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Van Halen and Kool & the Gang get down on it



If there was one crack in the glowing veneer of last night’s Van Halen reunion, it was whenDavid Lee Roth found himself mopping up the sweat-slicked stage.

“This is how I fuckin’ started, and apparently I’m never gonna leave,” complained the perennially manic frontman, pushing a towel with his foot around the Pepsi Center stage. Roth’s drum solo-accompanied interruption — along with a later, somewhat more ambiguous onstage remark (“this is like a time machine where nothing changes”) — were the only indicators that the members of the seminal hard-rock band might not actually be having the time of their lives.

The nearly two-hour set included classic originals like “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love,” “Runnin’ With the Devil,” and the obligatory “Jump,” infamous covers of “You Really Got Me” and “Pretty Woman,” and new tracks like “She’s the Woman,” “China Town,” and “Tattoo,” the anthemic comeback single drawing a surprisingly rapturous response from the packed house. (Of course, the most reverential reaction was reserved for Eddie Van Halen‘s stunningly virtuosic 10-minute guitar solo near evening’s end)

The Denver show came at an interesting time for Van Halen: The recent announcement of numerous summer concert postponements fueled rumors of intra-band animosities — most publicly from former bassist Michael Anthony, who currently plays with second-string VH frontman Sammy Hagar in the less-revered Chickenfoot.

But Eddie’s bemused smile seemed genuinely affectionate as he watched Roth chew the scenery with his exaggerated rictus grin between arena-sized splits and kicks. Could’ve all been show biz, I guess, but the band was clearly not going through the motions musically.

Neither, for that matter, was Kool & the Gang. Founding members Robert “Kool” Bell and his brother Ronald have put together an 11-piece band whose opening set proved more intensely brilliant than anyone could have expected (except maybe for Roth, who reportedly saw them at last year’s Glastonbury Festival and insisted they be on this summer’s tour.)

While hits like “Celebrate” and “Hollywood Swinging” were predictable crowd-pleasers, it was their rendition of a later single, “Get Down on It,” that proved more supremely funky and energetically brilliant than anything Prince or James Brown performed when I saw those artists in concert more than a decade ago.

If this version of Kool & the Gang comes through Colorado again, I’ll go see them in a heartbeat. Come to think of it, the same goes for Van Halen.

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Photo by Peter Yang. Van Halen taking an electronic-cigarette break on the New York leg of his band's tour, March 2012


Edward Van Halen Is Alive


He started playing, and millions of teenage boys started banging their heads against the wall. Thirty-five hard years later, he’s got a new album, a new tour, and his kid Wolfgang is in the band. What would you give to play Eddie’s guitar backstage at the Garden?

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Van Halen: The Greatest Rock Comeback Of All Time?

By Richard Johnson

Queen are headlining this year’s Download Festival with American Idol singer Adam Lambert. Black Sabbath were due to reunite until drummer Bill Ward decided he wanted some more money. The Beatles were the sixth best selling artist or group last year, just above Paul McCartney.
In the midst of a time where classic-rock is making a huge comeback (or is reminding us that it never really left), one of the greatest hard rock bands of all time has decided to rear its head and show its teeth. They were announced at every show as “The MIGHTY Van Halen!”
Ah, Van Halen. The band that has gone through three lead singers, eleven studio albums, eighty million records and millions of fans – have only recently broken their fourteen year silence (their last album released in 1998). If anything, this ten tonne bomb of an album, A Different Kind of Truth (Interscope), didn’t just break their silence, it utterly destroyed it.

28 years after the last album with David Lee Roth, A Different Kind of Truth is exactly the album Van Halen fans wanted: “Selfishly, we don’t want Van Halen to evolve, we want them to pick up where they left off.” (VHND) The most gratifying aspect to the new VH record is the combination of old and new styles, putting a contemporary edge onto the romanticised sound of their early days. Fans were originally critical that a number of songs on the album were cut from 70s demos that have been circulating the internet for years, but the band have added a 21st Century sheen to these old demos, and have skillfully reworked them. Most importantly, they have given rock fans a lesson in history – this is how to do a comeback album. Subvert all expectation and blow the minds of anyone who cares to listen.

Lead single “Tattoo” ( was retrospectively a strange choice to announce a return to the rock podium. A mid-paced bluesy number that is more reminiscent of Roth’s solo material than anything done by the band before, yet due to the trademark guitar licks from Eddie [Van Halen, guitarist], it punches well above its weight. It wouldn’t sound out of place within the top 40 – the underlying, oozing synth, charming harmonies and dense, double tracked vocals gives it a contemporary sound, but doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the much harder-edged material on the record.

The first demo-remake of the album and current single, “She’s The Woman” ( provides a viewing of Roth’s abilities as a lyricist – “This suburban ménage e trios was worth exploring” – and the delivery and enthusiasm more than make up for any weak images in the song. Here we view a tight-knit group that are, thankfully, extremely comfortable with classic sounding material.
The band’s new-found comfort manifests in the fact that the album is strikingly efficient, taking a more smash-and-grab approach to the song content than in previous records. It’s heavy, uncompromising and unashamedly rooted in the knowledge that this is high-octane fan service. The aggressive, bold approach ties in with the blueprint found in their classic material. Whilst many songs adhere to the intro-verse-chorus-solo method, there are some surprises left up Eddie Van Halen’s sleeve after all these years. “As Is” ( starts with a jungle-drum introduction that harkens to “Panama” (1984) (, and leads into a heavy, crunching riff that tips its hat to the band’s 90s material – before you know it, the riff speeds up ten-fold and Eddie attacks fast, loose and in a constantly unexpected way. Following this, “Honeybabysweetiedoll” ( is perhaps Van Halen’s greatest homage to their heavy metal and hard rock influences. Roth’s vocal delivery is deep and masterful, and the harmonics squeezed out by Eddie are sustained in an extremely satisfying way.

Perhaps the greatest feat for the band was getting the production right. The guitar and vocals ride high in the mix, but the punchy, deep bass tones give a balance to the album that has never been heard before on a VH record. Traditionally, production on Van Halen albums has suffered from tinny trebles and a distinct lack of anything low end – but fortunately, no longer. This is helped by new bassist Wolfgang Van Halen [Eddie’s son], who definitely holds more than just a pocket groove. He has improved exponentially since the last tour (2007-8), and if the tapping intro on “China Town” and bass breakdown of “Beats Workin’” is anything to go by, he certainly has the talent of his father.
It must be remembered that these guys are pushing 60 now. Their maturity has shown through their music, yet they’ve also come to the vital understanding that most of their fans have grown with them. A Different Kind of Truth isn’t just a great comeback record, it’s a quintessential rock album that any music lover should own.

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Van Halen Play Big, Bold and Brash at Private L.A. Show

Band delivers glitz and riffs at Henson Studios



Van Halen‘s rise to rock godliness in the late Seventies and early Eighties came at a time of excess in all aspects of music, from big blowouts in the industry to well-chronicled decadence by musicians. That spirit was brought back to life – albeit in a much more PG, mostly sober way – Wednesday night in L.A. as the band prepared for its upcoming tour with a private show at Jim Henson Studios in L.A.

The first sign that this was a special event came as the lucky few hundred invited guests walked into the studio courtyard to be greeted by an open bar and food trucks serving a menu ranging from shrimp po’ boy sandwiches to tacos and ice cream cookies. This kind of lavish affair has largely migrated over from the worlds of film and video games as the music industry has struggled financially over the last decade. But a Van Halen tour and new album is a major occurence, plus a big excuse to party.

Early in the hour-long set, David Lee Roth quipped, “This was to be an 11 a.m. Tuesday press conference. Then someone moved it to Wednesday at 8 so we can drink.” Playing in a tiny studio with a stage that looked like it came right from Madison Square Garden, surrounded by three walls of massive LCD screens projecting every Roth movement and Eddie Van Halen riff in larger-than-life fashion, the quartet of Roth, Eddie, Alex Van Halen and Wolfgang Van Halen delivered a set worthy of the gods.

Opening with “Eruption” and segueing into “You Really Got Me,” the quartet ran through 60 minutes of greatest hits and new material. Roth could be seen peeking at his own moves on the LCD screens, perhaps making sure they were right for the tour. Ever the frontman, he made sure his trademark high kicks still reached his head, and he talked often to the crowd as the rest of the group concentrated on getting the songs into touring shape.

They’re damn close, as evidenced by several hits, including “Runnin’ With the Devil,’ “Unchained,” “Everybody Wants Some,” “Panama” and the closing “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” which still rocks with enough power to make an intimate room feel like an arena. The band also played three new songs: “Tattoo,” “The Trouble With Never” and “She’s the Woman.” The former in particular fit right in (and yes, we’re aware the song dates back to the Seventies).

Following “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” which Roth called the last song of the night, he told the crowd the band had no place to go. As confetti fell from above, two drum majors and a cavalcade of Carnival dancers ascended the stairs to the stage to join the band for an encore of “Jump.”

As the song ended, the dancers moved into the courtyard, where the party continued with a samba theme. Despite the international flair, this was American rock as only Van Halen does it – big, bold, brash and fun.

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