“Welcome to Occupy Van Halen!”
Back in November, word leaked out that Van Halen was planning on releasing a new album and embarking on a North American tour to support it. Classic rock fans were cautiously optimistic about the news, seeing as how prior reunions had ultimately fizzled out because of the legendarily testy relationship between guitarist Eddie Van Halen and loquacious frontman David Lee Roth. After a rumored reunion performance at the Grammy Nomination Concert Live!!! concert back in November failed to materialize, Van Halen fans were understandably nervous about the band’s current stability. However, during a 70-minute set at Manhattan’s tiny, 280 person capacity club Cafe Wha? tonight, the group looked happier to be in each other’s presence than they have since the early Eighties and, as a result, turned in a performance that David Lee Roth himself proclaimed as one of the best in the group’s storied history.
Continue reading our review below!
“Last time I stood on a stage this low, I had to have the car back by midnight!,” Roth stated midway through the group’s emotion-charged set tonight. For a band that began selling out arenas as soon as their debut album, Van Halen, was released by Warner Brothers in 1978, the excitement on each member of the band’s faces to be close enough to touch (and be touched) by audience members was palpable from the very first note of the band’s first song of the evening, “You Really Got Me.” The club, which was owned for many years by Roth’s currently 92 year-old uncle Manny Roth (who was in attendance tonight), was packed to capacity (and then some) by A-List Manhattanite rock fans like Jimmy Fallon, John McEnroe, Patti Smyth and Captain Kirk of The Roots, as well as virtually every prominent rock critic in the business (we spotted legendary Rolling Stone critic David Fricke, Fargo Rock City author Chuck Klosterman, SPIN‘s Caryn Ganz, and former Rolling Stone, Blender editor Joe Levy, and VH1 Classic’s That Metal Show host Eddie Trunk, just to name a few).
The band hit the stage around 20 minutes after 8 p.m. tonight, and from the moment they took the stage, they appeared to be having the time of their lives. Dave, Eddie, drummer Alex and bassist Wolfgang — original VH bassist Michael Anthony was either not asked or refused to rejoin the group for this tour — showed no signs of tension, even when Dave went on a meandering 4-minute rant about Lady Gaga, his experience as an EMT and New Year’s Eve cupcakes (!) only three songs into the show (see video below). In the past, Eddie and Alex would’ve exchanged angry glances at each other and rolled their eyes while Dave soaked up the spotlight, but none of that animosity was present tonight. Instead, the band members smiled, rolled with the punches and got on with the set.
“So,” you’re probably asking by this point, “HOW DID THEY ACTUALLY SOUND?” Well, from our vantage point — we stood roughly five feet away from Eddie where he stood stage left— they sounded TOTALLY tremendous. Classics like “Running With The Devil,” “Somebody Get Me A Doctor” and “Everybody Wants Some” were especially muscular, rattling the bones and eardrums of everyone in attendance, and their aural frequencies were perfectly pitched to tap into your brain’s nostalgia and pleasure centers. Eddie’s frenzied fretwork remains a thing to behold; the way he’s able to coax sonic textures from his single electric guitar puts most normal bands that feature both rhythm and lead guitars to shame. And while there’s no use pretending that David Lee Roth can hit the upper registers like he could thirtysome years ago, he innately understands his vocal range; all of his vocals tonight sounded rich, full and passionate in a way that bodes very well for the band’s impending world tour.
“I can feel this one all the way down to my Speedos, let’s take this bitch home!” About 45 minutes or so into Van Halen’s set, Dave made this exclamation. The band was far from being ready to leave the stage; quite the opposite, actually. Everyone in the group appeared to be in really good physical shape, particularly Dave. Dave was sporting Carhartt overalls (complete with two pens in his back pocket!) over a tight-fitting hoodie, and it was evident that he’s been hitting the gym and working on his cardio in preparation for the road. And Eddie, whose health issues in the past have been well documented, was in amazing spirits all night. As we mentioned, his fingers were as nimble as ever and he showed no signs of the back or hip issues that have plagued him since (and nearly ended his career in) the Nineties.
Ever the charismatic frontman, David Lee Roth delivered some classic one-liners tonight (one example, near the end of the band’s set: “The limos are being readied, the bathrobes are being prepared, the groupies are being undressed”) but, sadly, did not do any of his patented karate kicks. And he and Eddie clearly CONNECTED on a number of occasions, during fan favorites like “Ice Cream Man” and “Panama,” as well as the band’s new track they debuted tonight, “She’s A Woman.”
There’s an old saying that goes, “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Well, cynics would likely point to that phrase and tell you that old squabbles and issues are likely to once again raise their ugly heads and submarine this tour. However, we here at VH1 prefer to look at it from the glass half full perspective. Tonight at Cafe Wha?, we saw firsthand evidence of a band that seems to have rekindled the chemistry that first drew them together some 40 years ago, as well as having rediscovered the formula that led them to become one of history’s greatest rock n’ roll bands. Van Halen appears like an act that’s determined NOT to let history repeat itself, and instead seems committed to the future in a very big way.
SETLIST: “You Really Got Me” / “Running With The Devil” / “Somebody Get Me A Doctor” / “Everybody Wants Some” / “She’s A Woman” / “Dance The Night Away” / “Panama” / “Hot For Teacher” / “Ice Cream Man” / “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”
[Photo Credits: @unclegrambo / Getty Images]