David Lee Roth and his Van Halen bandmates played to a crowd of 14,000 on Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Marisa Wojcik, Special to the Star Tribune
Van Halen not yet erupting
- Article by: Chris Riemenschneider
- Star Tribune
- May 21, 2012 - 11:01 AM
If dysfunction and infighting are reliable indicators of a band losing its musical chops, then half of the legendary bands out there would be punch lines, and the Dave Matthews Band would be the greatest group in rock.
Saturday's nearly sold-out Van Halen concert at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center wasn't the Hall of Fame rock band's greatest showing, but it was still a whole amplifier's stack better than what many people expected.
The show arrived on the heels and headlines of the quartet's abrupt cancellation of the final two months of its summer tour. It's not a cliché to suggest that the 14,000 Twin Cities fans could have seen the beginning of the end of Van Halen. Nor is it too trite to suggest that, if true, the band appeared ready to go out on a high note.
OK, so singer David Lee Roth had trouble hitting his high notes. He missed plenty of low and in-between notes, too.
It's hard to say exactly what was going on with ol' Diamond Dave. On one hand, he lazily sang and scatted his way through some songs such as "You Really Got Me" as if he just didn't care -- and he even skipped an entire verse in "Ain't Talking 'Bout Love" near the end of the two-hour set. But he fully invested himself with his usual showman antics throughout the concert, and he actually sounded pretty decent singing more challenging parts in "Panama" and "Oh, Pretty Woman." He sounded winded late in the show, but then he would pull off one of his famous high kicks or sassy-pants dance moves and not look anywhere near his 57 years.
Whatever his problem, Roth's vocal shortcomings were bad enough to perhaps be the true culprit in the tour cancellation, instead of the rumored infighting (the band members remain mum on the matter, and were all-smiles and chummy to each other on stage). His singing wasn't bad enough to derail Saturday's concert, though.
Dave's cocky, hammy character and on-stage antics were always as important to the band as his vocal parts. Those qualities were certainly intact Saturday.
"How old am I?" Roth interjected into "Hot for Teacher." "I made my first sex tape in 1982, that's how!"
The rest of the band sounded as virile as it did in 1982. Guitarist Eddie Van Halen has visibly and audibly bounced back from years of battling alcoholism and cancer. His "Eruption"-led solo just before the finale of "Jump" was leaps and bounds better than his last one at Xcel Center in 2004 (the final tour with Sammy Hagar and original bassist Michael Anthony). Eddie's brother Alex was as forceful as ever on drums, too, although his solo weirdly sounded like a Gloria Estefan jam.
Perhaps the most impressive Van Halen was 21-year-old replacement bassist Wolfgang Van Halen, Eddie's son, who understandably looked tentative on his first tour in 2007. Lil' Wolfie had a much bigger presence this time, especially during some of the well-lit songs off the new "A Different Kind of Truth" album, including "Tattoo" and "She's the Woman."
Whatever you thought of the new kid or Roth's vocal dilemma, you have to hand it to Van Halen for sticking to its core-four format -- no backup singers nor hired-gun musicians, augmentations that even the Who, Stones and Eagles all rely on nowadays. Too bad the Van Halen guys just can't seem to get along.
Saturday's concert featured the unlikeliest of openers: '70s-'80s R&B/funk stars Kool & the Gang, who played lively renditions of "Celebration," "Get Down on It" and "Ladies' Night." Their inclusion on the tour made perfect sense in the end. Even the most hateful headlining band would have been forced into a good mood at the sight of an arena full of beer-guzzling, middle- to senior-age blue-collar rock fans dancing to those ubiquitous hits.
See Van Halen's set list at startribune.com/artcetera.
Follow Riemenschneider on Twitter: @ChrisRstrib
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