Live review: Van Halen at the United Center
Two-thirds of the way through Van Halen's Thursday night show at the United Center, the second of their two sold out local arena stops, the man next to me turned and tapped me on the shoulder. "In 20 years, you'll be telling people you saw Eddie Van Halen play," he told me. Well, no surprise there. People have been saying that about Eddie Van Halen's sci-fi playing for 30 years now. What he no doubt meant to say was "In 20 years, you'll be telling people you saw Eddie Van Halen play with David Lee Roth."
Yet the big news wasn't just that after more than two decades in exile, David Lee Roth has returned to the fold. No, the big news is that Van Halen is playing songs it hasn't touched in just as long. Sure, the group had Sammy Hagar sing a few Roth numbers on their last swing through town, but they were a mess, as was Eddie, who checked himself into rehab shortly thereafter.
Van Halen circa 2007 is a totally different beast, dedicated to its catalog of formative, formidable party songs and solo platforms, with Eddie, David, Alex Van Halen and Eddie's teenage son Wolfgang (on bass) in great shape.
A lot of fans wondered whether Wolfie could pull off replacing Michael Anthony, but that hurdle wasn't as high as some presumed. Wolfie merely replaced Anthony as Alex Van Halen's partner in what may be rock's worst rhythm section. But that's not to say they aren't perfect for Van Halen. It's one of life's enduring mysteries: how one of the worst rhythm sections in rock can still swing so hard. Wolfgang acquitted himself admirably (though rumors swirl that some canned backing tracks sweeten the harmonies between him and dad).
As for Roth, well rested after the day off, his vocals were all over the place, just the way longtime fans remembered them. No question, he and Eddie make a great team as two very different kinds of showmen who aim to please
above all else. And with Van Halen's pallid Hagar-era songs mothballed, what wasn't to like? From the opening riff of "You Really Got Me" through such VH classics as "Runnin' with the Devil," "Dance the Night Away," "Unchained,"
"Hot for Teacher" (I bet Wolfgang's homework was never quite like this!), "Panama," "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" and, ultimately, inevitably, "Jump," the set was all killer, no filler, just the good stuff, dusted off and done
Sure, it was also the same setlist the band's been playing every night on the tour, and maybe even the same setlist they'll play again once the tour profits are tallied up and they decide to hit the road once more. But big ticket arena nostalgia rarely sounds as fun as it did Thursday, and fun is a currency in short supply these days of soulless reunions and shallow cash-ins.