Before we get to what happened during Van Halen’s first concert with David Lee Roth since 1984 — and, oh, lots did! — here’s what didn’t happen. Diamond Dave didn’t break out the assless chaps. Eddie Van Halen didn’t trip over his whammy bar. His bassist son, Wolfgang, didn’t wet himself. The band didn’t even break up on stage. Actually, something more startling did go down: Van Halen took an encouraging step toward reclaiming their hard-rock throne (neh-neh, Axl!) — or at least their good name. Not bad for a few fiftysomethings and a 16-year-old.
How would VH kick off this 40-date tour that once-mulleted, now-graying fans have prayed for since high school detention? (They trekked here from all over the country, fearing the band might implode before reaching a venue near them.) Roth waved a giant red flag — holy omen? — and then VH blazed through their multiplatinum catalog of catchy-as-an-STD rockers (”Panama,” ”Unchained,” ”Beautiful Girls”) as if there was much to prove. Which, of course, there was. After the bitter ’85 split with Roth, myriad botched reunions, and lead-singer musical chairs with Sammy Hagar (successful) and Gary Cherone (suckcessful) — plus the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame no-show and the dumping of original bassist Michael Anthony for Wolfgang — the band had transmogrified into Spïnal Fïnger Tap. Yet on this night, the Halen turned rather mighty again. Without the aid of pyro. Midway through ”I’m the One,” the first of several cool surprises, they stopped cold and soaked in the whoo!‘s for a solid minute. ”It took us 20 years to get this f—in’ far!” bellowed a touched Roth, who left any tensions with Eddie behind, or backstage. The duo were all smiles and high fives. (Cue Naked Gun scene in which dog embraces mailman, Muslim hugs Jew.)
Among the sights and sounds: a tight-abbed Roth in Vegas-y matador jackets, his well-worn voice sounding unusually fresh ‘n’ focused. Despite perching a top hat on his crotch, he radiated as much giddiness as horniness — grateful for redemption. Ditto for Shreddie. After spotty work on 2004’s reunion tour with Hagar, the newly rehabbed guitar wizard stunned with mean riffs, otherworldly squeals, and blistering fretwork, anchored by drummer brother Alex Van Halen’s thunderstickery. (Still, their indulgent solo showcases begat a few urinal breaks.) And up there with his decades-older mentors, Wolfie resembled a contest winner, but calmly issued sturdy grooves and vocals. Anthony’s conviviality and sublime harmonies were missed, yes, but not mourned.
What to make of this? Is it one-time wonderful? A triumph of middle-aged will? A future of CDs, tours, breakups, and makeups? We’ve got devil horns on one hand, fingers crossed on the other. A-