December 31st, 2007
By Jennifer Maerz
In the early '80s, Van Halen always seemed like the dudes you'd want
cracking jokes at your house party. They made weekend-ready hard rock
without all the tough meathead bullshit. They were equal parts David Lee
Roth's Vegas vamping and Eddie Van Halen's virtuosic guitar playing. They
wrote songs about tonsil hockey with teacher. Together with Michael
Anthony on bass and drummer Alex Van Halen on the white sweatband, Van
Halen exuded technical showmanship and campy attitude, down to their
shredded-these-clothes-with-safety-scissors duds. I was still in grade
school when 1984 came out, but I'll never forget the videos that followed:
Roth as a bus driver or throwing out jazz hands; all those man-manes
teased to heights that rivaled that of the leggy ladies they put on
parade; those goofball Eddie Van Halen grins. No arena act has pulled off
such a feel-good blend of female-ogling rock since David Lee Roth and
company had their falling out.
And by falling out, I mean that in the past 22 years, Van Halen has done
nothing of note but add a couple zeros to Sammy Hagar's Cabo Wabo account.
So driving down to the HP Pavilion in San Jose for the band's Dec. 16
reunion show, I'll admit my level of anticipation was minimal. A lot has
happened in the past two decades. Michael Anthony is no longer in the
band. Red spandex has become an ironic accessory for 20-year-olds. David
Lee Roth's chest has gotten bald and oily. Who knew what to expect of the
old Van Halen in this new world?
The minute the curtains came down and "You Really Got Me" kicked in,
though, the '07 Van Halen agenda was clear: Bring back the total
awesomeness of the early '80s, with none of that bummer '90s filler (i.e.,
act as if that whole thing with Extreme's singer never happened). Diamond
Dave looked as if he'd been beamed back as Dr. Teeth, sporting multiple
top hats, bedazzled jackets, and an open-mouthed Muppet smile locking his
jaw well below the chin. He contorted his face into a spastic Can you
believe this shit?!? look whenever the cameras got close, holding court
like the same old jester of yesteryear (except that he now has the hairdo
of Siegfried of Siegfried and Roy). Even his canned banter was charming.
On the band's relevance: "You get a free history lesson with this
On general excitement levels: "Is everybody having as good a time as we
On San Jose: "I come from the suburbs! A little place down the way called
Pasadena. The suburbs are where they tear down the trees and name the
streets after them."
Pretty much everything Roth said was still some shade of ridiculous, which
makes you wonder how Eddie ever fired him (twice).
The other Van Halens didn't mess with small talk, but their beaming
expressions conveyed everything. Alex looked 80 but played like he was 20,
clocking in with an extended drum solo full of banging and smashing and
clattering, but egregiously leaving silent the giant gong hanging behind
him. Eddie's son, Wolfgang, is now Van Halen's touring bassist and, as
such, is pretty much the coolest 16-year-old on the planet. Wolfgang's
look was your standard rock garb (bulky black hoodie, dark bangs covering
his face, his pa's signature grin sneaking out occasionally). His playing
was neither legendary nor distracting, but rather represented a rock
fantasy made real for the many teenagers in attendance.
Eddie's wizardly 15-minute solo (with widescreen close-ups of all the
fancy finger work and drumstick-on-guitar-strings tricks) was one of the
evening's best moments. Lesser musicians look like total wankers doing
that much noodling, but the rock (and cancer) survivor's flashy fretwork
and squishy-mouth faces made the crowd delirious. He then put his ax head-
to-head with Diamond Dave's big mouth to see who could make the better
squawking-toucan or revving-motorcycle noises.
It was a draw.
In between we heard all the jukebox faves: "Runnin' with the Devil,"
"Dance the Night Away," "I'll Wait," "Ain't Talking 'Bout Love," and more.
My complaints were few: namely, that "Panama" skipped the best lines ("You
reach down, between my legs, ease my seat back"), and . well . why was
"Senorita" on the set list? After two full hours of entertainment, Van
Halen pulled off the perfect encore with its biggest hit, "Jump,"
featuring Roth running around and waving a giant red flag as blue and
white confetti dropped from the ceiling and onto the crowd.
Reunion shows can be sad displays of how poorly '80s shtick ages, but Van
Halen's performance felt fresh even with all of its scripted moves. Maybe
it's because the sound guy was piping in a whole load of backing vocals.
Or maybe it's because we've had so much bad Van Halen over the years that
it was reassuring to be reminded that there used to be a good Van Halen
once upon a time. But most likely the show's success was due to the fact
that Roth and Eddie are the clowns of classic arena rock. Stopping the
clock in 1984 bodes well for Van Halen. That means no ballads, no bad
crossover experiments, and, best of all, no Hagar.
[Return to Current Headlines]
The Van Halen News Desk: Serving up Van Halen, David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar news since 1996