By Craig S. Semon TELEGRAM & GAZETTE REVIEWER
BOSTON — For a band that has a signature tune of “Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love,” there was nothing not to love about the rejuvenated Diamond Dave-fronted Van Halen that played last night at the TD Garden.
During the two-hour, 24-song set that covered the David Lee Roth years (and avoided the Sammy Hagar ones), Van Halen proved why it is the best hard rock band of its generation. Their heavy-duty arsenal of classics and soon-to-be classics never go out of style. In fact, they sound better than ever. And while it was Roth, the original frontman of the premiere Los Angeles heavy metal band, doing victory laps on stage in front of the crowd of 14,000, it was guitar god Eddie Van Halen who ended up in the winning circle.
While Van Halen (which also features Eddie Van Halen’s older brother, Alex, on drums and his 20-year-old son, Wolfgang, replacing original member Michael Anthony on bass) had a fast-money, no-record-to-promote reunion tour in 2007-08, the current tour behind “A Different Kind of Truth” (the first Van Halen album with Roth in 28 years) is grittier, rocks harder and feels more real. And it feels so good to have Roth back where he belongs.
It seems like it was only yesterday when Roth and the mighty Van Halen conquered the Worcester Centrum with a trio of sold-out concerts on its “1984” tour. Coincidentally, it seems like it was only yesterday that my ears stopped ringing from those Centrum shows. But, alas, the non-ringing ears were very short-lived after last night.
After the success of the Van Halen’s mega-release “1984,” Roth became sidetracked by the success of his four-track EP, “Crazy From the Heat” (which gave the world Roth’s covers and marvelous companion videos for the songs “California Girls” and “Just a Gigolo”). Kicked out or departed (it doesn’t really matter anymore), Roth embarked on a mediocre solo career while veteran rocker Sammy Hagar moved in as Van Halen’s new singer. Sounding like a completely new band, Van Halen still proved to be a successful franchise and, in 1986, achieved the first of what would be four consecutive No. 1 album, “5150.”
Arguing over who’s a better Van Halen singer — Roth or Hagar — is like arguing who’s a better Star Trek captain — Kirk or Picard. There will always be two camps debating the subject, and never will they accept the other. (For the record: Roth and Kirk, respectively).
Embarking one by one on the stage that was bare-bones except for the four stacks of amps on each side and the giant JumboTron, Van Halen hit the ground running with “Unchained,” followed by “Runnin’ With the Devil.” These rousing numbers showed that Roth still has the voice; Eddie still has the incendiary licks; Alex still pummels the hell out his skins; and Wolfie, who looks less like his mother, Valerie Bertinelli, with his short-cropped haircut, has grown ten-fold as a musician.
Wearing a sequined black jacket, a cowboy vest, a long-sleeved silver shirt, a silver scarf and tight-fitting trousers with lizard-like pattern, Roth looked like a flamboyant version of James West from “Wild Wild West.”
A larger-than-life showman, Roth was meant to front Van Halen, the biggest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world. And he looked like he knew how lucky he was to have a second chance at it and did his best to make up for lost time. While Roth looked like the cat that swallowed the canary, Eddie looked like a kid trapped in a guitar store.
“She’s the Woman,” the first of only four tracks from the band’s latest, fit nicely with the Van Halen catalog material, especially with howling vocals, blistering guitar riffs, locomotive bass lines and powder-keg drumming. “Tattoo,” the first single on the latest, sounded better live than it does on the record, and the frenetic “China Town” sounded like a souped-up John Woo movie set to music. During “The Trouble with Never,” Roth took off his flashing jacket and rolled up his sleeves, even though Eddie did all the heavy lifting on his ax.
“Everybody Wants Some!!” had everything a rock fan could ask for. Alex laid down a heavy-duty tribal beat while his brother responded with a Godzilla-size guitar roar. Overwhelmed by the crowd’s response, Roth said, “This is one of the better shows so far,” before returning to his shtick and saying, “I like how the line goes up the back of your stockings, Boston!” Roth also did a legitimate high kick and spun in the air.
Van Halen dusted off “Hear About It Later” (from 1981’s “Fair Warning”), which achieved greatness through its rousing harmonies and fiery fretwork.
Broken up by a drum solo that sounded like Alex was auditioning for Miami Sound Machine were two crowd-pleasing covers-turned-into-Van Halen staples, “(Oh) Pretty Woman” and “You Really Got Me.” Roth belted out the Roy Orbison classic with aplomb, while Eddie let his fingers do the walking and the talking on the killer Kinks cut.
Roth unleashed another legitimate high kick during “Dance the Night Away,” which, from the sound of the crowd, they would have been happy to do.
The one-two punch of two stellar “1984” tracks came in the form of synth-heavy (although there was no one was on stage playing synths) “I’ll Wait” and a rocking and riotous “Hot for Teacher,” the latter which Roth joked that the only thing he got on his SATs was tobacco stains.
Equipped with an acoustic guitar, Roth told a few stories about his sheep dogs and drive-ins before breaking into an intimate and sparse “Ice Cream Man.” Midway through, however, Roth’s fellow bandmates joined him on stage and kicked into a full-throttle version of the John Brim cover, which was followed by a roof-raising “Panama.”
Who needs pyrotechnics when you have Eddie? The band’s namesake took center stage for a guitar solo that sounded like he was unleashing the fury of heaven and earth. Whether his hands danced in unison or he was knob-twirling and hammering his fret-boards at the same time, Eddie’s imaginative, innovative and awe-inspiring guitar work was a true wonder to behold.
Donning jacket number three (this time a silver sequined number) and a new checkered shirt, Roth made the crowd go “Hey! Hey! Hey!” with “Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love.”
After blowing kisses to the audience and giving a big bearhug to Eddie, Roth was waving a checkered flag singling another successful finish without anyone on stage killing each other. And with several high kicks in the air like he was trying out for the Rockettes, Roth and company ended with the confetti-raining closer, “Jump.”
Rock photographer Rocco Coviello of roccosphototavern.com was at the show and provided these up-close photos: