Eddie Van Halen’s struggles with health, sobriety and simply getting along with his bandmates were on display during his band’s hit-and-miss Twin Cities concerts over the past two decades.
Van Halen’s last local gig at Xcel Energy Center in 2012 was quite literally the beginning of the end for the band; it kicked off a tour eventually cut short by two months for reasons never fully explained.
Eddie, who died Tuesday at 65 after numerous battles with cancer, actually appeared to be in good health and spirits at that 2012 show, while singer David Lee Roth was less than diamond-quality. The opposite was true at Van Halen’s prior reunion stop with Roth at Target Center in 2007, when the singer shined bright but the guitarist sounded less solid and eruptive.
Eddie’s godly talent also seemed greatly diminished in 2004, when the band half-heartedly reunited with its second vocalist, Sammy Hagar, a tour that ended with not only Hagar splitting permanently from the band but also original bassist Michael Anthony.
In a Star Tribune interview this past January — before he opened for Kiss at Xcel Center with a new band featuring two guitarists trying to cop Eddie’s licks — Roth hinted that his old bandmate’s ongoing health issues were bad enough to prevent him from doing another Van Halen tour. Rumors of another reunion outing had persisted just a year prior.
“Ed, God bless him, may have a fair amount of time ahead of him,” Roth said, “but going out on the road is an unforgiving task. It kills people.”
“It’s been a long great trip, a long great run,” the singer added, “but this kind of music requires the kind of energy that people in their 20s bring. You know what NFL stands for: Not For Long. It’s similar in rock.”
Van Halen certainly had a long history of performances in Minnesota going back to 1978, when the band played both the St. Paul Civic Center Theatre and the Duluth Arena on its first major tour opening for Journey and Montrose. Its first headlining show was just a year later supporting the “Van Halen II” tour at the St. Paul Civic Center, a venue the quartet would continue to pack up until the “1984” tour that would be its last with Roth for two decades.
Maybe the most memorable of Van Halen’s Twin Cities shows was with Hagar as its vocalist in 1988, when it topped the five-band Monsters of Rock Tour at the Metrodome with Scorpions, Dokken, Kingdom Come and a then-fledgling Metallica.
Eddie also may have been at the top of his game at that 1988 festival. Star Tribune critic Jon Bream’s review said the guitarist’s “striking” nine-minute solo ran the gamut from weird space-age effects to flamenco speed-metal to deep stylized blues to rock minimalism.”
“He has masterful technique and a massive guitar vocabulary,” Bream added, a fitting summary of the talent Van Halen displayed on tour over the decades.
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