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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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