February 14 – Orlando, Florida
David Lee Roth, Sammy Hagar, Gary Cherone.
The guys in Van Halen had just better hope that the band’s guitarist doesn’t decide to quit.
On Thursday at a sold-out Amway Arena, it was Eddie Van Halen’s thunderous, inventive squall of feedback and machine-gun arpeggios that lifted Van Halen’s reunion show from mere nostalgia to something approaching high art.
It was fitting that it was his guitar that introduced the opening “You Really Got Me,” and injected that song and others with the intricate subplot that balanced frontman Roth’s more predictable shtick.
As an aging rock star, Roth is no Mick Jagger. At times, he wasn’t even a Steven Tyler.
Although in impressive physical condition, Roth often looked more like a clown as he stomped around the big runway that snaked around the stage and out into the floor like a giant “S.” It takes more than a sequined jacket and top hats to create a rock ‘n’ roll circus, as it turns out.
It also wasn’t helpful that an inhospitable sound mix rendered his shouted vocals almost unintelligible on many of the numbers. At least it favored the guitars and drums, the band’s most compelling assets anyway.
On bass, Eddie Van Halen’s teenage son Wolfgang was capable, even if he wasn’t charismatic. One might have imagined that he could have incited some visual mayhem on stage, but he mostly stood still and concentrated on the music.
More integral to the operation was drummer Alex Van Halen, who turned the ultimate arena rock cliche — the extended drum solo — into something special at the end of “Pretty Woman.” That was cool, even if he did bear an uncanny resemblance to Spock on the giant video screen behind the band.
One thing can be said of this reunion trek: it offered plenty of bang for the buck. Van Halen’s main set was a solid two hours, powered by a generous assortment of hits that included “Dance the Night Away,” “Runnin’ With the Devil,” “Beautiful Girls,” “Hot for Teacher” and “Panama.”
What was it about Roth that didn’t make it? Compared with the acrobatic image of the old days, his strutting made him look a little like your dad imitating David Lee Roth.
He made the biggest impact when he was strumming acoustic guitar and waxing nostalgic about the good old days in the introduction to “Ice Cream Man.”
Roth’s moment in the spotlight was shortly followed by a blazing 15-minute solo guitar showcase for Eddie Van Halen, in which his feedback drenched sonic excursions involving his famous finger-tapping and an electric drill were both over-the-top and thoroughly compelling.
By comparison, the one-song encore of “Jump” looked more like a bloated routine than something inspired — even with confetti shower and giant inflatable microphone.
For inspiration, Van Halen needs little more than its resident guitar hero.