It’s the reunion they blew in 1996. Then again in 2000 and ’02. Then it was announced last year, but with Eddie Van Halen’s son on bass. Then Eddie went into rehab.
The Van Halen reunion has been messed up so many times in so many different ways that it’s amazing that the band is rolling across the country in 2008 as a tight unit, ripping through some of the biggest songs in classic rock.
Fans wearing “David Lee Roth IS Van Halen” T-shirts in the crowd saw that it’s partially true, partially not.
Having Roth, one of rock’s finest frontmen when he wants to be, back with the band and songs he made world-famous is a great, great thing. But equally great is having Eddie Van Halen back on top of his game, looking night-and-day healthier than his last stop through town.
Then again, maybe it’s musical comfort food. By definition, the band couldn’t play anything past 1984, as Roth left the band a year later, so the show was a throwback to simpler times. Simply seeing EVH and DLR sharing a stage – happily so – is a sight many fans thought they’d never see again.
Halfway through the opening You Really Got Me, the band simply paused and the exhilarated arena let out a lusty cheer, thrilled to see the band in close to its original incarnation.
What was lacking was any sense of a false reunion. Sure they’re pulling in the cash on this sold-out tour, but cash has never been enough to make them put aside their egos. At the very least they’re willing to put up with each other to make this happen.
Despite the fact that they’re endlessly on the radio, one forgets just how many huge hits the original band put out in its six years of fire before implosion.
Favorites like Hot For Teacher and Beautiful Girls were obvious picks to bring down the house, but album tracks like Mean Streets and Everybody Wants Some kept the crowd just as rabid. With the biggest big screen ever and lasers aplenty, Van Halen put on an old-school rock show, fearlessly blasting through hits and rock star poses (though I don’t think anyone would have objected to more shirts, less skin).
Teenaged Wolfgang Van Halen was the revelation, handling bass and vocals deftly with a style obviously derived from his father but not cloned. Hard-core fans say it’s not Van Halen without Michael Anthony on bass, but no one was complaining Friday night.
At press time, big hits like Jump and Ain’t Talkin’ About Love were still to come, but with the VH reunion, apparently the fifth time’s the charm.
The flashy brand of rock ‘n’ roll that put Van Halen into the public’s heart — and the history books — was all about putting on a show: Diamond David Lee Roth’s outrageous antics and guitarist Eddie Van Halen’s otherworldly ability on the fretboard.
Given that kind of a history, the band’s reunion show Friday night at the Pepsi Center was an outright success.
Knowing well that “Everybody Wants Some,” three-quarters of the original band gave it to them. New addition Wolfgang Van Halen, Eddie’s 16-year-old son, replaced original bassist Michael Anthony last year and was in proper form to boot.
This was the reunion most true Van Halen fans had been waiting for. The mostly original lineup didn’t disappoint, carrying through with each of the band’s signature moves and famous songs — and looking oddly happy while doing it.
“You Really Got Me” was a decent opener, but what really got the crowd pumped was the happiness with which it was carried out. Formerly public enemies, Eddie Van Halen and Diamond Dave looked like buddies who had known each other for 20-plus years. (Which they kind of are.)
It could have been honest, or it could have been a facade, but all the hugging and smiles was exactly what the crowd wanted to see.
The band started out playing pretty tight, but the years that had passed since 1984 (and “1984”) seemed obvious. But by the third song, “Runnin’ With the Devil,” the group had erased any doubt in the haters’ minds. This was Van Halen, and they were back sounding as tight and reckless as ever.
Roth, wearing a sequined mariachi- matador hybrid with numerous top hats, acknowledged the not-quite- complete reunion early on, and his honesty was appreciated.
Eddie Van Halen walked on the stage at 9 p.m. in white cargo pants, Chuck Taylors and no shirt — looking toned and fit. He and his band didn’t leave until after 11:15 p.m., proving they still had the two-plus hour set in them.
A couple lame covers padded the lengthy set, of course, including The Who’s “Magic Bus” and Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” (snatched from the 1982 Van Halen record “Diver Down”). But most of the hits rang as true as they did two decades ago.
Most impressive was “Panama,” which ignited the encore. It is an amazing ’80s-rock song, yes, but this track proved a timelessness that was otherwise absent the rest of the band’s catalog.
“Beautiful Girls” was a fun and silly crowd-pleaser, but “Somebody Get Me a Doctor” said more about the band and who they are in 2008. Roth started the song on his own with a harmonica and a megaphone, and the band seemed to translate the track to this very different time and age. As expected, “Jump” closed out the night, and it was a fine jolt — although it was disappointing the band chose to play to tracked synths instead of a live keyboard.
A massively wide screen stretched the width of the stage and provided the crowd with tasty close-ups of Eddie Van Halen’s ridiculous fret work and drummer Alex Van Halen’s mastery of a very large drum kit. The gigantic screen gave the show a welcome sense of intimacy — especially because the Pepsi Center, while the perfect place to see Van Halen, is a cavernous concert venue.