DALLAS — Even at 53 years of age, Eddie Van Halen and his band can still incite a riotous reaction from an arena full of fans. The reunited (minus bassist Michael Anthony) Van Halen Mk. I came to Dallas on Eddie’s big day and gave the ravenous crowd a present they’ll long remember.
2007 (when this current tour began) saw the reunions of some of the most beloved bands of the Seventies. The Police, Led Zeppelin and Van Halen with original lead singer David Lee Roth were all thought never to tread the boards together again, but they proved us wrong. Too bad Zeppelin’s reunion was a one-off in London, but getting to see Van Halen a second time around with the flamboyant front man Roth was an opportunity not to be missed.
The band kicked off their set with their remake of the classic Kinks’ rocker “You Really Got Me.” They quickly went into their early catalog with songs like “I’m the One,” “Runnin’ with the Devil” and “Romeo Delight” (which had a brief section by Roth and the audience to serenade Eddie with a rendition of “Happy Birthday” and then a bit of The Who’s “Magic Bus”). When they performed “Somebody Get Me a Doctor” the band incorporated Humble Pie’s “I Don’t Need No Doctor” and Cream’s remake of the blues classic “Spoonful” as homage to acts that influenced the young Van Halen and Roth.
Van Halen was always a band that had serious hard rock chops, but it also had a penchant for writing pure pop gems like “Beautiful Girls” and “Dance the Night Away” from their second album. These songs provide a bit of relief from the relentless rocking and the proficient manner in which the show was presented. When the band got to “Everybody Wants Some!!” from their Women and Children first album, the entire show felt like another gear had been reached. This was probably due to the primal, tribal beat that drummer Alex Van Halen uses to drive the song and the slightly lascivious spoken middle section in which the ever ready Roth tries to talk sexy to an imaginary girl.
When Van Halen went into Fair Warning’s “Mean Streets,” Roth swung his microphone stand like a crazed baton twirler. After a quick run-through of the their great remake of Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman,” Alex Van Halen got to demonstrate his percussion skills during a rather tidy (and not tedious!) drum solo. Somewhere offstage extra keyboard sounds were added to spice up the sound.
This led into an energetic “Unchained” and the first song off of their 1984 album: “I’ll Wait.” During that tour, Eddie insisted on playing the keyboard parts on stage instead of guitar, but in this one they were either pre-recorded or piped in from offstage. The harmony vocals also seemed a bit suspect on this song (formally handled by ex-bassist Michael Anthony and EVH, but now “sung” by EVH and his son Wolfgang), but there was no doubt that DLR was putting his all into the performance.
Going from the punkish/ultra macho “And the Cradle Will Rock…” and “Hot for Teacher” and the sublime “Little Guitars” showed the range of this re-energized quartet. Roth came out with an acoustic guitar and strummed while reminiscing about his days as a teenager in suburban Southern California. He claimed to have had a friend that actually drove an ice cream truck which they emptied out and stored beer for weekend parties and smoked herb with a neighborhood kid named “Kenny” while listening to Pink Floyd. This led into the Van Halen I classic “Ice Cream Man.” When Van Halen performed “Panama” the entire audience joyously joined in on the single word chorus.
Finally, the audience was treated to Edward’s wizardry on guitar during a 10-12 minute guitar solo. Van Halen started while sitting on the slope of the near “figure 8” stage and with a bit of flamenco/classical style picking. He then went into a distorted Hendrix-like section before going into the soothing, pipe organ-like sounds of his “Cathedral” solo from 1982’s Diver Down. The final movement of the solo was his seminal double handed tapping “Eruption” which whipped the crowd into frenzy. The only song that could possibly follow this display of genius was the ferocious “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love.”
After a brief exodus from the stage, Eddie, Alex, Wolfgang Van Halen and David Lee Roth came back on stage with the synthesized strains of “1984.” They launched into the buoyant, crowd-pleasing “Jump” and all the stage props like David’s 4th top hat of the evening, a giant, inflated microphone and showers of confetti came out. Roth even managed to do more drum major twirling and his highest jumping karate kick of the evening (he didn’t do one of those splits jumps from the drum riser, but he’s not 29 anymore either). There was no doubt that Van Halen could still deliver the goods. Actually, this was better than the last time I saw this version of the band because they were not on speaking terms then and Roth seemed to have taken a few too many drinks before the show and kept forgetting lyrics.
Finally, the opening act for this great show was Ky-Mani Marley, son of deceased Reggae superstar Bob Marley. He fronted a band very similar to his father’s in that he had female background singers with who he could rely on for excellent support. The music he performed was a mix of his own and his father’s (“No Woman No Cry” and “I Shot the Sheriff”). It was rather interesting to have an act whose music was so different from the headliner’s style. He was very grateful for the opportunity to tour with Van Halen. Like his brothers (Ziggy, Damian, etc.) it will take a bit of luck (and some amazing songs) for him to ever stand outside his father’s large shadow. I hope for their sake this will happen some day!
Van Halen setlist
You Really Got Me I’m the One | Runnin’ with the Devil | Romeo Delight | Somebody Get Me a Doctor | Beautiful Girls | Dance the Night Away | Atomic Punk | Everybody Wants Some!! | So This Is Love? | Mean Streets | Pretty Woman | Drum Solo | Unchained | I’ll Wait | And the Cradle Will Rock… | Hot for Teacher | Little Dreamer | Little Guitars | Jamie’s Cryin’ | Ice Cream Man | Panama | Guitar Solo | Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love