They’ll be playing arenas when they tour next month, but on Thursday night, a regrouped Van Halen provided thrills in a tiny club where a VIP crowd stood elbow to elbow as the storied band played some of their greatest hits including “Jump” and “Panama.”
“Welcome to Occupy Van Halen, ladies and gentleman!” frontman David Lee Roth yelled just before the band launched into “You Really Got Me,” the first in an approximately hour-long, high energy set.
The show was at the famed Café Wha? in New York’s West Village — a club owned by Manny Roth, the uncle of Roth.
David Lee Roth noted some of the greats that played in the club — including Bob Dylan — and told the crowd, “I’m more nervous about this gig than I would ever be in the Garden,” referring to Madison Square Garden.
The band will soon be playing the Garden and other venues like it, as they kick off a nationwide tour next month. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famers start the tour in Louisville, Ky., on Feb. 16, and will tour through June, hitting cities like Boston, Atlanta and Chicago. They’ll also be promoting a new album: The group announced Wednesday that they’ll release A Different Kind of Truth on Feb. 7, the group’s first album with Roth since their celebrated album 1984, released that same year.
Van Halen has gone through plenty of changes since then. Roth left the band for a solo career and was replaced with Sammy Hagar in a messy breakup; he later returned to the band as Hagar exited in a split that had just as much discord. There would be more turmoil as bassist Michael Anthony was replaced a few years ago with Wolfgang Van Halen, the son of guitar great Eddie Van Halen.
But it was all smiles on Wednesday, as father and son, along with Eddie’s brother and drummer Alex were all on hand as the reconstituted group played a warm-up of sorts before their nationwide tour, their first together in almost four years.
“This has been a really long time coming,” Roth told the audience.
The band hardly seemed rusty. Though his mic was weak, Roth’s voice wasn’t, as his signature screech was in top form, as was Eddie Van Halen’s scorching guitar play on songs like “Hot for Teacher” and “Dance the Night Away.”
Roth joked about the small size of the club: “The last time I stood on a stage this low, I had to get the car home by midnight.”
Later, he talked about how he used to wander through the club as a kid, dreaming of a chance to play on its stage.
“It took us 50 years to get this gig. It was easier to get in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame than to get this gig,” he said.
Roth’s uncle Manny, now 92, was in the audience, sitting next to John McEnroe, one of several luminaries in the crowd.
“It’s come full circle,” said a beaming David Lee Roth amid the audience’s cheers.