Doug Fox from the VHND and The Daily Herald has written what some fans are calling the definitive review of Van Halen’s tour so far:
As it turns out, the rumors of Van Halen’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Was it only just several weeks ago that naysayers were populating what passes for the modern-day town square — Twitter, Facebook and the comments sections of popular rock websites — pronouncing all kinds of gloom and doom about Van Halen’s summer tour and offering dire predictions for the band’s immediate future?
And yet, there were the four members of the band — David Lee Roth and Eddie, Alex and Wolf Van Halen — on Saturday night before the naked steaming eyes of thousands of raucous fans at USANA Amphitheatre in West Valley City, owning the stage with the power and authority of a group that has not only been there and done that in a Hall of Fame career, but exhibits clear signs of rejuvenation.
Turns out there is still no party like a Van Halen party, and the band certainly threw a memorable one in its first Utah appearance with Roth at the helm since 1984.
After a couple up-and-down appearances on national television shows earlier this year and mixed reviews for the band’s new album, “Tokyo Dome Live in Concert,” the common cynic refrain included the following armchair analyses:
— There’s no real stage chemistry anymore between the band’s two dominant, and sometimes clashing, personalities, guitarist extraordinaire Eddie Van Halen and flamboyant frontman Roth.
— The backing vocals, a key part of the Van Halen sound, would never be adequately replicated without original bassist Michael Anthony, who was replaced in the lineup more than eight years ago by Eddie’s son, Wolf.
— Fans wouldn’t turn out to support the tour of a band that had canceled or postponed dates on each of its past two tours and was apparently running on fumes in 2015.
— Roth’s voice is shot and he can’t sing anymore.
As more and more of the above pre-tour declarations of doom were put to rest by what unfolded in person Saturday night, I couldn’t help but be reminded of that classic “Seinfeld” scene where Elaine good-naturedly shoots down Jerry’s incredulous questions regarding her newly revealed talent at sexual deception.
In response to the above defeatist assertions, one could easily imagine Elaine pointing to each one individually and saying, “Fake! … Fake! … Fake! … And mostly fake!”
Look, they may or may not be friends offstage, but there is an undeniable clear and present chemistry between Roth and Eddie Van Halen — and it was on display right from the beginning riff of opener “Light Up the Sky” when the pair spontaneously locked arms and twirled in a playful circle. The powerhouse opener hadn’t been played in these parts for 36 years, having served as the first song of the band’s very first concert in Utah (March 31, 1979, at Utah State University). The song obviously hasn’t lost anything in the translation during the intervening years, delivering a gut-punching tone for what was to come Saturday night.
There were plenty of other examples of Dave-Eddie camaraderie. In addition to abundant onstage interaction, at one point Dave even pulled up a chair and sat immediately in front of Eddie to watch him fire off the blazing guitar solo in “Ice Cream Man.” Later, Roth played part-matador, part-air conditioner as he playfully fanned Eddie off with his scarf after the incendiary guitar-only ending to “Little Guitars.”
As for the backing vocals, major props must be given to Wolf V.H. because he has certainly risen to the occasion in this regard. Most of the background vocals sounded just like you remember from the records — or at least as close as one should reasonably expect. From VH anthems like “Somebody Get Me a Doctor” and “Everybody Wants Some” to more obscure album tracks like “Women in Love,” the trademark backing vox came through beautifully.
Speaking of Wolf, he also deserves credit for putting together what has to be the most all-encompassing, well-rounded setlist of the Roth era that the band has ever toured behind. A near-perfect blend between hits, the expected standards and deep tracks that have either never or rarely been played live has helped satisfy the expectations of both the diehard and casual fan.
Of the deep tracks, “Drop Dead Legs,” “Feel Your Love Tonight” and “Dirty Movies” all translated perfectly to the stage. “In a Simple Rhyme,” however, was the only one to land a little short of the mark. Something about the first verse vocally didn’t quite work, but the song rebounded in the second half and finished strong. The short “Growth” add-on jam following the requisite pause at song’s end was a big kick, prompting Roth to exclaim, “Just like the record, baby!”
Musically, the three Van Halens were in complete lockstep the entire night. It is interesting to watch the interactions of all three on stage during a show. Eddie often turns around and looks to his elder brother behind the kit as he counts him into the flow either at the beginning of a song or after a solo break. Eddie and Wolf frequently share knowing smiles — or cross-stage fist bumps — and the father-son dynamic is clearly evident to those who look for it.
Eddie garners whatever spotlight eludes finding Roth, deservedly so because his transcendent guitar playing is what has always separated Van Halen from other rock bands. Because of that, it’s easy to overlook what Alex and Wolf are doing to constantly propel the band forward and provide the template for Eddie to do his thing.
As is standard Van Halen operating procedure, Alex performed a four-minute drum solo, spiced up with some Latin-flavored recorded accompaniment. Wolf doesn’t take a solo — as per his own request when he first joined the band — but check out some of the stuff he is playing throughout songs. He had some great moments in “Romeo Delight,” for example, and it may be near sacrilege to admit, but I just happened to glance toward Wolf during Eddie’s guitar solo in “Hot For Teacher” — one of my all-time favorites — and was blown away at what the younger Van Halen was playing underneath it all.
Which brings us back to Roth and the “mostly fake” Seinfeldian rejoinder. No one can say that Roth’s voice is as strong as it was in the band’s original glory days. But it doesn’t need to be to power the Van Halen live juggernaut in 2015. When he stays within himself and finds his sweet spot, he can still deliver great vocals. There were a few instances where he and the melody went separate directions, but honestly, those moments are mostly swallowed up in a cacophony of crankage emanating from the other three band members.
Where Roth really makes his mark, though, is in showmanship. The self-glossed toastmaster general is truly in his element whenever there are any eyes upon him — and with his dancing gyrations and poses, not-quite-as-high karate kicks, constant wardrobe changes, perma-grin and comic quips and stories, that is pretty much all the time. Some of what he does borders on goofy, sure, but it’s all part of the show and Roth is nothing if not entertaining.
Continue reading and view more photos HERE.