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Lusty Roth, Van Halen show no shortage of staying power

BY JASON BRACELIN | LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL

A pheromone in tight, sparkly pants, David Lee Roth smiled like he was auditioning for an Aquafresh commercial when he spotted a woman in the crowd snapping a shot of him on her cellphone.

“Take my picture, hot stuff,” the Van Halen singer instructed, freezing himself in place, one of the few times his movements ceased over the course of a two-hour show.

“Does that thing do video?” he wondered. “I made my first sex tape in 1982. I’ve slept with every good lookin’ woman with two legs in her pants.”

He then noted that he had also once bedded an amputee.

A stranger to the act of blushing, Roth has been giving lust-lacquered voice to the male id for more than four decades now.

It’s what’s made Van Halen’s hard-rock histrionics ageless: When will the pursuit of sex ever become a forgotten act?

Some time around never.

As such, the pursuit demands a suitable soundtrack, right?

Providing as much has kept Van Halen in business, and business remains booming judging by the packed house Sunday at the MGM Grand Garden.

The reason why this band still sells out arenas is the reason why people continue to board roller coasters: Their appeal is thoroughly sensate and almost completely devoid of subtext.

Van Halen is all about in-the-moment thrills, and they continue to excel at providing them.

For his part, Roth leads by example, working the stage hard, undulating with the perpetual jiggle of a dashboard hula girl, riding his mic stand like Major Kong astride the atom bomb in “Dr. Stangelove.”

He can still hit the high notes, but he does so selectively.

He paces himself, picking his spots, delivering the verses with less gusto on “I’ll Wait” and “Runnin’ with the Devil,” which was more of a leisurely stroll with ol’ Beelzebub.

Forever chattering like a beat poet of raunch, Roth frequently ad-libbed lines in songs, though mostly played it straight when it came to the four new numbers the band performed from their latest disc, “A Different Kind of Truth,” their first with Roth in 28 years.

Though tunes such as “Chinatown” and “She’s the Woman” might have been released earlier this year, they registered with vintage Van Halen bombast, all serrated guitar riffs, extraterrestrial soloing, double bass drumming that approximated the rumble of stampeding livestock and the band’s distinctive harmonized backing vocals, handled in large part by big-shouldered bassist Wolfgang Van Halen, whose burly physique matches the heft of the rhythms he plays.

Those touchstones were alive in the many Van Halen jukebox staples they aired on this night as well. Beer-in-the-air anthems such as “Hot for Teacher,” “Cradle Will Rock” and “Panama” also rang out like battle cries in a war against chastity and understatement.

There were some lesser-known album cuts played (“The Full Bug” and “Hear About It Later” from “Diver Down” and “Fair Warning,” respectively), but mostly, this night was about serving up large, gooey portions of what could be considered hard-rock comfort food.

Clearly, the band reveled in the fact that they could still do it with the requisite energy and aplomb of old even with three-fourths of the group in their 50s.

Toward the end of the show, Roth hunched his shoulders over, gripping an imaginary walker as if he needed help with his movements, then shook his head “no” and did the splits.

Frequently, he’d pause to admire one of his many spinning leg kicks, projected in slow-motion replay on the massive video screen that served as the backdrop to the stage.

“I’d like to think that you’re a better person after a Van Halen show,” he said at one point, his words as outsized as his motions.

Maybe so, Mr. Roth, but the true fun of a Van Halen gig is that thinking is, well, an afterthought.

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Van Halen, a full moon and Cinco de Mayo — loco!

Van Halen rocked the Tacoma Dome Saturday night for two hours, from “Unchained” to “Jump.” Kool and the Gang opened the show.

By GENE STOUT

 

A Van Halen concert on any night promises to be a bit crazy. But on Cinco de Mayo, on the night of the year’s biggest and brightest full moon? The combination was just plain loco.

A revved-up crowd packed the Tacoma Dome on Saturday night for two hours of hell-raising hits, from opening song “Unchained” to the soaring closer, “Jump.” The show included songs from the current album, “A Different Kind of Truth,” as well as singalong classics “Runnin’ With the Devil,” “Dance the Night Away,” “Hot for Teacher” and “Panama.”

Leading the charge was flamboyant singer David Lee Roth, patron saint of party animals. Roth demonstrated his trademark kicks and splits, though at 57 he played it safe enough to avoid a trip to a local emergency room.

Sporting a sparkly jacket and tightfitting pants with spider-web motif, Roth served as carnival barker and classic rock frontman. With his megawatt grin and showbiz persona, he came across like the Carol Channing of hard rock.

Roth also showed a side unknown to many — that of a rustic rancher who enjoys the friendship of herding dogs and the company they keep (mostly sheep and cattle) on his private spread. A video of Roth’s offstage life on the range served as an unexpected introduction to the hard-rocking “Ice Cream Man.”

But Roth wasn’t the only focal point of the band, which also featured guitarist Eddie Van Halen, his son Wolfgang Van Halen (on bass) and Eddie’s brother Alex Van Halen (on drums). Eddie Van Halen’s prowess on guitar was a force to behold. And though he only played one solo, showcasing his chops all by himself, it might as well have been the Second Coming for air guitarists. Even he seemed thrilled at his performance, grinning and mouthing “Wow” as he completed each segment.

Wolfgang played it low-key, as did uncle Alex, except for a drum solo that was delightfully Latin flavored, perhaps a nod to the Mexican holiday.

Opening was the funk R & B outfit Kool and the Gang, an unusual pairing for a hard rock headliner, but an easy crowd pleaser with a can’t-miss repertoire. The set featured the spirited “Ladies Night,” “Get Down On It” and “Celebration.”

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 YOUTUBE VIDEO POSTED BY CAROLINACULTCHICK

Just like old times: Van Halen rocks

Reviewed by Charity Apple / Times-News

 

GREENSBORO — Those who decided to skip the opening act during Van Halen’s concert last Saturday night at the Greensboro Coliseum missed an entertaining show, complete with synchronized dancing.

The legendary Kool & The Gang played a 50-minute set, which had most concertgoers up on their feet, swaying to the beat.

With hits such as “Jungle Boogie,” “Celebration” and “Ladies Night,” original members Robert “Kool” Bell and brother Ronald Khalis Bell, along with Dennis “DT” Thomas and George “Funky” Brown, not only kept up with the younger performers, matching them step for step, but an added treat was when Kool’s son, rapper Hakim (aka Prince Hakim) performed with the band on “Jungle Boogie.”

Van Halen front man David Lee Roth confessed during the show that it was Kool & The Gang and its influence, not only on Van Halen’s music, but Roth himself that prompted the popular 1980s rock ’n’ roll band to initiate the unusual pairing.

“A great wind blew up and as I was staring at the cracked, peeling ceiling in my hotel room, the voice said ‘tonight is ladies night and the feeling was right …’ Bet you didn’t know that for me, Kool & The Gang was a bit of a religion?” Roth said with a big grin.

Roth definitely lived up to the nickname “Diamond Dave” with sequined pants and jackets, along with prancing around on stage. A wooden floor was installed in the center of the stage, just for his fancy footwork. Back in the ’80s, Roth would command the stage with his dance and martial arts-inspired moves. The same happened in Greensboro.

The stage itself was simple, but a massive screen was located behind the stage, allowing concertgoers (no matter where they were seated) to catch a glimpse of Van Halen’s antics. Freeze-framed photography, in black-and-white, was a contrast to the flashiness Roth displayed.

This concert was a stark contrast to 2002, when Roth and former Van Halen front man Sammy Hagar teamed up for a tour. Back then, Roth stumbled around on stage, his speech was slurred and he seemed to forget the words to the band’s famous songs.

When he flubbed the words to one of the band’s songs on Saturday, Roth joked, “I’ve forgotten whole shows before.”

This time, however, Roth resembled a young Fred Astaire, complete with a driving cap, in certain parts of the show. He glided across the stage and obviously fed off the audience’s energy. In some parts of the coliseum, it looked a lot like the 1980s — some folks wore shirts from 1982 while the women, especially, dressed the part with fishnet hose, teased-up “big” hair and earrings, wide belts and other accessories straight from the 1980s.

The show was a nice blend of Van Halen’s hits with current songs off its new album, “A Different Kind of Truth.” Eddie Van Halen and Alex Van Halen’s guitar and drum solos, respectively, are worth the price of admission. These are two of the best musicians in the business. And Wolfie, son of Eddie Van Halen and his former wife, actress Valerie Bertinelli, held his own on stage. Even though Roth isn’t related by blood, the camaraderie between the musicians was evident. At one point, toward the end of the show, they embraced. This probably wouldn’t have happened in the ’80s.

Roth also motioned to a young blonde girl on the front row to which he said “I was about your age when I first started trying to dance and I’m still trying,” before he began singing “Dance The Night Away.”

Black-and-white photos of dogs herding sheep were shown with an almost unrecognizable Roth in the footage.

“These are my dogs. I have three pick-up trucks, too. There are no other cars in my garage. In between tours, I go to dog trials. When I’m sending my dog running, I’m wondering what would happen if I went chasing after him into the dark,” he said before playing acoustic guitar and singing “Ice Cream Man.”

It’s a kinder, gentler Van Halen, but the songs have stood the test of time. For many, the music is a soundtrack to scenes from their lives. Upon hearing “Jump,” I’m suddenly 18 again. And, it’s also the same song I was listening to when my second son kicked for the first time.

From “Hot For Teacher” and “Panama” to the band’s rendition of “Pretty Woman,” they’ve gotten a little older and wiser, but they’re still cool.

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Older and wiser, Van Halen reunited and rockin’ out

 By Peter Simpson, The Ottawa Citizen

Years ago, Van Halen famously imploded amid the usual internecine rock and roll warfare, but at Scotiabank Place Wednesday night it was soon clear that despite all those years apart, the band is still as tight as David Lee Roth’s pants.

Reunited and slightly reconfigured — bass player Michael Anthony is gone, replaced by Wolfgang, the son of guitar god Eddie Van Halen — the band tore through a 23-song set in under two hours. The fiftysomething trio of Dave, Eddie and brother Alex Van Halen, on drums, may not have the volatile energy that made them stars back in 1978, but they’ve lost nothing musically. They still pack a punch, though these days it’s thrown more by Eddie’s furious fingers, and less by Dave’s acrobatic vocals.

The two of them appeared entirely comfortable together on stage, despite the years of animosity, and that’s the way it should be, for Dave and Eddie can only fully be Dave and Eddie if they’re together, as two forces alternately attracting and repelling one another and finding creativity and energy in the tension. There’s “Diamond” Dave, the peacock lothario frontman who lets it all hang out, and then there’s Eddie, the quiet, quasi-reclusive whiz bang of a guitar player. Without both forces on stage, the band could never really be Van Halen.

Dave (only first names used here, what with all those Van Halens about) almost did let it all hang out mid-show, during the song Tattoo. He pulled down his pants — black leather, cross-stitched, tight and sparkly, a bold choice for a 56-year-old man — and showed off a tattoo on his butt. It was a gun, and on the giant, stage-wide screen behind him it looked as big as a Howitzer. Dave did more showing off later, and it revealed that he’s not still entirely the incorrigible hedonist. As he strummed the acoustic guitar notes of Ice Cream Man, he showed a video of his border collies and spoke of them lovingly as they expertly herded sheep and cattle. When the video ended he quipped, “I’m the only rock and roller who owns livestock for non-recreational purposes.”

His voice was good enough, though without its former range, and nowhere was it more clear than on Beautiful Girls. The song, from way back in the 1970s, was always a grand example of his vivacious vocal power — all yowls and yelps among the devil-may-care lyrics like “I’m a bum in the sun and I’m havin’ fun,” a line surprisingly well suited to a 27 C day in Ottawa in mid-March. Dave couldn’t hit the high notes on the chorus, so he did what any wise frontman would do: he held out the mic and let the audience sing the words.

Otherwise his voice was enough to belt out a setlist full of classic rock-radio staples, including Running With the Devil, Dance the Night Away, Hot for Teacher, Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love, and Panama. Also in were the band’s two massive-selling cover versions, of Roy Orbison’s Oh, Pretty Woman and the Kinks’ You Really Got Me.

Curiously enough, those two covers may be the most effective examples of Eddie’s signature sound. In both cases he managed to take a song that was universally known in its original version, and make it his own merely by pumping the riffs up to about a thousand pounds pressure.

An Eddie Van Halen riff is something tremendously sharp and electric, a wild thing on a leash that only he can hold. Near the end of the show he did a six-minute guitar solo — a tired tradition, but worth seeing when it’s Eddie, especially displayed on a giant screen where you can see it up close. His fingers move so fast that they cannot be measured by science or technology. There’s more to guitar than speed, of course, but speed is something that Eddie does uniquely, and exceptionally well.

The audience lapped it up, revelling in the reliving of their youth, (judging by the average age of those in attendance, which was surely north of 40). It wasn’t a big crowd — no attendance number was released, and there were lots of empty seats — but it was enthusiastic. Everybody stood up during the first song, Unchained, and stayed on their feet for the rest of the show.

Dave played to the fans shamelessly. He was energetic and animated, and predictably full of camp — kicking the mic stand up onto his shoulder and strutting, promenading, with swagger in every step. When the show ended with (of course) their biggest hit, Jump, Dave even gave up a couple of high kicks. They weren’t as high as they once were, but it’s impressive that he can still do them at all. If any other man that age in the building had tried a kick like that, his groin would have landed in Belleville.

psimpson@ottawacitizen.com

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