The storied rock band revisited its past, while closing the book on a less-than-great portion of it.
by Jake Cline, Sun Sentinel
A Van Halen fan doesn’t need a reason to forget the name Sammy Hagar, but the reconstituted version of the band that played last night at Sunrise’s BankAtlantic Center offered plenty of them, anyway, and certainly no less than 22, the combined number of old and new songs the group performed in a bracingly loud, fleetingly nostalgic set that topped two hours. With original frontman David Lee Roth back at the microphone, Van Halen did its best to close the 28-year gap between “1984,” the last album the band cut with Roth before replacing him with the aforementioned Hagar, and “A Different Kind of Truth,” the surprisingly solid reunion album it released earlier this year. It didn’t play a single song from its post-Roth era.
Gone were any visible traces of the divisions that drove Roth away from and out of the band all those years ago, and if the singer’s nonstop smiling and wild-eyed mugging often appeared more mannered than genuine, his interplay with guitarist Eddie Van Halen, who seemed to be enjoying himself as much as any member of the audience, came off as warm and jovial, even brotherly. Only the absence of founding bassist Michael Anthony, who departed in the mid-2000s and who has been replaced in musicality if not in spirit by Eddie’s son Wolfgang, suggested any evidence of previous disharmony. But it was faint. And save the deep, riverlike lines made visible in the face of Alex Van Halen whenever he appeared on the large video screen behind the band, the preternaturally stoic drummer looked the same as ever.
Opening with “Unchained,” from the band’s 1981 album “Fair Warning,” the group quickly dispensed with the idea that the audience was in store for a typical reunion show, with all its attendant celebrations of past glories and starkly present reminders of fading abilities and eroding relevance. Sure, Roth’s roundhouse kicks don’t reach as high as they once did. And yes, he can no longer drop into a split without calling attention to the fact that he’s not too old to drop into a split, but last night, Roth lived up to his Diamond Dave moniker, glittering in matching black leather pants, vest and jacket, worn over a sparkling blue shirt that would make half the performers in Las Vegas blush. Although his style and demeanor have been widely imitated, Roth has always followed his own blueprint, a hard-rock frontman whose belt is crafted with as much Borsht as vinyl, and a sex god who isn’t afraid to appear mortal. He remains the genre’s preeminent ham, and only late in the show, when he interrupted Alex Van Halen’s drum intro to “Hot for the Teacher” to deliver an expletive-laden tirade against the stage crew for failing to properly control the temperature of the overhead “blowers,” did he allow any cracks to appear in his facade. It was an awkward, uncomfortable moment, the low point of the show, and it took the band two songs — the deep cuts “Outta Love Again” and “Women in Love” — before Roth was able to regain his composure and lead the Van Halens through a rollicking version of the classic sing-along “Beautiful Girls.”
Of course, Roth’s star is inextricably linked to that of Eddie Van Halen, the inventive, phenomenally gifted guitarist who has his own legions of acolytes and imitators. But even during songs as familiar as “Runnin’ With the Devil,” “Panama,” “Hot for Teacher” and the group’s cover of Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman,” Van Halen looked and sounded as if he’d only recently discovered his remarkable talent, that goofy, can-you-believe-I-can-do-this grin plastered to his weathered but still boyish face. Twice during his requisite, yet astonishing, late-set guitar solo, he gave the audience — and himself — a reflexive thumbs-up. Likewise, his fist-pumping enthusiasm during the night’s penultimate song, “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love,” was redolent with charm. The effect for the audience was akin to rooting for an underdog who long ago became the leader of the pack.
The show ended, to no one’s surprise, with “Jump,” a trifle of a song from “1984” that also may have been the original lineup’s biggest hit. The song’s trademark keyboard riff was piped in from somewhere off-stage, but that didn’t seem to matter much. As the band struck its final note, and as Roth sang his last lyric of the night, the front half of the arena was blanketed with a hail of red and white confetti, shot forth from two large cannons near the front of the stage. It rained down in thick clumps, with Roth standing on the edge of the stage and manically waving a red-and-white checkered flag. The show was over. The race with the past had been won.