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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Lusty Roth, Van Halen show no shortage of staying power


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 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 Robert Yager

David Lee Roth speaking own language with Van Halen


It’s impossible to be hyperbolic when it comes to David Lee Roth because the dude is hyperbole zipped up in a man suit.

Seriously, there’s no compliment that we could pay him that he probably hasn’t paid himself already – and done so in far wittier fashion, no doubt.

And so we don’t hesitate to call Roth one of the greatest hard rock frontmen of all time, what with the elastic-groin leg kicks, the four-octave range capable of shattering the windshield on an 18-wheeler and the ability to look better in leopard print than any damn jungle cat.

But maybe best of all is the guy’s vocabulary, a wide-ranging bonanza of self-invented terms.

To better understand Roth’s grammatical genius, we thought we’d help out with a glossary of freshly minted words and phrases that Roth has come up with on Van Halen’s latest record, “A Different Kind of Truth,” his first with the band in 28 years.

Now, some have criticized the album because it includes a few reworked songs from the early ’70s that date back to the origins of the group, but that’s exactly why it kicks ass: It’s vintage Van Halen, full of wild-eyed guitar solos that sound as if they were played by a six-armed robot, tectonic drums and of course, a big, sticky, sweat-slicked smorgasbord of hornball double entendres from ol’ dirty-minded Dave.

But, to fully appreciate the record, you need to learn how to speak Roth’s language.

Here are a few helpful definitions of Roth-ese to get you started:

■ Mousewife: A demure, button-down married lass. Clearly, a woman in need of some release. Hmmm, wonder who might offer their services here? (Roth frantically waves arm in air like the pointy-headed kid in class the teacher is tired of always calling on.)

■ Momshell: A sexually attractive female who has produced offspring. Roth is to these gals what a wolverine who’s just finished fasting for Lent is to a buffet of baby chicks.

■ Stone soul sistah soccer mom: See above. Starting to see a theme here? Well, at least Roth is chasing after women in the vicinity of his age. Plus, if things were to develop further, Roth would make a bitchin’ stepdad – at least until it came time for parent-teacher conferences.

Teacher: Have you seen junior’s grades?

Roth: I brought my pencil! (Winking, pointing to codpiece.) Gimme something to write on!

And then she leaps up on her desk and tears her clothes off, inexplicably revealing a powder blue bikini and a beauty pageant sash.

Hey, we don’t make this stuff up.

Van Halen does.

■ Thunder thong: A female undergarment of some sort. Sounds vaguely menacing, doesn’t it? With connotations of angry skies and malevolent cloud formations. This is what occasionally gets exposed when a slutty storm front bends over.

■ Garage-a-Trois: A three-way next to boxed up Christmas ornaments and underused gardening equipment? C’mon, Dave, that’s how spiders get it on.

■ Despocrat: A shady politician. Perhaps Diamond Dave should show ’em how it’s done in our nation’s capital and run for office. His campaign slogan: It’s time for change! (And by “change,” I mean your clothes. While I’m watching. But only if you’re a hot chick. Or a momshell.) On second thought, that might be hard to fit on a yard sign.

■ Muchacha-miga: A new way of attempting to say “girlfriend” in Spanish. Apparently, Roth enjoys going south of the border (need to say those last four words while making air quotes and chortling knowingly).

■ Face grenade with the sex pin pulled: A deadly weapon of carnal devastation about to explode. This is what Roth envisions himself as.

Call in the bomb squad!

Or, better yet, your mom.


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Wolfgang Van Halen, David Lee Roth and drummer Alex Van Halen of Van Halen played their Different Kind of Truth tour at Rexall Place in Edmonton. Photograph by: Shaughn Butts ,

Diamond Dave and the Van Halen clan erupt at Rexall


The burning soul of Van Halen stands there, sweating and showing his age, his body noticeably altered since his last visit here in 2007.

Indeed, these five years have been hard on bass player Wolfgang Van Halen, now 21, and of course I’m kidding about this setup — but why is everyone being so rough on David Lee Roth about the freaking jump-kicks? Are those something you can do at 57?

OK, fair enough — and let’s admit we don’t like Ozzy Osborne’s frog hops, either — but riding a number of summer hits from days gone by, Van Halen did a decent job Friday night, playing in front of a drive-in movie screen which mirrored them back into infinity.

That strange grinning creature Roth: somehow still fronting the band named after its euro-genius musician brothers and now one of their sons 40 years in, screaming things like, “I’m gonna be the f—ing valedictorian tonight!”

They tore Rexall Place open with an axe in the opening Unchained — suddenly we were back in the American Century, when guitar was the mightiest instrument and ProTools merely referred to construction equipment. Next was 1978’s Running With the Devil, first song off their first album, nice job, and the new She’s the Woman, DLR sliding around on his custom 12 feet of wooden dance floor, dressed like a half-in-drag, silver-sequined Steve Martin “wild and crazy guy.”

Romeo Delight was followed by Tattoo, basically a new B-side which has raised the biggest stink among the hypersensitives. It raises the old question of whether we want classic bands to ride their childhood hits into eternity for cash, or for cred make new songs we care less about, waiting for the more familiar. Well, The Trouble With Never is no Dance the Night Away, as their placement beside each other showed clearly.

Everybody Wants Some, another off 1980s Women and Children First, had Diamond Dave fingering his ear for more applause, then ask, “You know what I like? I like the way the light goes up the back of your hot Canadian stockings!’ Blush.

The band then went into their famous covers. During Oh, Pretty Woman there was a real-life band moment, Eddie nudging Wolfgang off the stage when his bass wasn’t working to pick up a new one. Life lessons from dad! After the Orbison, the Kinks’ You Really Got Me followed, Roth singing, “Every day I’m shufflin” briefly.

Between slo-mo playback of DLR doing medium-high kicks and Eddie’s fingers melting steel during Hot For Teacher, we heard the saucySomebody Get Me a Doctor, had a not-too-long drum solo from Alex. Though it dragged at times, it was a fun night with the four-decade-old band as they dragged up classics like Beautiful Girls. Roth even nuzzled some acoustic guitar as he, oddly, showed us his dogs, breaking into Ice Cream Man — which turned into a fine wall of sound.

Starting with Fresh and sliding without break first into Tonight, thenEmergency, openers Kool and the Gang showed us how they sold 70 million platters.

“Listen,” Dennis “DT” Thomas asked the filling-up seats, “we gonna go back to the ’70s, is that all right?” Always. He took the lead singingHollywood Swingin, dropping “Edmonton” into the title — ever notice how most big Canadian cities are three syllables? Jungle Boogie, which had at least two decent lives thanks to Pulp Fiction, was a killer mass of synchronized funk, including a cartwheel by the trumpet player. Horns, by the way, sound better than any instrument in this building, sorry Eddie.

Ladies’ Night was exceptional, opening with a long intro where Kool showed off a bit on bass, a beautiful, nervous piano pounding through the whole thing like an ivory woodpecker. Get Down On It was more by the numbers, singer Shawn McQuiller playing tribute to the original brothers, then pulled out Celebration, which could remind an older person of orbiting on roller skates at Sports World and Spinning Wheels, long, long ago.

“Good times in the house rising like humidity!” Roth declared duringPanama, calling Eddie, “winner and still champion of the free world” after his long guitar solo. Then, Ain’t Talking ’Bout Love, that deliciously nasty human answer to all those birds singing so pretty.

Roth’s Pipes, absolutely in order, P.S., his long scarf wiping the sweat goodbye, one last karate kick. Then, of course, Jump. And so Roth did, onscreen, waving a giant racing flag in a storm of confetti.

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David Lee Roth (L) sings with Eddie Van Halen at the Saddledome in downtown Calgary, Alberta on May 9, 2012. STUART DRYDEN/CALGARY SUN/QMI AGENCY

Old-School Throwdown

Gerry Krochak | CALGARY SUN

Maybe you can turn back the hands of time to 1984 — if only for a couple of hours.

Although Sammy Hagar is a good singer, so-so songwriter, solid frontman and expert tequila maker, Van Halen was never really Van Halen without David Lee Roth. It’s true.

At 57 years of age, the clown prince of rock ’n’ roll hijinx, shenanigans and tomfoolery was actually in fine form Wednesday night in front of a semi-disappointing crowd of only 9,700 at the Saddledome.

Unlike Hagar, Diamond Dave was never much of a singer, but for some reason or another … it’s never really mattered. And it didn’t Wednesday.

The verticals of his patented flying scissor kicks aren’t quite what they used to be, but Roth brought the excited Calgary classic rock contingent to its collective feet as he first appeared on the massive minimalist stage and launched in the quick one-two punch of Unchained from 1981’s Fair Warning and Runnin’ With The Devil from the still outstanding self-titled 1978 debut.

Resplendent in black sequined jacket, pants and white scarf, Roth could barely contain himself.

“We’re off to a flying start tonight, Calgary!” he bellowed to raucous applause in front of the giant LED video screen.

Flanked by bassist Wolfgang Van Halen, Uncle Alex on drums and dear old dad, Eddie, on guitar, the tales of internal dysfunction and destruction seem to be a thing of the past.

Touring behind the first new Van Halen record in 14 years — and the first with Roth in 28 — the key players of Roth and Eddie Van Halen seem committed, fit, healthy, disease-free and even … happy.

For all of his mad genius guitar histrionics, flakiness and overall craziness, Eddie remains one of the great rock guitarists of all time. Some 35 years after forming the band in Pasadena, Calif., his style and techniques are still oft-imitated, but never duplicated.

He smiled brightly while finger-tapping his way through She’s The Woman, first single, Tattoo, from the new A Different Kind Of Truth album, Everybody Wants Some!! from Women and Children First and Somebody Get Me A Doctor from the second album. After all, it wasn’t like we were going to be hearing anything 5150 or OU812.

The interplay and chemistry between father and son was as effective as it was, er, heart-warming. The kid can play and the harmonies of Wolfgang and Eddie often overshadowed Diamond Dave. Is it live or is it Memorex? You be the judge. Unfortunately live sometimes just isn’t live anymore.

The band poured it on through Hear About It Later, the Roy Orbison nugget Oh, Pretty Woman, its second most famous cover of the Kinks’ You Really Got Me, and Dance The Night Away from Van Halen II. Indeed, these were the tunes everyone came to hear.

The crowd was far from ready to go home as the group pulled out Beautiful Girls, Ice Cream Man and Panama.

It wouldn’t be an old-school Van Halen throwdown without a 10-minute guitar solo, and EVH provided the flash and substance as only he can. Eruption — man, forget about it. This guy is still really something.

The show had yet to conclude at press time, but, not surprisingly, every show on the current tour has ended with Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love and, of course, Jump.

First up was, uh, Kool And The Gang — a curious and eyebrow-raising opener choice, to be sure. But the 10-piece funk, boogie, soul and R&B pioneers began to make more sense through tunes such as Fresh, Jungle Boogie, Ladies Night, Get Down On It and, of course, Celebration.


Weird … but decent.

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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.



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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Van Halen a howlin’ escape


The year was 1982. I was 18, and a couple of younger guys had asked me to sing in their band.

Their idea of a lead singer was Roth, the bad-ass blond howler from Van Halen.

I loved Van Halen, but I could not scream like David Lee Roth. I tried – it felt like swallowing an exploding cigar.

About the same time in Minnesota, before she knew me, my future wife, Metalgirl, frizzed her blonde hair into a massive chemical heap. She donned boots fringed with goat fur, flipped off pimply teen geeks and turned up the Van Halen cassette in her white Camaro.

She was a headbanger. She loved Van Halen. She and her best friend, Metalchild, went to all the concerts. They saw the band live, at its sweaty, silly MTV peak.

And they loved Roth. They were card-carrying Dave Slaves – the fangirl phrase of the time.

Cue the present, 30 years on: Metalgirl and Metalchild are about to take over our house for a grand reunion. They give orders. They demand food and wine. I’ve added extra insulation, installed caution tape and alerted the neighbors.

Metalchild is flying in from Minnesota and we are going to see Van Halen play the Tacoma Dome this weekend. We will drive to the Dome in the Soccer Taxi – the minivan with the dog kennels in back. We are rebels.

We’re taking Guitar Kid, the teen prodigy and heir to Metalgirl’s prized possession, her Precious: a souvenir Eddie Van Halen guitar pick, acquired three decades ago and preserved in a temperature-controlled chamber beneath our home.

The metal women saw Van Halen at the pinnacle of the Roth era. They brag that one on me. I never saw the band in the old days – I just listened.

Van Halen saved my sanity in Alaska. While Metalgirl and Metalchild dolled up and went to concerts, I worked summers at a salmon cannery in Bristol Bay.

The job was terrible: picture wet, ancient assembly lines pumping out cans of salmon by the acre, workers standing 14 hours at a stretch in soggy rubber raingear, and everything stinking of fish guts. The town wasn’t much better. No paved roads, one convenience store selling suspicious fried chicken, and a whole lot of rain, mud and tundra.

Workers lived in a barracks at the cannery. You worked, ate, collapsed into a crummy bed, got up and did it all over again. The cafeteria specialized in salmon.

Music was the only escape. I owned a Sony Walkman, the iPod ancestor. (Portable! Headphones!)

The creepy convenience store carried cassette tapes, including Van Halen’s first album. I bought it for one song: “Jamie’s Cryin’, ” a lumbering pounder with a good hook. I didn’t know any other songs. From the first notes of the first cut, the tape blew my head off. I’d heard big guitars before, but this one sounded 20 feet tall. Eddie Van Halen played so fast, impossibly fast – yet it was still music. His guitar cackled. It laughed.

I played “Eruption” for my dad when I got back from Alaska – the hall-of-fame solo that made Eddie’s name, a series of lightning-quick runs, explosions and skyrockets. Dad scoffed and told me to listen to Al DiMeola.

Over the top of the band, Roth ran his mouth, belting demented macho lyrics punctuated by ridiculous patter, a running stand-up routine. An interviewer once told him most critics preferred Elvis Costello. He shot back: Most critics looked like Elvis Costello.

The band was funny. They didn’t bother with demonic poses. They were anything but serious. They were beach boys, but bigger and louder. A song packed with giant guitar riffs could stop for 30 seconds of genuine singing.

They could slide into metal-injected punk (“You Really Got Me”), then shift into pure pop (“Dance the Night Away”). Every album came with an Eddie solo, a little piece of virtuoso picking. I played one of them (“Cathedral”) over and over, learned it note for note on piano. Eddie made the guitar sound like an organ.

The typical hair-band lead singers sounded like they’d inhaled helium. Roth was different. He growled. He screamed like a coyote. Plus, the girls liked him – very useful knowledge for a teenager.

The geeks among us – the Rush fans – couldn’t understand why girls weren’t interested in them. Metalgirl explained the pecking order to me years later. The milky guys in Rush T-shirts were automatically rejected. You couldn’t dance to Rush.

By the time I met Metalgirl, Roth and Eddie Van Halen had split. We played the old songs and ignored the new lead singer. His name was forbidden in our household.

We waited long years for the reunion, for the good stuff. Metalgirl snagged tickets for Saturday’s T-Dome show within hours of the tour announcement. She spotted the new line of tour T-shirts, and sent me a pointed email that identified her selection.

Guitar Kid knows about Eddie Van Halen. I’ve played him the best cuts. He flicks his fingers around the quick runs of “Eruption.” Not bad, he admits, though he sniffs a little. It’s old, nothing special. Guitar Kid is sophisticated. He likes Joe Satriani and Jesse Cook. In rebellious moods, he’ll opt for Kurt Cobain. He’ll attend the concert for educational purposes, but he vows to be unimpressed.

After years of trying, I figured out some of the Roth screams. You start by imitating a cougar, then add wolf. It still makes me hack. Eventually, I found an alternative: imitate Ethel Merman. This actually works.