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Warner Home Video presents
Van Halen: Live Without a Net (1986)

"Get up and make it work, make it work!"
- Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony and Eddie and Alex Van Halen (from the song Get Up)

Review By: Jeff Rosado  
Published: October 06, 2004

Stars: Eddie Van Halen, Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony, Alex Van Halen
Director: Daniel Kleinman

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild language)
Run Time: 01h:32m:21s
Release Date: September 14, 2004
UPC: 603497033829
Genre: rock

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A AA-A- D-

DVD Review

One of my favorite parts of David Letterman's nightly talk show is when famous musicians sit in with sidekick Paul Shaffer's first-class house band. On one occasion back in the 1980s (during Dave's NBC stay), guitar hero Eddie Van Halen was the guest of honor. Of course, those who followed music back in the day know that the six-string wonder was (and remains to this day) the de facto leader of the legendary rock and roll band Van Halen.

Upon returning from a commercial break, the Indianapolis wisecracker couldn't resist the urge to ask Eddie a question:

"Eddie, does David [Lee Roth] ever get on your nerves?"

Laughing along with the studio audience, all the good-natured guitarist could bring himself to do was expose that trademark smile, put his index finger across his lips and utter a silent, "shhh". Right at that moment, I knew something was up; no amount of diplomatic behavior could disguise it.

Sure enough, mere months after the California band wrapped touring in support of their most successful album to date (1984) came word that charismatic Roth had been sacked as lead vocalist, causing an uproar in the VH fan base. He was no doubt a handful—egomaniacal and full of himself—but in an era when the showmanship of a rock frontman was quickly becoming extinct, Diamond David Lee was a sight to see. With his acrobatic flourishes, off-kilter humor, audience pleasing give and take and pinup boy good looks, it was understandable why fans were so upset. Even open-minded admirers like myself were wondering how in the world could he be replaced.

Several months later, the answer came: solo artist Sammy Hagar, the Red Rocker himself was christened as the band's new screamer. Even after a tentative, but promising sneak preview when Eddie jammed with his new recruit at that fall's perennial Farm Aid fund raiser, most of the jury still sat glum faced, arms folded. It would take more than riffing on an old Led Zeppelin classic (Rock and Roll) to convert them.

In early 1986, the age of VH A.D. (after Dave) stormed in, heralded by the issuing of 5150, the group's seventh vinyl offering. From that album came a single that silenced and charmed naysayers, the irresistibly catchy Why Can't This Be Love. With its killer synthesizer hook, Hagar's soulful lead vocal and sing-a-long chorus, it couldn't have been a better launcher. As for the numerically titled effort, it was the best album the band had released to date. Although the trademark Van Halen elements of Eddie’s speedy riffs and powerhouse rhythm section of bassist Michael Anthony and drummer Alex Van Halen were still in place, the incorporation of Hagar's more professional yet no less enthusiastic approach allowed the band to continue the stylistic precision progressions hinted at on previous releases. Among the most impressive cuts were the impossibly fast Get Up (which sounded like ZZ Top funk crossed with Motorhead), the ready-made radio hit Dreams, the superb power ballad Love Walks In (perhaps their most underrated 45) and Summer Night, which juxtaposed Eddie's way with an instantly grabbing guitar lick with Hagar's knack for a killer vocal into a tasty combination.

Before most of the shrink wrap had been peeled off freshly minted copies of 5150, the band hit the road to prove the long player was no fluke. Save for a few adamant Dave Forever, Sammy Never torchbearers, the faithful returned mostly intact courtesy of packed arenas and top spot placings for both single and album.

Before a sold-out audience in New Haven, Connecticut, a camera crew and multi-track recording unit captured Van Halen at full force in the summer of 1986 for what eventually materialized as Live Without a Net, the band's first concert to be professionally released. A top-selling title when originally issued, its long-anticipated DVD version is most certainly worth the wait. In addition to its original Dolby Stereo mix, newly created 5.1 audio representations in both Dolby Digital and DTS all but assure that charter fan's faded, faithful VHS copies can now be ceremoniously retired.

Though much has been made in recent times of the tensions that eventually created a repeat of lead singer sacking in Hagar's case (or what Eddie pointedly pointed out as "LSD"(Lead Singer Disease), such creative animosity was light-years away at the time of Net. Like kids let off the leash from Mommy and Daddy's view, this is a rambunctiously musically playful foursome, full of good cheer, infectious enthusiasm playing their rumps off, re-energized with no indicators of internal strife or stresses that marred the end of the Roth era. Though some may have felt shortchanged at the time by the band downplaying the first era of their career (Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love and Panama are the only pre-Hagar songs that made the final cut to video), it's evident that the newer material mined from studio 5150 (Eddie's personal recording home that inspired the name of the album) is equal (and sometimes vastly superior) to some of the band's back catalog—who could blame them for wanting to play what they felt—and it results in incredibly intense versions of many of the key tracks noted earlier, along with tips of the hat to Hagar's impressive solo career (I Can't Drive 55 and There's Only One Way to Rock). Combined with instrumental solo showcases from charter members with Eddie's being the highpoint, incorporating Eruption and Cathedral (but why no Spanish Fly?It was the high point of the Women and Children First stop in my hometown way back when), Live Without a Net is an essential rock and roll DVD souvenir of an era that may be bygone, but one that age has not tarnished one bit.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Most concert videos from the 1980s making a jump to the DVD format are extremely disappointing. Even non-technophiles can tell when a dated, worn video or laser disc master are lazily utilized. Not here. Though reflective of the hazy look that was the style during the MTV era (or is that due to the rise of certain herbal jazz cigarettes some concert goers managed to sneak in along with their tiny cassette recorders?), it has that just released, factory fresh look with the advantages of increased resolution and no tape creases. Rock on!

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Presented in three different mixes, far and away my soundtrack of choice is the phenomenal Dolby Digital 5.1 option. Van Halen has always given great care to the way their music both on and off stage has been recorded/presented and this track showcases it superbly with just the right amount of crowd activity in the rears, vocals being spread between both the center channel and front effectively and no musical elements overshadowing one another. My only complaint is that the low end is a little overdone; your subwoofer will feel the brunt of Alex's kick drums, I assure you, so you may want to turn down the volume of your low end a couple of notches.

Since the two-channel mix has been included for purists and those that still haven't upgraded their stereo systems since 1987, that leaves the DTS open for discussion. Depending on your tolerance for hard rock in this format, it's going to be heavenly or schreechy; I fell into the latter camp, but it all depends upon the listener.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 17 cues and remote access
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Zilch. I know at least two to three other songs were on the playlist during this particular tour, including a rendition of Jump in which the band selected an audience member out front to come up and play lead singer on the group's biggest hit; now that would have been one heck of an extra.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

There's only one way to celebrate the recent reunion of the Hagar-era Van Halen and that's by plunking down some cash and snapping up Live Without a Net, a DVD that captures the fun, passion, and zeal of a band that took a risk by replacing a beloved lead singer, arising stronger than ever.


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