Aaron Beck

Concert Review: Van Halen

The Columbus Dispatch - May 08, 2008

Permanently grinning singer-emcee-carnival barker David Lee Roth said a lot during Van Halen’s concert last night in Value City Arena, a concert that took the audience deep into the influential hard-rock band’s song trove.

Roth, however, did not shine light on the "undisclosed medical condition" of guitarist Eddie Van Halen, whose mysterious ailment forced the hard-rock band to postpone several late-winter and early-spring dates on its North American reunion tour.

So, sadly, there will be no gossipy celebrity news delivered to doorsteps this morning.

What anyone who didn’t spend yesterday evening in the packed-to-the-ceiling arena needs to know is this: the fourth lineup of Van Halen in 30 years is doing what it does just fine.

"Better late than never!" Roth said by way of introduction after the concert opening cover of the Kinks’ You Really Got Me, the song that introduced Van Halen to the world on its 1978 self-titled debut.

"We’re three-fourths original, one-fourth inevitable!" he shouted, referring to bassist Wolfgang Van Halen, original bassist Michael Anthony’s replacement and the son of Eddie Van Halen and actress Valerie Bertinelli.

Though he sports the same pudgy build, Wolfgang is no Jack Daniels-chugging common man, the image Michael Anthony cultivated. But he held his own, anchoring tunes such as Runnin’ With the Devil and Romeo Delight professionally and shooting "C’mon, Dave, gimme a break" looks whenever Roth ad-libbed some ribald lines in a song.

Roth, performing with Van Halen for the first time since 1985, has his detractors. But his ridiculous ’50s deejay-matador-motivational speaker-workout video guy shtick perfectly balances the band, given Eddie Van Halen’s guitar-hero action – albeit some jaw-dropping guitar-hero action.

Whatever is ailing the 53-year-old Van Halen is not affecting his hands, which remain two objects in nature that need to be seen in performance at least once to be believed. Gone from his repertoire are the flying leg kicks and pogo moves, but the hands remain the same.

But the band simply is at its best when Roth is singing – well, dry-croaking and yelping – deeply into the influential band’s discography. (They played all but two of their first album.) Not tequila salesman Sammy Hagar, not the guy from Extreme who took a forgettable turn at the microphone early this decade. Roth.

If anyone on Earth was made to prance, pose, preen and lead a rock band, it’s the man with three names, who at 53 must spend his off days doing 22 hours of sit ups and the rest of the time shining his impossibly white teeth. The man apparently has made a deal, not with the Devil, but with Jack LaLanne.