21 min read

Review & Photography by Manny Manson for MPM

Last night, the O2 Institute, Birmingham played host to an American legend in the making. Wolfgang Van Halen brought his band MAMMOTH WVH to this 2k cap venue as one of two intimate gigs in the UK during his festival season playing the likes of ‘Graspop,’ ‘Hellfest’ and ‘Rockharz’ in Europe. His other UK appearance will be at London’s O2 Academy on the 9th.

The energy in the queue outside, before we got let in, and once inside was electric. The fans eagerly awaiting the arrival of MAMMOTH WVH, occupied their time chatting loudly about the band and previous gigs, bought merch from the well-stocked stand; the queue being directed up the stairs such was the length of it, and made good use of the well manned bars, even if it was a bit pricey. The band, led by Wolfgang Van Halen, son of the legendary Eddie Van Halen, has been making big waves in the rock scene. Their live performance, when they were last in Birmingham, supporting Slash and Myles Kennedy was nothing short of spectacular, I remember commenting to a colleague that a headline tour is long overdue. And here it is, albeit only a two nightery.

MAMMOTH WVH was formed by Wolfgang Van Halen in 2015. Wolfgang, often called “Wolfie,” is no stranger to the music world, having grown up surrounded in all its glory and wonder. As the son of Eddie Van Halen, the guitarist for the iconic rock band Van Halen, and actress Valerie Bertinelli, Wolfgang had big shoes to fill. His father, Eddie, is widely regarded as one of the greatest guitarists of all time, known for his revolutionary guitar techniques and unforgettable riffs. Wolfgang, however, has carved out his own path in the music industry, even if he has followed his father’s path into the industry, he was firstly a drummer before picking up the guitar, he has strived to prove himself as his own man, and what a stunning job he is doing of it.

The actual name MAMMOTH WVH holds sentimental value. “Mammoth,” as those hard-core fans will know, was the original name of “Van Halen” before they became the legendary band we know of today. Adding “WVH” to the name not only personalises it, but also pays homage to his father’s legacy. “Wolfie” embraces the EVH brand and makes no secret of his love for his late father.

MAMMOTH WVH released their self-titled debut album in June 2021. This album, written and performed entirely by Wolfgang, was met with critical acclaim from both music critics and fans alike. It includes hits like “Distance,” a touching tribute to his late father, and “Don’t Back Down,” which demonstrates Wolfgang’s multi-instrumental talents. The album covers a range of emotions and styles, again reflecting Wolfgang’s diverse musical influences and, dare I say it, the magical Van Halen talent, If you think he’s a carbon clone of his father then think again, his sound is more “Breaking Benjamin” than Van Halen, he has more akin to Shinedown, Daughtry and Tremonti than to his dad’s great band.

The long awaited second album, “MAMMOTH II,” released in early 2023, solidified the band’s presence in the rock world. With tracks like “Another Celebration at the End of the World” and “Think It Over,” the album continued to highlight Wolfgang’s growth as both a musician and songwriter. The blend of hard-hitting rock and melodic tunes appeals to both old-school rock fans, like myself and the newer fan base evident in the crowd gathered tonight.

The night begins with “The Dust Coda”, a band I’ve seen several times over the years. This NWOCR band always put on a great show, and tonight is no different as they energetically warm up the crowd, ready for MAMMOTH WVH. (see separate account of THE DUST CODA)

The lights dim, and the roar of the crowd grows louder. AC/DC’s “Prowler” blasts over the house PA, making the crowd impatient, who doesn’t like a bit of AC/DC. This is Mammoth’s walk-on track, and, as the cheers reach a new level, the band take to the dimly lit stage. Wolfgang, in a simple black t-shirt and jeans, smiles humbly at the audience, arms outstretched in appreciation of the welcome. He plugs in his trademark EVH SA-126 guitar and says, “Thank you for being here,” with a heartfelt sincerity.

The band kick off the night with the self-titled “Mammoth,” this rawking anthem quickly sets the tone for an emotional evening. The crowd are on it from the first note, nodding along and feeling the energy. The heavy guitar riffs and powerful vocals has everyone light in their sneakers, throwing horns in the air as the standing crowd bounce as one. Wolfgang’s voice is strong and confident, his eyes shining with excitement at the crowd’s reaction. The band’s high-energy music is a perfect match for the night. The bond between the band members is clear, they look at each other clearly overwhelmed by the reaction to them being live in Birmingham.

The band’s setlist is a perfect mix of tracks from both of their albums, previously we have only heard 6-8 tracks so it’s great that we now have a setlist of 15 tunes. “You’re to Blame” and “Epiphany” were certainly standout performances, but they were shadowed as Wolfie and the band performed “Distance.” There were no words of introduction before this one, it had to be one of the most touching moments of the night as Wolfie delivered a heartfelt vocal, the emotion in his voice was unmistakable, and as he played the song, the crowd lit up the venue with their phones.

As the song progressed, Wolfie’s, emotional vocal skills and guitar solos were impressive, he managed to showcase his own unique style while echoing his father’s legendary skill. At the songs end he stood back and let the emotion in the hall sweep over him. He didn’t have to say anything, we all understood.

The band rocked the room with songs like “Right,” “Mr Ed,” “Optimist,” and “I’m Alright” from their latest album, Mammoth II. “Mr. Ed,” a song many fans believe, also nods to Wolfgang’s late father, Eddie Van Halen, tonight, it gets introduced as a song about a talking horse. The song’s complex guitar work and catchy chorus make it a crowd favourite. Wolfgang’s ability to switch between guitar, bass, and vocals was amazing, showing off his versatility as a musician and not just a one trick pony. You have to remember Wolfie writes all the parts and records the album, he then has to encourage the band to play it properly (pun).

“I’m All Right,” sadly didn’t feature Wolfie’s Uncle, Patrick Bertinelli’ on his Wah Wah pedal for this live show. Confused, read the album credits. However, the audience’s enthusiastic cheers throughout the set ensured Wolfie stopped between songs to thank the crowd for the overwhelming love. He told the crowd that his very first headline gig in the UK will forever be in his heart.

The set finished with “Take A Bow,” from the latest offering. A little bit of trivia here is that the album recording was played on Eddie Van Halen’s original Frankenstein guitar, through an original Van Halen Marshall head and cab used on Van Halen 1 & 2. It’s just a shame that the instrument didn’t make an appearance live, but I guess its value is such that it remains a dream.

It has to be said that MAMMOTH WVH “Live” is more than just Wolfgang; it’s a band of talented musicians who bring their own energy to the stage. Frank Sidoris and Jon Jourdan on guitars, Ronnie Ficarro on bass, and Garrett Whitlock on drums all delivered stellar performances. Their tight-knit playing and synchronisation were impressive, Garrett on drums especially as he has the unenviable job of putting ‘Wolfie’s’ drum beats into the live performance, remember, Wolfie’s Uncle is the heart beat behind Van Halen, the legendary Alex Van Halen.

This dynamic, talented quartet proves that they are more than just a backing band for Wolfgang. In fact, during the concert, Wolfgang took several opportunities to let his bandmates highlight their talents. Each member had a moment to shine, whether it was a bass solo from Ronnie or a drum groove from Garrett. These moments added a further depth to the performance and showed that MAMMOTH WVH is now a very cohesive unit.

Wolfgang’s continued interaction with the crowd was genuine and down-to-earth. He shared his amazement at being on stage hearing the crowd sing his songs, he then got the balcony and the floor competing in a round of cheers before getting us all to Boo his Londoner stage manager as he heard that ‘Brummies’ don’t like the ‘Cockneys’. This gesture was met with loud cheers and applause, making it a fun moment for everyone, including the stage manager who had been brought front and central for it, he did reply with the ‘bird’ to his credit.

As the night drew to a close, the band left the stage amidst huge cheers, only to return moments later for a powerful encore, but not before the band were introduced one by one. On reaching Ronnie Ficarro, we get told it’s his birthday, at which point a ‘Colin the Caterpillar’ cake adorned with candles is brought on for him. (Other Caterpillar Cakes are available). With a rousing version of “Happy Birthday,” the candles are extinguished and we carry on.

First up was “Don’t Back Down,” a fan favourite, and delivered with a renewed brutality, the crowd lapped this one enthusiastically. The night finally ended with a powerful rendition of “Another Celebration at the End of the World.” The audience, on their feet, cheering and clapping, obviously not wanting the song to end, as the band delivered an unbelievable performance to conclude the nights show. And what a show.

MAMMOTH WVH’s concert was an authentication to Wolfgang Van Halen’s talent and dedication to his craft. He has successfully stepped out of his father’s shadow and created a name for himself in the rock world. The combination of heartfelt tributes, high-energy performances, and genuine audience interaction has made for an unforgettable night, and possible my most favourite gig of all time, I’m now 60 (albeit a young 60) I’ve seen a few, including his dad when VH first came to the UK, and tonight was on a very different, emotional level.

After previously seeing MAMMOTH WVH live, albeit on the undercard of bands like Halestorm and Slash and Myles Kennedy, I’ve been waiting for the day that ‘Wolfie’ and the boys would tour without the draw of a big headliner above them. Tonight, he has shown, without a doubt that he no longer stands in his dad’s shadow. His name is such that to-nights show had to be moved twice because of the demand for tickets,

And for those who may have doubts about Wolfgang’s ability to carry on the Van Halen legacy, this concert’ his first UK headliner, proved that he is more than capable. MAMMOTH WVH is not just a band with a famous last name; they are a mighty force in today’s rock music scene. All you boys sat at the top table had better set an extra place for MAMMOTH WVH as they will be filling Arenas very, very soon. It’s very clear that Wolfgang and his band have a bright future ahead, and I can’t wait to see what they do next.

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