These days, it's hard to imagine Van Halen being described as an opening act or an unsigned band. But back in 1976, the heavy metal/hard rock combo was, in fact, the opening act when U.F.O. headlined the Golden West Ballroom in Norwalk, CA (a Los Angeles suburb). At that point, Van Halen had yet to sign with Warner Bros. or become internationally famous, although it was a hot local attraction in Southern California and could easily fill West Hollywood clubs like the Starwood and the Whiskey-a-Go-Go. Another term you often heard in connection with them in those days was "cover band"; Van Halen was writing a lot of original material in 1976, but many of its gigs required some covers. This was true of the headbangers' opening set for U.F.O., which is the focus of this bootleg CD. With David Lee Roth singing lead, they deliver an inspired set that ranges from original gems ("On Fire," "Somebody Get Me a Doctor," and "I'm the One") to covers of Led Zeppelin's "The Rover," Aerosmith's "Last Child," and ZZ Top's "Tush." Collectors will be thrilled to know that Golden West Ballroom: Live 1976 was taped from the venue's soundboard and offers very good sound quality, and that several of the tunes are rare originals that never made it to any of Van Halen's official studio albums (including "Let Me Swim in Your Ocean," "Let's Get Rockin'," and "We Die Young"). Throughout the set, they come across as inspired and extremely promising, if undeveloped -- in 1976, the Angelinos had yet to receive the guidance that Warner Bros.' A&R department would provide. But despite its imperfections, this bootleg is fascinating if you're a serious Van Halen collector.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson
feat: Alex Van Halen