Time heals most wounds, and those that remain can often be assuaged by cold cash. That’s the lesson served up by the latest reboot of Van Halen, which brings together three quarters of the band’s original lineup – bassist Michael Anthony having been replaced by Eddie Van Halen’s teenaged son, Wolfgang – which has taken to the road despite the acrimony that wafted from the ashes of previous attempts to jump-start the beast.
Not surprisingly, David Lee Roth addressed the situation head-on, both in the roundabout lyrics of the newly-recorded “The Trouble With Never” and in a subsequent ramble in which he snarkily referenced his own “selective amnesia.” That kind of tension has been a part of Van Halen ever since the band broke into the spotlight, though, making each set seem like a sort of jousting match between Roth’s court jester and Eddie Van Halen’s guitar royalty.
The band’s two-hour Madison Square Garden perf followed that blueprint perfectly. Guitar solos were abundant, and for the most part, precisely delivered – particularly the peripatetic foray that ultimately morphed into “Eruption.” Hits, like a sassy “Hot for Teacher” and a chugging “Everybody Wants Some,” were served up with nary a trace of ennui. The band even ferreted out a brace of songs – like “Girl Gone Bad” – familiar only to diehards.
While theoretically promoting “A Different Kind of Truth” (their first album as a Roth-led unit in more than 25 years), the quartet only dipped into its grooves in passing – probably a wise idea, given the precipitous slide down the chart it’s taken since debuting in the No. 2 slot last month. The newer offerings actually held up well to live performance – even Roth’s brain freeze on the lyrics of “China Town” didn’t derail the song’s undeniable propulsion – but the aud, a surprising number decked out in vintage gear, wanted vintage Diamond Dave to match.
And Roth was only too happy to oblige.
In the band’s heyday, Roth came across as one of hard rock’s most unique characters, a man who found a way to blend Borscht Belt humor with Cirque du Soleil-worthy acrobatics, all topped off with a Sunset Strip bluesman’s cock-of-the-walk delivery. Three decades on, he’s lost most of the moves and a fair amount of the vocal range (the latter highlighted by the absence of Anthony’s vocal harmonies) but the attitude remains the same, and that alone still makes for a mighty compelling show.
Van Halen will hit L.A.’s Staples Center on June 1.