By David J. Criblez
“This is a good one tonight….best night of the tour!“ announced frontman David Lee Roth four songs into Van Halen’s second sold out show at Madison Square Garden on March 1st. The energy was high and the band was simply elated, as their chemistry on stage has never been better.
Opening with “Unchained,” the mighty VH set the tone that this evening was going to be a standout performance that will be long remembered in fans’ hearts and minds. Roth rocked the old school mic and has abandoned his on-again/off-again headset which brought back some of his classic stage antics.
After roaring rendition of “Runnin’ With the Devil” and new single, “She’s the Woman,” Van Halen dusted off “The Full Bug” causing the crowd to rejoice as the song made its tour debut in the set list (first time since the ’82 Diver Down tour)! Turning to bassist Wolfgang Van Halen, Roth stated, “I told you this was going to be better than the first time!”
Roth huddled together with guitarist Edward Van Halen and Wolfie as he declared, “We are back baby!” In a rare shout out, the clown prince of rock & roll directed the spotlight to the side of the stage where he announced that a fan by the name of Nick was celebrating his 400th Van Halen show. Roth dedicated the show to Nick before heading into “Tattoo.”
“Alex take us on an exposition far, far away,” said Roth in a safari hat as drummer Alex Van Halen pounded his tribal skins for the intro to “Everybody Wants Some.” Eddie wore a permanent smile on his face all night as he kicked across the stage and did his side-to-side happy dance making him look like a Peanuts character. The song saw Dave and Eddie singing in total unison on the chorus like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards used to back in the day when they were talking.
“Somebody Get Me a Doctor” was perhaps one of the best songs of the night featuring Roth struttin’ about the stage in ‘80s-style sunglasses and blowin’ a whistle, which caught everyone’s attention. Sure he did his “I forgot the fuckin’ words” routine during “China Town” but hey…that’s Dave. He made up for it on “Hear About It Later” where he used a mic stand and performed a James Brown split as if he was a limber 22 year-old performing at Gazzarri’s.
Covers of “Pretty Woman” and “You Really Got Me” had Alex’s Latin-flavored shortened drum solo tossed in the middle for good measure. But what really fueled the Big Apple crowd was the obvious camaraderie between Dave & Ed. They played off each other all night. At one point Ed was making funny noises with his guitar and Dave quipped, “That sounds like Woody Woodpecker does heavy metal!”
The only strange moment of the show is when Dave yelled at the crew to “turn off the blowers” because they were bothering his throat. “You gotta love New York Fuckin’ City,” said Roth.
The train kept rolling with new tune, “The Trouble With Never” followed by stellar renditions of “Dance the Night Away” and “I’ll Wait.” Roth was pouring on his best boogie shakin’ as he slid, twirled and bopped all about the stage bursting with pure adrenaline.
“There’s gonna be some changes around here,” Roth announced as Alex started the intro to “Hot For Teacher.” He began tossing out handfuls of chocolates emblazoned with the VH logo to the lucky fans in the first few rows. “Chocolate for breakfast,” he declared before turning to a hottie nearby saying, “Hey baby, how ‘bout some candy from a stranger? I’ve been up since the late ’80s. I know a look a little rough but I think I’m good to go. What do ya say?” Classic Roth.
As the Van Halen brothers concluded “Hot For Teacher” Roth stopped the show and praised his bandmates. “Are those endings not some of the best endings you’ve heard in rock & roll? They are biblical and we always perform it best in New York City,” he said.
The background vocals on “Women in Love” were strong and impressive, even without old bassist/background vocalist Michael Anthony. “Outta Love Again” made its grand return to the set list and the Van Halen II gems continued with “Beautiful Girls.”
While the stage set up is rather minimal, the screen behind the stage is perhaps the best in the history of stage shows. Each song played out like a Van Halen movie and the images were crisply displayed with a sepia tone making the look very artistic.
Roth had his solo moment when he strapped on his guitar and showed video of his dogs Benny and Mikey herding sheep out on a farm in Indiana. The clips led him to say, “When I put on those assless chaps (from the Diver Down tour) I never thought I’d actually need them one day.” This all lead up to “Ice Cream Man,” which showcased a scorching solo by Eddie who burned up his fret board under a strobe light. Meanwhile Dave was fiddling with his earpiece saying, “I’m listening to a replay of the Howard Stern show” before bringing the song home.
“Panama” might just be Van Halen’s most definitive song and the best number they play live. Truth be told they performed the song even better than when they played the Garden in March of 1984.
The time came for the pièce de résistance – Edward’s solo or as they say in the porn business, the money shot. After attending countless Van Halen shows since the eighties, it might be safe to say Eddie was the most on-point and masterful during this particular moment. Running the gamut from “Eruption” to “Cathedral” and everything in between, his solo was perfectly executed. But more importantly it was obvious that he was enjoying himself and was fully connected with the crowd. He hit every note with pure zest and simply did not disappoint.
The rest of the band joined Eddie on stage to put a cap on the evening with “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” and a confetti-filled encore of “Jump,” which saw Roth at the edge of the stage waving a giant racing flag.
The crowd cheered the loudest when Dave & Eddie gave each other a big hug center stage celebrating their renewed friendship and strengthened bond proving all is right in the VH world again.