Van Halen has only its namesake rock-hero shredding through tunes on the band’s current reunion tour. But Monday night inside the Toyota Center, Eddie Van Halen was joined by an arena full of air guitarists.
It was a nonstop exchange of adulation, energy and fist-pumping earnestness.
A trim, vibrant Eddie shared the love with brother Alex (drums); shy teenage son Wolfgang (bass); and an energized David Lee Roth, who presided over the evening like a merry, slightly manic ringmaster.
Guys in the crowd suddenly reverted back to adolescence. They snapped cell-phone photos, pounded on imaginary drums and sang along to everything from Beautiful Girls and Dance the Night Away to Jamie’s Cryin’.
It was exhausting to watch, to listen to, to be in the midst of for more than two hours. But it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The weak-kneed result is really a testament to the (mostly) veteran band’s almost superhuman energy. The levels were cranked up to ten and never subsided.
The crowd was populated by middle-aged dudes in ball caps, button-downs and slacks, parents with curious kids and the requisite gaggle of breathless females. There were even a few vintage T-shirts and pairs of leather pants.
A sizable Van Halen blimp slowly circled the inside of the arena just before the band took the stage, flashing lasers at the crowd. The inanimate object drew more attention than living, breathing opening act Ky-Mani Marley, who mixed originals with covers of his legendary father’s tunes. Harmless — and completely forgettable.
Eddie and his guitar soon roared to life amid a flurry of smoke and spotlights. It gave way to a frenetic, bombasticYou Really Got Me, the band’s first single; followed by a frenetic, bombastic I’m the One.
Subtlety is not this band’s bag.
The show was loud in every way, from Eddie’s jaw-dropping, did-he-just-do-that guitar work to Roth’s crotch-hugging pants. Earplugs barely helped, and Roth’s early vocals were sometimes drowned out by the band.
But the crowd, who reached into the upper levels of the arena, didn’t seem to mind. And the payoffs eventually came Somebody Get Me a Doctor morphed into a blistering blues duet between Roth and Eddie, and Unchained still had considerable glam sparkle.
During the thundering gallop of Everybody Wants Some, Eddie glided over to Wolfgang and planted a kiss on his cheek. It felt spontaneous and sweet.
Roth is still a showman, all karate chops and lip curls and vaudeville smiles. He sparkled through a succession of ornate jackets and unbuttoned his shirt to reveal a surprisingly taut, toned torso.
“First time I was here was almost 30 years ago,” Roth told the crowd. “I got relatives who live here. I know all the suburbs around here. I know this place like the back of my hand.”
He didn’t engage in much more than pump-you-up stage banter, but spectacle has always been Roth’s forté. He led the crowd through a forceful sing-along of Runnin’ With the Devil and paraded around the expanse stage with a joyful, Jagger swagger during Mean Street, And the Cradle Will Rock and Hot for Teacher. (No classroom bikini babe, though.)
Vocally, however, Roth’s limitations were frequently apparent. He tends to shout through songs when he’s excited — which is basically all the time. He sounded particularly strained during Pretty Woman and amid the laughably outdated synth strains of I’ll Wait.
He was better during Ice Cream Man, which came with an overlong intro about teenage parties, a few acoustic guitar riffs and kicky tempo switches. The band blasted through solid versions of Panama and Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love before closing with (of course) Jump, its personal pop pinnacle.
Roth hoisted a huge, inflatable microphone above his head and paraded through blasts of confetti before joining his band of brothers for a final blow.
And even as they disappeared backstage, the smiles never left their faces.