Because it is highly unlikely that Van Halen will ever officially release any concerts pre-dating their monumental debut in 1978, the Van Halen Live Anthology 1975-1981 is the next best thing, compiling various snippets from the urban legends of Pasadena, featuring an incredible guitarist and a flamboyant playboy singer. Although this material has been long circulated under many different titles, this two-disc collection features 34 rare cover songs and early originals that can generally boast acceptable sound quality. With the exception of the Greensboro source from 1981 -- the sound is awful and the performance date is wrong -- these songs come from circa 1976 small stage California club shows. Tragic characteristics that plague virtually all VH bootlegs include wrong dates and venues, misspelled songs, recording glitches, and, of course, terrible sound quality, all of which appear in places. The Whiskey show is hindered by a humming static, the John Muir High School performance sounds muddy, and many songs are abruptly chopped. However, the performances are excellent; most all the cover songs sound like originals, and even though the band has denounced these recordings, there is nothing to be embarrassed about. Michael Anthony's basslines and Alex Van Halen's drumming rarely receive credit, but here they provide an audible and distinctive thundering backdrop. Neatly packaged, the artwork inside contains two great vintage concert flyer reproductions; although informative, the back cover would be better served with an old band photo rather than a girl in VH panties. Nevertheless, everything you love and hate about the band is on full display -- particularly David Lee Roth's incessant between song banter encouraging audiences to keep drinking and dancing, along with Edward Van Halen's superhero guitar mastery. The creative tension that would ultimately lead to Roth's departure is evidenced during a fantastic version of "Summertime Blues" -- much to Eddie's dismay, Roth cuts off the band and quiets the crowd to sing the last line, before launching into an unmistakable monster jam. Until Van Halen gives fans what they want, this is as good as it gets, but it is embarrassing how one of America's greatest rock bands has so little to show for these formative and still wildly popular years.
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AllMusic Review by Craig Curtice