Earlier this year, The Rock Universe whisked me away to a mysterious time and place to witness a battle of the bands of unparalleled greatness. I documented the experience, and now I'm sharing the battles here on the blog. Today we've got our first matchup of the tournament: Van Halen vs. The Doors. Here's how it went.
Walking up to the arena for the first time was a treat. It looked like an "old barn" type of venue, which was great enough by itself, but what was even more pleasing to me was the fact that it was not named and sponsored by a huge corporate entity. No bank, no insurance company, no media conglomerate. In fact, it didn't have a name at all.
What it did have was a buzz. People were milling around, talking, getting excited, selling t-shirts (bootleg or otherwise—take your pick). I wondered where everybody else had come from. No one seemed confused or out of place, though. I figured I'd stop looking around like a lost tourist and try to blend in.
I walked into the arena and a mellow blue light acted as a beacon to direct me to my seat. I was around center ice, right side, second level. This was fine. There was no way I was going to be picky about seating.
Two stages were set up at the same end of the arena—one for Van Halen, the other for The Doors. Jeez, they'd be battling right next to each other. I wasn't provided with any sort of rule book. Would it be no holds barred? Would one band play a song while the other had to remain quiet? No idea. But the arena was filling up quickly, and before I knew it the house lights went out. The crowd roared in the darkness.
Suddenly, the lights flashed onto the Doors' stage, and there was the band, blitzing out the introduction to "Touch Me". The crowd roared again, and once Jim Morrison sang out Come on, come on, come on, come on now touch me, babe, they roared louder, all the way through to the final note.
Cheers lingered as the stage lights turned off, but in moments the lights above Van Halen's stage flicked on, and the band jumped out with "Let's Get Rockin". The high energy and distortion caught us all a little off guard, and it was great. What we were getting hit with was three minutes of pure energy and showmanship. The song ended just as heavily as it started, and before the stage lights went down, David Lee Roth played to the crowd, asking how we were doing, prancing around, and yelling out in celebration.
Then the spotlight was back on the Doors, who pushed back with "LA Woman". The song was more than twice as long as Van Halen's first offering, and more complex as well. We all a chance to have more of an experience. Morrison and company were telling a story, that's for sure. A few minutes in, when the song slowed down and Morrison started chanting out "Mr. Mojo Risin", everyone started clapping along in rhythm. And as the song sped back up, the excitement in the crowd increased as well. By the time the song ended it seemed like the Doors had us all back on their hook.
But Van Halen started right back in with "You Really Got Me". The supercharged remake swung the momentum back hard. The sound and style of Eddie Van Halen's solo alone was enough to visibly stagger some in the audience, and just like Federer vs. Nadal, Agassi vs. Sampras, the back-and-forth rally was fully on.
The Doors slugged their hardest with "Break on Through (To the Other Side)". It was a short, high-energy song in answer to Van Halen's style, and all four band members working so hard together did sway the crowd back. But Van Halen was onto their opponent's plan. They didn't give us any time to think, counterpunching even harder with "House Of Pain". And it was so hard, so raw, and so heavy that Morrison and Manzarek folded their arms and put their heads down. Krieger and Densmore looked at each other, shrugged, and shook their heads side to side. They seemed perplexed by the technical marvels of Eddie Van Halen's play and tightness of the entire band, and at how, despite all the young women who'd swooned for Morrison, even more had flocked across to watch Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth do their thing.
But The Doors had one more song to counter with. After convening with his band, Jim Morrison walked up to the microphone under a single spotlight and began reciting poetry to a quiet blues bass line. With the audience captivated, he finished the final stanza and the band broke into "Love Me Two Times". I think most of us knew it was a kind of farewell song—a way to gracefully and artfully bow out to the victor. And it was perfect. With the last hard note of the song, Morrison kept hold of the microphone, lowered his head, the lights went off, and the crowd roared once more.
Then the lights hit Van Halen's stage one last time, and as a celebratory song, Eddie Van Halen broke into "Eruption". And he just kept going. And going. And going.
The Rock Universe had made up its mind, and it chose Van Halen to move on in the tournament, citing their technical wizardry, heavy rockin' sound, and high energy.
All four members of The Doors walked out of the arena quietly.
Outside, Morrison said, "The Rock Universe chose the other band, and that's fine. Just listen to that guy Eddie. He's still playing in there like a freak of nature.
"But who needs it? We play hits. We play with strength and grace and subversion. Our lyrics have deeper meaning. And we're fine with the result. Van Halen moves on, we'll move on too."
And with that, the Doors began to walk farther away from the arena as thunder rumbled and the introduction to "Riders on the Storm" wafted through the air.
Here are the set lists:
Break On Through (To The Other Side)
Love Me Two Times
Let's Get Rockin'
You Really Got Me
House of Pain
And here's the updated bracket.
Next week we go to the UK side of the bracket, where the #2 seed Black Sabbath takes on the #3 seed, Queen.
Who's your pick?