other Van Halen products. Nada. A missed opportunity.
Ultimately, however, this is a strong catalog title in the still weakly developed concert DVD category. Movies are receiving the vast majority of attention from the studios and disc mastering houses around the world, and the number of artists with albums and concerts available on disc remains sadly low. Van Halen is a great band with a lot of history in Rock and Roll, and the chance to listen to them on the DVD format is a compelling reason to pick this disc up.
Van Halen Live: Right Here, Right Now is a solid catalog buy, despite minor, nagging problems that keep this from being everything it really could be. Regardless of where you fall in the Roth-Hagar-Cherone battle, the music is right there, and that's the most important part.
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