After securing the top two spots on Billboard’s Top Rock Albums Chart, Dirty Honey and Mammoth WVH have been considered two of the best emerging rock bands of today. And they are out to prove that rock n’ roll will never die on their co-headlining tour. The “Young Guns” tour was dreamt up after an evening back in September, when the bands played a show together and recognized that their kismet energy deserved to be taken across North America. In contrast to their recent high-profile tours this past summer, Dirty Honey with The Black Crowes and Mammoth WVH with Guns N’ Roses, it was time for both bands to step into their own spotlight. Two weeks into the tour the young guns made their way to the Dallas House of Blues for a night of pure unadulterated rock music. A buzz of excited chatter fills the venue as rock fans of all ages make their way to the stage in their Dirty Honey luscious lips merchandise paired with fashion statements from better days, like bell bottoms and fringe. It’s quite the sight to see until the lights go down.
The crowd comes to life as the Dirty Honey boys take to the stage. Justin Smolian is the first to jump front and center to get the crowd going, with John Notto in tow. Right out of the gate Corey Coverstone has drums blaring into Gypsy, from their self-titled EP. It’s hard not to take your eyes off of Coverstone with his heavy-hitting intro and exuberant playing style. The highlight of the song is when the band pulls back and Marc LaBelle has the opportunity to show off his low end vocals. From there the band fires away into Break You, and Smolian captivates the audience with his punchy bass lines and eyebrow raising showmanship. A simple, yet smooth “Where are my ladies at,” from LaBelle takes the liveliness of the room up another notch in between songs. A sinister smile curls LaBelle’s lips as the shrieks of women take over the House of Blues and Heartbreaker takes over the speakers. This song sparks the true magic of a Dirty Honey show, where the band starts to deviate from the perfect sound of the album and leave room for natural improvisation. With the extra layers of polish and varnish stripped away, their authentic sound and vibe shines through. Smolian whips his guitar and his curls to the bassline making you want to move along with him, which most of the fans are happily doing. It isn’t long before Notto has the crowd eating out of his hands with a solo that breathes new expression into the live version of the hit. LaBelle takes a moment to dance with the fans then tilts his microphone stand back and begins grooving in sync with the drums.
From there The Wire, Fire Away, Scars, and Take My Hand captivate the crowd. Following up with Tied Up, a highlight of the night. The crowd claps in unison with Smolian as Coverstone warms up the crowd with an enticing drum piece. The sexy and soulful sound from LaBelle gets the crowd dancing again and the backup vocals from Notto add another layer of sound to the live set. They finish up with a smoking guitar solo from Notto and LaBelle sings out “I love the way you touch me,” acapella. But the brief pause in instrumentals only lasts a breath before they take it right into the dirty blues sound of Down The Road. This slower tune is a nice pull back in the set, but it takes off again with their hit from their recent self-titled debut album. After a melodic intro, California Dreamin’ feels much heavier live and takes on a whole new nasty persona. The massive riffs and hooks exude the story of someone chasing that California dream. LaBelle takes the opportunity to include the crowd by asking them to take a line as he extends his microphone stand over the audience. It’s so easy to get lost in the sound as Coverstone and Notto thunderously close out the number. At this point in the performance you learn that they have retired their notable covers of Last Child and Immigrant Song to add the Prince classic Let’s Go Crazy to the mix. Dirty Honey Die-Hards will remember this rendition from the TNT New Years Day broadcast of the National Hockey Winter Classic. The outro is the most exciting feature of this song with a tempo increase, spinning showmanship from Notto, and impressive drum fills from Coverstone. After a nod to 97.1 the Eagle radio for playing their music, they lead into their latest single Another Last Time. A gentle pull in sound is exchanged for a push forward in power, giving this all of the ingredients for a love ballad. LaBelle decides to join the crowd from the barrier, giving his adoring fans a close up and personal element to the performance.
As LaBelle disappears from the crowd and the stage, Smolian is left bathed in blue light peering over his glasses. He begins a bass solo which soon transitions into a solo piece from Coverstone, and eventually into a wailing solo from Notto. This feels almost as an intermission to the set instead of a solo recognition opportunity. On previous tours, the brief moments in between songs were utilized to showcase each member, which ultimately seemed to serve the set in a better way. The live performance as a whole leaves enough room to allow each member to bring their own personality and undeniable talent to the stage during every song in the setlist. This may have been an overlooked opportunity to add another crowd pleasing track from their new record. However, when Notto begins to tease the crowd with the addicting riff to When I’m Gone the crowd gets louder than they have been all night. LaBelle delivers a strong vocal intro to the song and the crowd amplifies the harmonies as they sing along. This same energy rolls into Rollin 7s letting the set end on a high, and the band leaves the crowd dripping in honey yet again.
With the pressure of a family legacy on their shoulders, Mammoth WVH is up next. The recognizable M logo takes the screen, a homage to the band name Mammoth, which was the original name of Van Halen. Before the second half of the evening begins you can hear sidebar conversations about the upcoming performance. It seems as though the Van Halen comparisons have already begun by this tough crowd full of critics and skeptics. But how can they forget that Wolfgang Van Halen cut his teeth playing arenas all over the world alongside Van Halen, Tremonti, and Clint Lowery? He earned his right to step center stage in whatever way that he chooses. Most importantly he shouldn’t be bound to the shackles of what his dad created before him. It’s best to let go of any preconceived notions when watching this set and take it on with fresh eyes and ears.
Breaking the ice, the first song Mammoth begins and Wolfgang Van Halen’s voice both soothes and surprises from the very first line. Bassist Ronnie Ficcaro embraces his position on the stage with his vibrant showmanship, while Jon Jourdan holds his stance on the other side of the stage, dedicating his movement to the music. Garrett Whitlock proves that a drum kit doesn’t have to leave you stationary as his thunderous beats translate through his entire body. Through Mammoth, Mr. Ed, and Epiphany Van Halen stays strong behind his microphone stand, only moving to take the keyboard in Epiphany. These first three songs demonstrate the talent that Van Halen has as a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist. The songs sound much tighter and polished than the previous set, but that full band rock n’ roll feel blares through the speakers without backing tracks distracting from the raw performance.
The blacked out stage transforms to green and blue light as the punchy sound of Horribly Right begins. This song in particular brings the audience skillful pauses in sound, creating ebbs and flows that send the crowd screaming. From there You’ll Be The One begins with a melodic sound whilst still retaining gritty. Whitlock truly steals the spotlight with this performance, thanks to his seemingly seamless fills and infectious enthusiasm. Even Van Halen, who had been powering through behind his mic stand, takes a moment to step back to the drum kit with his guitar and let out a screaming guitar solo that delivers the crowd a heavier rock sound. The song ends with exceptional harmonized vocals that add an element to the evening that you didn’t even realize was missing until you heard it. Fading in from black the lights return and you hear Van Halen laugh saying “I’m over here again,” in front of his keyboard. “I brought this fucking keyboard because I refuse to play tracks,” he begins as the crowd encourages him with cheers and raised horns. “Even though it’s only two songs that I only play for a little bit, I don’t want to fake it. That’s why I love Dirty Honey… they’re real. You’re experiencing live rock n’ roll tonight! That’s how it should be.” With the audience in a frenzy in support of Van Halen’s statement, Mammoth begins Stone. The stage is now illuminated in blue light, but a single white light emphasizes the subtle, yet powerful sound Van Halen brings to the venue. Scorching guitar work from every guitarist in the house builds up the power throughout the song, turning the track into an epic display of dynamics. As the power grows, so does the stage presence from Van Halen. It’s refreshing and exciting to see him fully let go and break down his walls. A highlight of this performance is when the instrumentals are slowed down to emphasize the push and pull of the music into a perfectly timed pause, where Van Halen raises both hands to encourage the crowd to “make some fucking noise.” As soon as the eager crowd complies a heavy kick of the drum explodes the rest of the stage into guitar driven harmony, until eventually the drums are accompanied only by keyboard until the very last note rings out. Raising the bar for the emotional experience of the set, Stone even had a reserved fan shaking his head saying “that one was intense.”
It’s apparent that everyone on stage feels the same. Van Halen extends his gratitude to the fans in a way that makes you realize what a genuine person he is, even while standing in front of hundreds of people. He explains that he is going to play a new song for the crowd, because of how amazing they are. I Don’t Know At All begins with a chugging guitar line and both Jourdan and Ficarro revving up the crowd to get them clapping along. This song is reminiscent of pop-punk with fast-track drums and catchy lines in a memorable chorus. High punchy vocals in the second verse exercise Van Halen’s vocal range, while Ficarro jams out bass lines that grab the crowd by the hips and get them moving. “See that one was fun,” Van Halen says as the song comes to a close and the crowd readily agrees. But the smile quickly fades from his face. He manages to abruptly get out the words “this song was my dad’s favorite,” as the high guitar riff to Think It Over picks up. There is a moment during the intro where you can feel the heaviness come over the crowd, knowing that his dad is with him tonight watching from the best seat in the house. The light and robust sound of Jourdan’s guitar accompanies Van Halen’s clean vocals perfectly. And even when the lower end vocals slow down the pace of the song, there is a larger than life sound that erupts during the chorus. A heavy solo from Van Halen has the crowd cheering right into the next song You’re To Blame. Through and through there is a heavier impression with this one, allowing Whitlock to give the crowd a much more menacing treatment on drums. When it’s time for the guitar solo, the entire band takes a step back to let Van Halen do his thing and boy does he do it well. This absolutely shredding solo has even the previously quiet concertgoers throwing their hands in the air. His tight playing leads right back into beautifully sung vocals that end with another squealing guitar piece.
It’s clear after the past few songs that this band is the full package in sound, taking all of the best elements from multiple genres and subgenres to create a melting pot of rock, musical talent, and emotion. But even more importantly, as the song ends each musician is standing on stage looking almost surprised that they are getting such incredible feedback from the crowd. The “thank you” and light banter between the fans and the band feels like having a conversation with an old friend. It’s like you already know them and adore them after one show. The next song Distance slows things down audibly, but holds just as much passion as the previous upbeat number. Jourdan brings an acoustic element to the stage helping pull the emotions out front and center. The bright white lights, smoke, and haunting harmonies from the band fuel what proves to be another highlight of the evening. For the first time during the set, you can hear the crowd singing along and connecting with the musicians on a new level. Hearing it live you can understand how this song occupied the #1 position on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Airplay chart.
After traveling through Distance, a song that Van Halen tells the audience was something that they began playing unintentionally during a rehearsal starts with a recognizable intro. A new take of Them Bones by Alice In Chains has fans either raising their glasses and singing along, or thrusting their phones into the air to try and capture the moment. Either way, it was enjoyable to the last drop. The evening ends with Van Halen expressing his gratitude again to the city of Dallas, taking a moment to introduce his extremely talented bandmates and leading into the final crowd favorite Don’t Back Down. Lyrically this is the best choice to leave the crowd with, a timeless sound and classic bite juxtaposed with a modern vibe. By the second verse it is apparent that this band honestly leaves it all on the stage. The fast paced instrumental ending equipped with strobe lights is both visually and musically impressive. When the song ends Van Halen has his guitar lifted to the clouds, he briefly kisses it and then places it on the ground so that he can take hands with his bandmates. The entire band stands front and center and bows before heading off of the stage, leaving an impression that has us all on the edge of our seats to see what these young guns are going to do next!
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