If there was ever a rock n' roll band that was made for the stage of a massive arena, it's Van Halen. The ultimate hard rock party band has been wowing audiences since the late 1970s and is among the few outfits that's survived the near impossible feat of retaining their popularity after undergoing a switch in lead vocalists. Amazing when considering the magnitude and the larger-than-life persona of original frontman David Lee Roth, who, together with the Van Halen brothers (Alex on drums and Eddie on guitar) and former bassist Michael Anthony, miraculously formed a slick, tight rock machine that appealed equally to hormone-riddled dudes as to brash, sassy chicks. The unlikely combination of Roth's charisma, Eddie's guitar wizardry and dozens of clever catchy rock anthems was enough to catapult Van Halen into super-stardom and propel them to occupying a significant portion of the record collections of most kids who attended high school in the 1980s. [Text by Gabe, photos from the soundboard by Phil.]
But this is a different era ... decades have passed since DLR and the boys mugged it up for the cameras and had their videos on heavy rotation on MTV. Does Van Halen's brand of cheeky humor still appeal to its core 40-something followers? Based on Saturday night's triumphant and LOUD rock party on the stage of the Tampa Bay Times Forum and the deafening response from the nearly 12,000 in attendance, the answer would be a resounding "Hell yeah!"
A thin, fit Roth wasted no time in displaying his charm and magnetism to the eager crowd at the Forum. Appearing on stage wearing checkered shirt, dark vest and sparkly pants, David instantly threw the party into high gear by launching into the set opening "Unchained," a cut off the finest VH album of them all, 1981's Fair Warning. Instantly, the moms and dads who filled the stands were transported back to the days of skipping school, chugging Boone's Farm and cruising the neighborhood in dad's Buick while Van Halen cassettes blared from the tinny car stereo. And the energetic vibe and spirit of the night's festivities never let up. For nearly two hours, Van Halen took the entire arena back on a high-speed time travel trip through their adolescence — and what a ride it was. Make no mistake: this was no cheesy nostalgia revue. This was VH 2012, a well-oiled and white-hot powerhouse. Material from the band's latest reunion album, A Different Kind of Truth (their first with Roth since the multi-platinum 1984 was released 28 years ago) sounded right at home alongside the older, more familiar stuff. Staples like "Runnin' With the Devil" and "Dance the Night Away" sounded as powerful and energetic as the more current "China Town" and "The Trouble With Never."
The band now features Eddie's 21-year old bassist son Wolfgang (replacing original bassist Michael Anthony), and the new kid on the block has seemingly helped to revitalize the veteran rockers. Filling in nicely with his own backing vocals to complement Roth's, the second generation Van Halen seems like a natural shoe-in for the band, coming off as comfortable and confident on the huge sprawling stage that was dwarfed by a gargantuan backdrop video screen featuring crystal clear projected images of the band all night.
It's tough to name another hard rock band that reached the heights VH did in their heyday and Saturday night's show served as a glaring reminder of the long line of FM radio hits the band scored at their height and the unabashed sense of fun and frivolity they always brought to the table. For many, getting to hear "Everybody Wants Some" and "Hot For Teacher" performed live in all their horny, suggestive glory was a reminder of a totally different age of concert-going. Flashbacks of trekking out to the sweaty, jam-packed Lakeland Civic Center no doubt entered the consciousness of more than a few in attendance. And while Roth doesn't (or can't?) throw as many high-legged kicks or jump as often as he once did, his magnetic stage presence didn't suffer one iota. The natural-born clown is as much a rock singer as he is a Vaudeville-era entertainer. Never one to waste a moment while onstage, David divided his schtick between mambo moves, funky chicken struts, moonwalk-like slides and hip gyrations. And when he toughed it out and unloaded one of his now-sporadic trademark kicks, the move was instantly replayed (in slow motion, no less) on the jumbo screen behind him. A bit of a hokey move but lapped up nonetheless by the fired-up crowd.
A couple of minor wardrobe changes (including full-on coveralls) for Roth, a mind-bending guitar solo from Eddie and a fun drum solo from Alex added to the spectacle but paled in comparison to the show-ending confetti explosion that filled the arena for "Jump," the band's biggest-selling and most familiar hit. Roth mightily waved an enormous checkered flag to wrap up the evening and the feeling was one of accomplishment; not only signaling the end of a dazzling show but the long and sometimes treacherous road filled with feuds, break-ups and animosity the band has seemingly traveled down and conquered as well.
A 45-minute set by opening act, funk/R&B pioneers Kool & the Gang was met with wild applause and cheers from a crowd that was obviously eager to have a good time. "Ladies Night," "Get Down On It" and "Celebration" (among plenty more well-known hits) were eagerly received by the antsy crowd. What might have appeared to be a questionable decision as far as selection for a show opener on paper turned into a stroke of mastery in the flesh. Kool & the Gang's brand of smooth, horn-filled grooves served as the perfect warm-up for the hard rock hysteria that was to follow. Few seats were occupied during Kool's set on an evening that saw most of the crowd standing up and getting down for the duration of the entire night. The days of standing up during a rock show and enjoying the hell out of it without some drippy buzzkill behind you asking you to "SIT DOWN!!" were back … at least for one night, anyway. And judging from the reaction of this crowd, those days are sorely missed.
Runnin' With the Devil
She's the Woman
Everybody Wants Some!!
Somebody Get Me a Doctor
Hear About It Later
Oh, Pretty Woman
You Really Got Me
The Trouble with Never
Dance the Night Away
Hot for Teacher
Women In Love
Outta Love Again
Ice Cream Man
Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love
Tyler- I can't believe how talented of a writer you are. This article was beautifully…
Great interview! Give the interviewer a full time job! He's great!
The DJ was actually The Castle's very own DJ Tom Gold :)
Fabulous review Gabe! Too bad I missed it.