WORCESTER — Van Halen’s return to the concert stage with singer David Lee Roth back in the lineup after a 22-year separation proved to be not so much a reunion show, but rather a redemption show.
In a crisp two-hour performance last night at the DCU Center, Van Halen reclaimed and restored a catalog of arena-rocking gems perilously close to being lost to bad blood, infighting and the arrival of Sammy Hagar. The Van Halen of 2007— which also swapped out original bassist Michael Anthony for guitarist Eddie Van Halen’s 16-year-old son Wolfgang — revived not just the hits but the fan-beloved deep-album cuts from the six records Roth sang on between 1978 and 1984. Sure the fans expected big things from the hits, but when songs such as “I’m the One,” “Romeo Delight” and “Little Dreamer” ably contributed to the pop-metal pounding, there was little room for debate as to which era of Van Halen has more fire power. In one fell swoop, the Hagar era from 1986 to 2004 seemed like little more than an annoyance.
The band appeared in top shape as it delivered the two dozen songs and assorted solos that made up the concert. Roth kept a lid on his infamous gift for banal gab, preferring instead to simply grin and preen away the night as Eddie Van Halen uncorked one mind-snapping guitar part after another. Make no mistake: Whoever sings for Van Halen has to understand who runs this band and it is the guitar god. Brother Alex Van Halen was likewise monstrous behind the kit, and young Wolfgang more than held his own (and the teen had the sold-out crowd in his pocket once the video cameras homed in on the “Red Sox World Champions” sticker plastered to his bass and broadcast the image on the huge video screen behind the stage).
Van Halen opened with “You Really Got Me,” The Kinks cover it claimed as its own on one of rock’s classic debut albums. The band would play seven more songs from that album before the night was over, including a version of the acoustic blues “Ice Cream Man” that allowed Roth his one shot at spinning a yarn as he explained the way he would play the song for a girlfriend back in the early days of the band.
Beyond that, Eddie Van Halen’s guitar did much of the talking. Snippets of “Crossroads,” “Smoke on the Water” and “Magic Bus” popped up in the guitar frenzy, but Van Halen’s original work made the case that it, too, belongs in the canon of classic guitar bits. Whether giving a clinic on his patented tap-style of soloing or simply unfurling sheets of blistering riffs, Eddie van Halen played with a precision and passion absent from the display he put on when last in town with Hagar in tow back in 2004.
The band employed all the trappings of rock spectacle, yet its spirited rips through the mindlessly joyous “Hot For Teacher,” “…And the Cradle Will Rock,” “Panama,” “Unchained, “ “Atomic Punk,” “Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love” and “Everybody Wants Some” would have been just as successful had the band been playing upon a bare stage.
Ky-Mani Marley opened for Van Halen. The son of reggae legend Bob Marley visited his father’s songbook for some safe havens, yet proved to be a mighty talent in his own right with songs that put a contemporary edge of his reggae roots.
From Boston Globe:
In the great, unspoken battle of the reunion bands, Van Halen emerged the clear winner in 2007.
Other Johnny-come-back-latelies may have had more impressive intellectual credentials, exhibited more slick professionalism, or even managed to herd all the original members onstage, but few matched the gleeful energy and six-string pyrotechnics emitted by guitar god Eddie Van Halen last night at the DCU Center.
And few setlists could transport you back to hazy, fevered summer nights of feathered hair, fringe leather jackets, and killing time in parking lots with such sensorial completeness. (The fragrant haze hanging over some of those in last night’s crowd sporting feathered hair and fringe leather jackets helped.)
Spry of body and bright of spirit, the Cali hard-rockers returned to the area one week after shaking up the TD Banknorth Garden, spreading the news that long-estranged lead singer David Lee Roth and Van Halen seemed legitimately happy to be sharing the spotlight once again.
The famously contentious pair occasionally chatted and giggled between songs and played off each other with adolescent charm, Roth reaching for his roundhouse kicks and Van Halen grinning mischievously. From the metallic crunch of “Runnin’ With the Devil” to the double-time innuendos of “Hot For Teacher” to the fist-pumper “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” the nearly two-hour set was crammed with everything any fan of the classic lineup of the band would want to hear.
Of course, this was not the classic lineup, as Eddie’s 16-year-old son Wolfgang subbed for the ousted Michael Anthony on bass. Eddie was clearly thrilled to be expanding the family business, playing with both his son and brother Alex on drums, and Wolfgang acquitted himself well in what must be both a thrilling and terrifying situation. But Anthony was missed. (He may not be the world’s most accomplished bassist, but he always brought an impish spirit to the proceedings.)
After a few rough years, Roth has rebounded nicely, looking enviably fit and loosing his goofy Cheshire Cat grin with alarming frequency. His voice sounded almost as good as his abs looked as he managed most of the old yelps, growls, and lounge-lizard croons of yore.
But it was Eddie who was truly in prime form. On his signature guitar solo, he went from gentle caresses that brought forth an aching, almost cello-like lyrical melody to manhandling his fretboard for dirty, serrated knife’s-edge riffage. In that 10 minutes you could hear the incredible range of influence he has had on artists as disparate as Weezer, Rage Against the Machine, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Brad Paisley.
Whether it was magic, hypnotism, therapy or really good acting, the Van Halen onstage last night may have had as much fun as the sold-out crowd.