One night, on a rather intoxicated evening during my college years, I got punched in the back of the head by some big blonde guy who lived down the hall from me in the dormitory I called home for the better part of a year, before I wised up and moved out away from him and his kind. Why did he punch me in the head? Because of Van Halen. What started as a friendly debate soon ended with me wearing a winter toque and a pair of ski gloves, standing there in my boxer shorts (don't ask) getting pummeled by a man-child who preferred Sammy Hager to David Lee Roth. And you know what? I took those shots to the head like a man, because I was standing up for what I believed in, like all good soldiers of rock must do from time to time. And I stand by those very same words I uttered to the big dumb jock who punched me that night, 'Roth era Van Halen is way better than the Van Hager stuff.'
While that argument will, I'm sure, rage on until the band is forgotten about (if that ever happens it's debatable at this point), even the most staunch Roth fan has got to give Sammy props for the performance he and his at the time new found friends give on this DVD, recorded live in 1986 during the band's 5150 tour, their first album with the Red Rocker covering vocals and their seventh album all together. This album ushered in a new breed of Van Halen. While the focus was still (and hopefully always will be) Eddie's exceptional guitar playing, the band sounded more polished and dare I say it a little more 'pop.' It was the end of my relationship with Van Halen in a sense as it was the last record of theirs that I actually bought. It didn't' click with me much and it sounded a little too watered down to my seasoned rock and roll ears.
But hey, tons of people loved it and the band, even with Sammy Hager up front, still delivered live evidenced here on Live Without A Net. Playing in front of a capacity crowed in New Haven, Connecticut which is comprised mainly of sweaty 80s rock guys and their classy lady friends, the band and their new front man give 100% on stage here and even though I don't personally care too much for their later material, I can at least understand why some people do.
Originally issued on VHS, then laserdisc, and then on DVD in Japan, Van Halen Live Without A Net now fills the void that DVD capable Van Halen fans have been wanting to fill since the format's inception oh those many years ago. While I'd far rather see a pre- 5150 era show hit our favorite format, there is at least some of the old stuff in the set list (well, two tracks at least) to keep us Roth fans happy and as much as it may pain me to admit it, Hager does a pretty decent job making the material his own. In fact, all four members of the band are obviously having a great time playing together as evidenced by the big grins that are plastered on their faces for pretty much the entire set. When it comes time for Eddie to treat the crowd to his highly anticipated solo, everyone is totally into it and his playing reflects that.
The track listing for the concert is as follows:
1 - There's Only One Way To Rock
2 - Summer Nights
3 - Get Up
4 - 5150
5 - Best Of Both Worlds
6 - Panama
7 - Love Walks In
8 - I Can't Drive 55
9 - Ain't Talkin' Bout Love
10 - Why Can't This Be Love
11 - Rock And Roll
The 1.33.1 fullframe image looks clean and clear and the colors in particular are vibrant and lifelike. Black levels are a tiny bit flat looking but flesh tones look natural. The entire thing has a slightly soft look to it but so do most of the other concert movies shot in the same time frame as this one. Thankfully this DVD brings more good to the table than bad and there aren't any problems with compression artifacts or edge enhancement.
From the menu you can choose one of three audio options to suit your tastes and/or hardware Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and DTS 5.1 Surround Sound. If you've got the capabilities, go for one of the 5.1 mixes. While the original mix is there (and that's great, I'm all for including original versions whenever possible) the surround mixes really do open up the soundscape and put you in the middle of the action. The bass is a little too heavy in a few spots (especially on the DTS mix) but everything else sounds razor sharp from the vocals to the guitar solos and everything in between. The music comes at you from the front channels as it should, and the rears are used mainly for background and audience noise/reaction. This creates the effect of sitting in the crowd, which is exactly what a concert DVD Surround Sound remix should do.
Hidden amongst the interactive menus are such extra features as
chapter selection. That's it. There are no other extra features on this release, and that makes me sad.
While I'm not a huge fan of the Hager era Van Halen material, this DVD release of Van Halen Live Without A Net looks good and sounds great and is sure to please the band's many fans despite the obvious lack of any extra features whatsoever. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.