Van Halen US Airways Center Saturday, June 16
When the recently reunited Van Halen (featuring original vocalist David Lee Roth) announced it was postponing a handful of dates on its current tour, most people assumed that it was due to some conflict within the band. Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth wasted no time dismissing the theory and chalked it up to the band's biting off more than it could chew with this tour.
See our entire Van Halen slideshow. Fortunately for Van Halen fans in the Valley, the band's Phoenix date went down as scheduled, and if there is any animosity within the Van Halen camp, they certainly didn't display it. But, after watching the band perform Saturday night in front of a packed US Airways Center, another reason for the postponing of those tour dates seemed more likely: They're not very good.
Allow me to clarify. I'm not suggesting that Van Halen is a shitty band, because it isn't. In fact Van Halen, fronted by David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar, is undeniably one of the greatest rock bands of all time. (The Gary Cherone-fronted Van Halen? Not so much.)
And it's not even that the members of the Van Halen clan aren't very good: From a technical standpoint, drummer Alex Van Halen was good and virtuoso guitarist Eddie Van Halen was amazing (the later performing a guitar solo -- surprise -- that was without question the highlight of the night), and even Eddie's son, Wolfgang (the least experienced of the crew) held his own on stage. This brings us to David Lee Roth, who sadly was the weak link of the group on Saturday evening.
To his credit, Roth was just as much the showman as he's ever been. The problem was he focused too much on the antics and not quite enough on the musicianship (which can be a big problem when, you know, Eddie Van Halen is onstage).
Any time Eddie Van Halen ripped into a guitar solo, Roth would strut around the stage, hamming it up for the audience. It was funny at first -- "Hey, it's Diamond Dave" -- but at a certain point, he just started to look awkward. Essentially, he turned into that guy who shows up at a party and just tries way too hard to impress everyone there. You wanted to say, "You're David Lee Roth. You don't have to try so hard. We already like you."
When Roth wasn't goofing, he'd engage the crowd with stories that lacked much sense, and you wondered if you were missing an inside joke. There was also a video package of Roth with his sheepdogs, and it felt strange and out of place.
Minor gripes aside (Roth's always been eccentric), all real offense came from the vocals. Roth just seemed to be all over the place. For the most part, all the songs were performed in a sing-speak style, and he had a hard time hitting the high notes and just omitted large chunks of songs for no apparent reason.
As much as I wanted to like this show I didn't. There is an inherent coolness to seeing Van Halen perform songs like "Hot For Teacher" or "Runnin' With The Devil." But a minute or two into each song, I realized that Dave was kind of fucking up the song, and the nostalgia factor just went right out the window. So if they need to postpone some dates so that they can recharge their batteries and get Roth sounding better, then I'm all for it.
I don't think anything sums up this concert better than this. On the light-rail ride home, a man in the same car as me started singing the song "Hypnotized" by Bob Welch. A woman sitting behind me yelled out, "You sing better than David Lee Roth." The sad thing is, she wasn't wrong.
Last Night: Van Halen and Kool & the Gang at US Airways Center
Personal Bias: I've always really liked Van Halen, more so with Roth than Hagar, so it was a pretty big disappointment I didn't like this show.
The Crowd: Mostly older couples and a few parents with their younger children.
Random Notebook Dump: Enough with the kung fu moves already, Dave.
One more thing: Kool & the Gang seem like a really weird opener for Van Halen, but they were actually really great.
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