Four late nights, four great shows

Justin Rodstrom

By Justin Rodstrom

Staff Reporter

The week before the break I had the pleasure of attending four amazing concerts in the greater Philadelphia area. Van Halen, Wynton Marsalis, Bruce Springsteen and Gov’t Mule all offered up unique and memorable experiences just before a relaxing (and much needed) break.

Double Shot of Van Halen

With a motley crowd of ’80s hair-metal throwbacks, teenage angst and classic rockers painting the Wachovia Center parking lot red and white, Van Halen took Philadelphia by storm.

With a two-night sold-out run at the Wachovia Center, Eddie, David, Alex and the newly added Wolfgang swaggered their way through the entire Roth-era catalogue, hitting on stuff from “Van Halen” all the way through to “1984.”

On a strict “No Hagar” diet, the quartet was the true Van Halen man’s Van Halen – even if there were a couple synth tracks, including the polarizing “Jump.” Eddie Van Halen’s fingers found the fountain of youth, blistering through “Eruption/You Really Got Me” and the epic, frenetic guitar soliloquy, “Little Guitars.”

David Lee Roth did what he did best: showboating, high kicks and raunchy faux machismo complete with tight, sequined shirt, leather pants and big pastel hats.

Alex Van Halen did his best John Bonham impersonation with a bombastic drum solo, and Wolfgang Van Halen walked around looking awkward and out of place with a doofy smile on his face, as one would obviously expect.

If it wasn’t for the talent of these musicians, their catalogue could seem dated and passé, but the energy and excitement of playing together for the first time in 11 years could not have been more evident in the stage presence and interplay of the four Van Halen members.

Wynton At The Perelman

The night started out with some light refreshments at a reception boasting artwork, free cocktails and a full wait staff. The entire audience then filed in to the Perelman theater, an intimate 600-seat venue without a bad seat in the house.

We were introduced at length to the children of Young Scholars, as well as the founders, organizers and teachers who keep the charter school running.

After an introductory video about the progress of Young Scholars Charter School, it was time to bring out the legendary musician himself, Wynton Marsalism, and his lavishly talented quintet.

Before diving into the set, Marsalis complimented the children of Young Scholars and applauded the organization for its efforts. The set consisted of five distinct, yet cohesive, jazz pieces, the majority written by Marsalis himself.

The first piece was a standard opening mid-tempo jazz tune meant to showcase the talents of each player, with solo improvisations by all five instruments represented in the quartet: trumpet, saxophone, double bass, drums and piano.

The next piece, devised by Marsalis, was a slightly uptempo combination of New Orleans and Brazilian influences featuring extensive brass work and keys. The third piece, written by Marsalis as another workout for the entire quintet, featured a more collaboratively improvisational atmosphere than the first piece.

This piece, introduced by Marsalis and the saxophonist, gave way to an extended collaboration between the pianist, bassist and drummer all trading licks and simultaneously improvising around a similar theme.

The piece then reintroduced Marsalis and the sax player, who took turns on the theme, and then played the opening section harmoniously to end the piece.

The fourth work, another Marsalis original, was an extremely up-tempo pairing of traditional Ellington sound with a forward-thinking arrangement written as part of an iPod commercial.

Wynton lent his services to iPod after meeting Steve Jobs, creating a truly ear-catching piece. The piece began cohesively then segued into brilliant, lightning-fast blurting, scat-like trumpet by Marsalis.

Toward the end of the piece, we witnessed the truly progressive side of Marsalis with his trumpet/drum call-and-response theme – a remarkable stanza in this consistently “prestissimo” piece.

The fifth and last piece was a Marsalis send up to the historically black art-form known as the blues. Marsalis’ passion for the blues was not only evident in his speech about the importance of the art form itself but was heroically captured in his inspirational mute playing in the following piece.

From tender, woeful cries to raucous trumpet screams, Marsalis visited the entire catalogue of what the blues make someone feel. His barn-burner playing left the stuffy crowd with no choice but to bob their heads, stomp their feet, clap along and finally burst out into a ravenous applause.

The Boss Owns The Wach

With the cast of characters that make up the E Street band – the likes of Max Weinberg (“Late Night With Conan O’Brien”), Little Steven (Little Steven’s Underground Radio Show) and the unmistakable Clarence Clemons, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band were on their game for a receptive South Jersey/Philadelphia crowd.

With the obvious New Jersey connection, as well as the “Streets of Philadelphia” connection, one could see why Bruce has retained such a die-hard following in the greater Philadelphia region.

After two nights of Van Halen, I thought I had seen my share of die hards and hard rockers, but I was mistaken.

Where the VH shows sold the normal seating area facing the stage, The Wach opened it all up for the Brucer shows, unveiling a banner proclaiming “Bruce Springsteen: 45 Sold-Out Philadelphia Shows.”

And one could see why with a rousing run through tried-and-true Boss classics to bring the house down, as well as some well-received new material from “Magic,” Bruce’s brand-new full-length release.

The Boss is one of the few classic rockers who can still put together interesting, worthwhile albums.

Tower of Power: Gov’t Mule Pull Into Philly

My second show at Philadelphia’s historic Tower Theater proved to be just as rewarding as the previous week’s Kings of Leon show, with a stellar three-hour jam session hosted by none other than the jam-scene legend, Allman Brother and Grateful Dead member, Warren Haynes, and his metal-heavy Gov’t Mule.

Living up to their reputation, Haynes and his starry-eyed pub-band-gone-big tore it up at the Tower Theater with a set including Gov’t-styled covers of songs from Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Steppenwolf and the Allman Brothers, as well as a thick serving of head-banging originals. A special guest appearance was made by touring mate Grace Potter of opening band Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, a soulful blues folk quartet.

Gov’t Mule is one of those bands that you just know is going to put on a stellar show night after night with hard-edged blues rock and spaced out, amorphous Grateful Dead-esque jamming.