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PHOTO BY: Tom Tingle/The Arizona Republic

David Lee Roth took it over the top with Van Halen in Phoenix

by Ed Masley | The Republic | azcentral.comDavid Lee Roth is a lot like Bob Dylan. Not in terms of having written “Like a Rolling Stone” – because he didn’t do that. More in terms of approaching the songs his fans have come to hear him sing with no regard for the original recordings, singing what he feels like singing when he feels like singing it, changing the melody, changing the phrasing, leaving whole parts of the vocal by the wayside on a whim.

There may be notes he just can’t hit at 57, which is fair enough. But there are other notes he could have hit on Saturday, June 16, as he rocked what looked to be a sold-out crowd at US Airways Center with Van Halen. In fact, on more than one occasion, he sang higher notes instead — “My love is rotten to the core” in “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” for example. That part isn’t even high. But it was Saturday (except the time he shouted “yeah” instead of singing it).

Unlike Bob Dylan, though, who seems to sing his songs the way he pleases more because he doesn’t feel as though he should be made to live up to the expectations of his audience, much less his critics, Diamond Dave spent his entire time on stage entertaining the audience, with his slides and his high kicks and yoga positions, his mike-stand-twirling antics, his constantly making ridiculous faces, his comic asides and rambling monologues, his hula dancing on “Tattoo” and asking a girl in the crowd “Have you already made a sex tape with that camera?” during “Romeo Delight.” It almost seemed like singing was the last thing on his mind — his “other” job, his real job being making sure that everyone who paid to see the show was duly entertained.

And here’s the thing. It worked. Even Eddie Van Halen was laughing. So was Wolfgang, Eddie’s kid, who’s playing bass instead of Michael Anthony.

There may have been some people there who weren’t as entertained by Roth’s shenanigans as myself and the Van Halen family on stage. But there sure seemed to be a lot of smiling, clapping, cheering people standing up and partying like it was 1984 for the duration of the concert. And a lot of that had everything to do with Diamond Dave.

The show opened with dive-bombing whammy bar action and squealing high notes on Eddie’s guitar giving way to the opening riff of the classic “Unchained” as Roth slid and twirled his way across the stage in a black rhinestone outfit waving the towel he used to wipe away his sweat throughout the night. The interaction between the mugging front man and the lead guitarist (whose solo on “Unchained,” it should be noted, was amazing) seemed unforced enough to back their story that there’s been no tension on this tour. They seemed like friends.

“Unchained” was followed by the unmistakable low-end throb of “Runnin’ With the Devil,” Roth grabbing his crotch for comic effect and delivering one verse as spoken-word advice to Wolfgang.

And then, they dipped into “A Different Kind of Truth,” Van Halen’s first album with Roth on vocals since the glory days of “1984,” for “She’s the Woman,” which found the singer doing crazed flamenco dancer moves. Before the night was through, they’d returned to the new one for “Tattoo,” “China Town” and “The Trouble With Never.” But they knew enough to keep the focus on the classics, including such obvious highlights as “Everybody Wants Some!!,” “(Oh) Pretty Woman,” “You Really Got Me,” “Dance the Night Away,” “And the Cradle Will Rock…,” “Hot for Teacher,” “Beautiful Girls” and “Panama.” They also did the synthesizer-driven hits from “1984,” of course, performing “I’ll Wait” and the set-closing “Jump” with piped-in synth parts.

The sound in US Airways Center was pretty cacophonous, making it hard to hear the vocals in spots.

Even Eddie’s guitar leads didn’t cut through as well as they could have at times. But the playing was tight, with Wolfgang asserting himself on bass and vocals and Alex Van Halen playing a Latin-flavored drum solo to pre-recorded orchestration (which Roth proclaimed “the most amazing goddamned drum solo I’ve ever heard in my life” – or words to that effect).

And then there was Eddie. If Roth brought the smiles to the party at Saturday’s show, it’s still Eddie who brings the musical excitement to the table, tearing off one awe-inspiring guitar solo after another. Naming highlights would be pointless. If he played it, it was somewhere in the range between greatness and brilliance.

There are those who would go to the show specifically to see him play, and of that demographic, there are those who no doubt left the concert thinking he’d be better off touring without a front man as over-the-top as Diamond Dave. But that’s what made Van Halen so much bigger than, say, Yngwie Malmsteen or Steve Vai (who briefly worked with Roth post-“1984”). You get more than guitar pyrotechnics. You get a good time guarantee.

And speaking of a good time guarantee, Kool & the Gang proved an oddly appropriate fit for the opening slot, if the reaction of the crowd was any indication. They played a nine-song set that moved from strength to strength, with their saxophone solos and thumping bass grooves, ending with a four-song power jam of “Jungle Boogie,” “Ladies’ Night,” “Get Down On It” and “Celebration.”

Set list
Unchained
Runnin’ With The Devil
She’s the Woman
Romeo Delight
Tattoo
Everybody Wants Some!!
Somebody Get Me a Doctor
China Town
Hear About It Later
(Oh) Pretty Woman
You Really Got Me
The Trouble With Never
Dance the Night Away
I’ll Wait
And the Cradle Will Rock…
Hot for Teacher
Women in Love…
Beautiful Girls
Ice Cream Man
Panama
Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love
Jump