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Van Halen Concert Review For Detriot Show

Reunited Van Halen rocks Joe Louis

Adam Graham / Detroit News Pop Music Writer

Van Halen's concert at Joe Louis Arena Saturday night was everything a rock and roll show should be: Raucous, randy and a whole lot of fun.

That it came from Van Halen, reunited for the first time in more than two decades with original lead singer David Lee Roth, was even more miraculous: If these guys are still able to sound this good together, why haven't they been tearing up America's roadways for the last 20 years?

Maybe they needed the time away from each other to once again find their center. But by Saturday night, 12 shows into a reunion tour many thought would never happen, they had indeed found it, and gave a hard-rockin' Detroit crowd of 13,000 -- including actress (and Eddie Van Halen's ex-wife) Valerie Bertinelli, a surprise guest in the crowd -- a show they won't soon forget.

Of course, it wasn't a full reunion; in a move that has miffed many a fan, original bassist Michael Anthony has been replaced by Eddie's 16-year-old son, Wolfgang. At one point Roth referred to the lineup as "three-quarters original, one-quarter inevitable."

Wolfgang is able to hold his own on stage, but he happily cedes the spotlight his father and to Roth, only playing the rock star part during the intro to "Runnin' With the Devil." The sound guys seemed happy to de-emphasize Wolfie, too, as Saturday his bass seemed to be turned way down while Eddie's guitar was cranked dangerously past 11.

Roth -- dressed in skin-tight leather pants and an assortment of tacky matador tops -- is a born entertainer and a first-class ham, and he merrily played up both roles Saturday. Whether he was performing his version of air karate, doing his patented roundhouse kicks -- we counted a total of 20 in all -- or using his microphone stand like a pugil stick and pantomiming the act of spearing a whale, you couldn't take your eyes off of him.

And Roth, who's ego was at the center of a botched Van Halen reunion in 1996, seemed genuinely pleased to be back on stage with his old band mates, slapping hands with Eddie during show opener "You Really Got Me" and smiling ear-to-ear throughout the 2-hour, 10-minute show. At one point, an ever-so-brief salsa routine midway through "Dance the Night Away" served as a reminder of how perilously close Roth's career had come to a stint on "Dancing With the Stars" had the reunion not panned out.

Strutting across the stage, proud as a peacock with his chest puffed out, Roth was once again a rock star, at once both confident and humble. He was once again a guy you wanted to root for, even when he stuffed a fan's camera phone down his pants.

The band rifled through material from its six albums together, tearing through amped-up renditions of "Somebody Get Me a Doctor" and "Everybody Wants Some," while Eddie -- shirtless, of course, and in a pair of torn jeans and Van Halen Converse -- shredded his guitar to the maddening delight of fanboys and Guitar World subscribers. His late-show solo was almost extraterrestrial and had fans chanting, "Ed-die! Ed-die!"

Wisely, the reunion doesn't try to be more than it is: There's no new album to promote, so there's no awkward new material for the band or the crowd to fake its way through. It's just the hits, as you remember them, played by guys who are slightly older than they were on the posters on your wall but who still have some gas left in their tanks.

Only a drum solo from Alex Van Halen and the extended, bordering-on-parody spoken word intro to "Ice Cream Man" -- David Lee Roth, you're no Bruce Springsteen -- came off as misfires.

Save for those qualms, Van Halen gave the crowd Saturday what they've wanted from the band for years: A full-on, world-class rock concert.