Van Halen At Staples Center
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By Tim McPhate
If Memorial Day marked the unofficial start of summer, Van Halen's June 1 concert at Staples Center in Los Angeles unofficially kicked the Southern California summer into overdrive.
This particular gig marked a special homecoming of sorts as Van Halen originally emerged from Pasadena, Calif., in the early '70s. For two hours, Van Halen rocled the home crowd with a heavy dose of classics from their original six albums with David Lee Roth. Proving there was more to offer than pure nostalgia, the band also peppered in four new cuts from their excellent new album, A Different Kind Of Truth.
"Unchained" from 1981's Fair Warning got Van Halen's set off to a rollicking start. Drummer Alex Van Halen and Eddie Van Halen's son, bassist Wolfgang, locked in the rhythm as Roth assumed the role of master of ceremonies. Sporting his new black EVH Wolfgang Stealth guitar, Eddie looked spry as he nailed the song's thick drop-D-tuned riffs.
A familiar car horn drone signaled the beginning of "Runnin' With The Devil," the scorching opener to 1978's Van Halen. Roth wiggled across the stage proving he still lives at a pace that kills, even if it's slightly slower. Led by Eddie's wah-wah-laced intro, the band bolted through the first new song of the evening, "She's The Woman." It should be noted that this particular song is actually classic Van Halen. "She's The Woman" was originally featured on Van Halen's 1976 demo tape produced by Kiss' Gene Simmons and was resurrected for their new album.
Roth shimmied and shook his way through chestnuts such as "Dance The Night Away," "Hear About It Later" and "Everybody Wants Some!!" What he has lost in terms of range and athleticism, he made up for with swagger, mic stand twirls and gregariousness. "I'm gonna brag a little bit: 42 days clean and sober," shared Roth, before concluding, "No, not in a row. Since Hanukkah." Later, Roth made eyes with a female fan in the front row while reminiscing how "1982 was a great year. I was a sexy mutha f****."
As the band launched into another new song, "China Town," Eddie stood neck-and-neck with Wolfgang to perform the intro's tricky unison tapping riff. It was a true family moment as the father-son team executed it to perfection.
Roy Orbison's "(Oh) Pretty Woman" was disappointingly the lone representation from 1982's Diver Down. (I was hoping for "Little Guitars" or "Hang 'Em High.") The band blasted through another cover, the Kinks' "You Really Got Me," also featured on Van Halen. As Eddie played his recorded guitar solo note-for-note, I was reminded why I consider the Van Halen version to be definitive.
Speaking of Eddie Van Halen, he was a consistent high point throughout the evening, performing at a level befitting of his legendary status. His unaccompanied solo spot was akin to a church procession for guitarists as the venue lit up like wildfire with smartphones looking to bottle the guitar master's display of six-string magic for posterity. He did not disappoint, performing perfect excerpts from his compositions "Eruption" and "Cathedral" while threading a barrage of incendiary tapping runs, whammy bar dives and general sonic mayhem for more than nine minutes. When Roth returned to the stage, he announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, the winner and still champion ... Edward Van Halen!"
Brother Alex Van Halen was his usual stately, solid self behind the drum kit. Often considered the unsung hero of Van Halen, his drumbeats were as steady and thunderous as ever, all the more amazing considering he is 59 years old. At just 21 years old, Wolfgang Van Halen did a serviceable job on bass and singing background vocals (along with his dad). However, for many Van Halen fans, including yours truly, original bassist Michael Anthony is missed and not forgotten.
Though school is out for summer for many, Roth announced class was still in session for "Van Halen High School." Appropriately, the band launched into the scholastically minded "Hot For Teacher." "This is Mr. Roth and I'm your substitute teacher," improvised Roth during the first verse. As Roth recalled all the education that he missed, Eddie grinned as he flawlessly executed another guitar solo.
As the spotlight turned to Roth for his solo spot, he plucked his acoustic guitar alongside a backdrop of video footage of his dogs and sheep running through the California hills. As he professed his love for his furry friends, he joked, "I think I'm the only rock and roller who actually owns sheep for nonrecreational purposes." What this animal montage had to do with the impending rendition of John Brim's "Ice Cream Man" was not entirely clear.
The Van Halens came back to the stage and got things in high gear for two more old favorites, "Panama" and "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love," which garnered the best reception of the entire evening from the reserved L.A. crowd. As the band closed with the keyboard-driven "Jump," their mega No. 1 hit from 1984, a sea of confetti enveloped the stage as Roth picked up a checkered flag and waved it ceremoniously. Was he signaling the end of the concert or a finish line of a different sort?
"Runnin' With The Devil"
"She's The Woman"
"Everybody Wants Some!!"
"Somebody Get Me A Doctor"
"Hear About It Later"
"(Oh) Pretty Woman" (Roy Orbison cover)
Alex Van Halen drum solo
"You Really Got Me" (the Kinks cover)
"The Trouble With Never"
"Dance The Night Away"
"And The Cradle Will Rock..."
"Hot For Teacher"
"Women In Love"
"Ice Cream Man" (John Brim cover)
Eddie Van Halen guitar solo
"Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love"
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