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Review: Van Halen at Sprint Center
Eddie cleaned and sobered drives a mean guitar. Photos by Chuck France / Special to The Star
The anticipation for this show was so high that Ky-Mani Marley started his opening set eight minutes early. Sooner in, sooner out and on with the main event.
So after a 35-minute set that included covers of “No Woman, No Cry” and “I Shot the Sheriff,” one of several sons of Bob Marley said good night and relinquished the stage to the headliners, who'd brought some offspring of their own.
The Van Halen 2007 Tour is most famous for the reunion of original lead singer David Lee Roth with the band that made him famous. The reunion ended an estrangement that has lasted nearly 25 years. It gets an asterisk, though, because original bassist Michael Anthony is now the banished one. In his place: Wolfgang Van Halen, 16, son of guitar legend Eddie and nephew of drummer Alex. Who says heavy rock has no family values?
In Van Halen's world, the red flag means let the race begin.
Van Halen the band took the stage at 9 p.m.sharp, and it wasted no time igniting the place. It opened with its famous Kinks cover, “You Really Got Me.” Nice choice, and expected, too: The setlist hasn’t changed all tour.
Nonetheless, it got the crowd off its chairs and into gear. Two songs later, the place got a little crazier when the crowd immediately recognized the intro to “Runnin’ With the Devil.”
Roth’s voice was adequate to good most of the night. He hit and sustained some high notes, and missed some others. Mostly he stuck to the original versions of each song. He’s not the acrobat he used to be, though he did fire off several of his high kicks several times. When he wasn’t singing, mostly he was smiling, big and wide, like he was happier to be there than anyone in the place.
Wolfgang has been getting some catty reviews, but frankly he didn’t detract from the show in the least. In some ways, he added to it: Eddie ran across the stage several times to interact with his son. During “Romeo Delight,” Wolfgang took a swipe at Eddie’s guitar and then got a hug for it. They played like that all night. Eddie, too, seemed elated to be back on the road, all re-habbed and buffed, playing his old songs and not sharing any of them with Sammy Hagar.
The stage included a runway that wound behind the drum kit; Wolfie and Roth ran up there several times and perched behind Alex. Behind the runway was a huge video screen that broadcast scenes from the stage and from out in the audience (especially women in the front rows). Before and near the end of the show, a black remote-controlled dirigible with the Van Halen logo floated over the crowd.
The liveliest moments of the night were the poppy-est. The setlist was loaded with classic hard and heavy stuff, like “Atomic Punk” and “Mean Street.” But the crowd responded loudest to the Top 40 hits, like “Dance the Night Away,” “Pretty Woman” and “Jump,” the closer. “Hot for Teacher” and “Panama” got raucous responses, too.
The place wasn’t sold out, but it looked reasonably close to it. Lots of people were in the Sprint Center for the first time, and I’ll wager that many will be disenchanted with the sound. Roth’s vocals were uneven throughout; a few times, they nearly disappeared in the hail of noise around him. Not sure if that was a sound-board or microphone issue or just rugged acoustics.
The arena is a sports venue, afterall, not a music hall, so the sound is never going to be pristine, especially when a heavy rock band is hurling noise around the place. I got off the floor and into the upper sections, where the mix sounded cleaner.
The sound wasn't an issue during the solos by the Van Halen brothers. Alex is a monster on drums, up there with all the other legends, and he showed why. And Eddie is still hard to believe. His solo lasted about 10 minutes – maybe too long – but it was impossible to look away. Yes, his fingers can be faster than the eye, but he also coaxes noises and sounds out of his guitar that sound like ensembles of other instruments. He’s at his best when he throws one of his whirlwind rock-meets-jazz solos into the middle of a song, as he did in “Jump.”
During that song, Roth grabbed a big metal pole and twirled it like a baton. He also hauled a huge, inflated microphone on stage, mounted it like a horse and rocked, like Roy Rogers on Trigger. By then, the disco ball above the floor was spitting bits of light around the arena, and confetti rained on fans in the lower section. And it felt like 1984 all over again.
| Timothy Finn, The Star
Setlist: You Really Got Me; I'm the One; Runnin' With the Devil; Romeo Delight; Somebody Get Me a Doctor; Beautiful Girls; Dance the Night Away; Atomic Punk; Everybody Wants Some; So This Is Love?; Mean Street; Pretty Woman; Alex solo; Unchained; I'll Wait; And the Cradle Will Rock; Hot For Teacher; Little Dreamer; Little Guitars; Jamie's Cryin'; Ice Cream Man; Panama; Eddie solo; Ain't Talkin' About Love. Encore: 1984 /Jump.