Eddie Van Halen & David Lee Roth - photo by Michael Sherer
Since 2007, Van Halen has consisted of Eddie, Alex and Wolfgang Van Halen (son of Eddie and former wife Valerie Bertinelli) and original singer David Lee Roth. One wouldn’t be able to guess that Dave and the rest of Van Halen, especially he and Eddie, had a falling out in 1985 that led to a twenty three year split when seeing them hit the stage at Jones Beach in Long Island, New York for their first of two shows there. The first thing we saw was Alex sit down at his sprawling drums. Then came Dave and Eddie sauntering out, spinning around arm-in-arm, and shaking hands while grinning at each other. Finally, Dave kissed Eddie’s hand.
Dave has said that they had the same same old conflicts immediately upon his return to the band, but my solid guess is that the joy and excitement of playing together in the group that they were in since the mid ‘70’s, and in front of huge adoring crowds, makes that go away for the duration of the performances. Surveying the packed audience of about 15,000, I saw a lot of guys in their 40’s and 50’s cheering them on. I fit right in as a 45 year old.
During their two hour performance, the band played a nicely mixed set list, which I include beneath review. I read that Wolfgang chose it. Fan faves such as “Everybody Wants Some,” “Runnin’ With the Devil,” “Ain’t Talkin’ About Love, “Dance The Night Away,” and “Feel Your Love Tonight” were all played. Dave’s voice isn’t what it was in the old days, and at 60, he doesn’t do the jumps and splits that he did. On that note, Dave used to be able to do some of the highest jumps and major body contortions of perhaps any front man ever, and gained much attention when he sported assless, black leather pants for their hugely popular “1984” tour. He was quite the sight with his long blonde mane and tall, lean physique. Dave now has short, thinner hair, but still has a lean figure. For this show, Dave was mostly wearing tightly fitting spandex like material with various jacket changes to wear over it. He also had a white scarf at times. Dave strutted, winked, nodded and grinned a lot, and looked genuinely happy to be be performing.
Eddie and Alex are still in great musical form but, as expected, move around much less than they did as youngsters. Eddie used to do a signature high and moving jump while playing guitar. He did a less dramatic version of that here. 24 year old Wolfgang holds down the bass lines and harmony singing that original bassist Michael Anthony delivered for many years, but didn’t really move around. The guitar and bass are quite high in the mix, and Eddie has a huge number of his custom Peavey EVH model amps blasting behind him. Eddie is, of course, one of the most influential and creative guitarists in rock, and certainly one of the main reasons for the band’s popularity. Eddie’s a very serious musician, and his playing doesn’t seem to have lost a step. Physically speaking though, Eddie looks quite different than he did back in their heyday. Alex hasn’t changed to that degree, but is noticeably thinner.
Their stage is relatively simple but smart and compelling. Four lit arcs spans it, and a drum riser is present, which is very useful to also stand on. Tasteful lighting and mood makes the whole thing sparkle. Alex’s usual massive set of Ludwig drums, Paiste cymbals and large gong are quite something to behold on their own.
Around three quarters through the concert, Dave did a solo spot. He sat in a chair in the middle of the stage and played some acoustic guitar, harmonica and spoke. He quipped that Eddie got us into the building and that he’ll sell us the bibles. Roth has always had a good and unique sense of humor. (He said in the early ‘80’s that used to have a drug problem but now he has enough money. Sad but true.) Dave spoke somberly of his recently deceased uncle Manny Roth owning the Cafe Wha’ in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village in the 1960’s, and how Dylan, Hendrix and many other legends played there. Roth also noted he lived in the apartment above it for a time, and that he was fascinated by New York City as a kid, having come from Indiana. He also said that while he keeps a home in Southern California, he considers New York City home. This banter gradually segued into the band joining him to play “Ice Cream Man” from their highly influential ‘78 major label debut album on Warner Brothers Records.
Both Alex and Eddie did solos, with Eddie’s leading into their cover of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” also from their first record. The playing overall was very tight. The three instrumentalists all being closely related is a big part of that. Naturally, the level of intuition is usually high amongst kin.
Nearly all of the songs were from their earlier records, which are my favorites, but the last two songs, “Panama” and “Jump,” were from their final record with Dave in his first run, that record being “1984.” This was their commercial peak with him. They were quite popular with MTV at the time, and represented a new sound with some keyboards played by Eddie and a less raunchy era for the band. Funny how what was new for us fans back in high school is now over thirty years on as we approach middle age. Top that with the band’s start in ‘74 having us not long out of diapers. At least they weren’t assless pants.
Just play on VH, play on. Kick-ass rock and roll is always in fashion.
Light Up the Sky
Runnin’ With the Devil
Everybody Wants Some!!
Drop Dead Legs
Feel Your Love Tonight
Somebody Get Me a Doctor
She’s the Woman
Dance the Night Away
Women in Love
Hot for Teacher
In a Simple Rhyme
Ice Cream Man (John Brim cover)
Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love
You Really Got Me (The Kinks cover)