The Van Halen recipe has changed.
In their heyday, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers were equal parts David Lee Roth showmanship and Eddie Van Halen artistry. At their show at Madison Square Garden last night, it was clear the balance had shifted to Van Halen. (They return for another show Thursday.)
The biggest sign was in Roth himself, who orbited around Van Halen most of the night, as if he was doting on the legendary guitarist. While Roth would occasionally break free for a rare roundhouse kick or a more common pelvic thrust, he would then return to Van Halen's side.
It's probably a good strategy. Roth had his struggles with technology -- the loss of his in-ear monitor during “Dance the Night Away” led to his harmonies going horribly awry -- and he messed up the lyrics to the new song “China Town,” from the new “A Different Kind of Truth” album, so badly that he couldn't cover it. “Quickly, to the chorus!” he said, as a solution. Roth held it together, though, and showed how the reunited band is now strong enough to withstand a few issues.
More importantly, it's hard not to be drawn in by Eddie Van Halen these days. As strong as Alex Van Halen's thunderous drumming was and as good as Wolfgang Van Halen's bass sounds (his backing vocals are even more improved, though still not quite at Michael Anthony levels), Eddie Van Halen has always been a wonder to watch.
These days, he's also a joy -- hopping around in a circle doing his own little happy dance, offering thumbs-up signs and tossing picks into the crowd after solos.
His solo at the end of the show was a thrilling mix of melody and noise, of technique and flash. He did it time and time again, filling the sort of hollow single “Tattoo” with fire and knocking out “Ice Cream Man” or even “Hot for Teacher” as memorably as he did back in the day.
So far, this new Van Halen formula is working just fine.
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SETLIST: You Really Got Me / Runnin’ With the Devil / She’s The Woman / Romeo Delight / Tattoo / Everybody Wants Some/ Somebody Get Me a Doctor / China Town / Hear About It Later / Pretty Woman / Drum Solo / Unchained / The Trouble With Never / Dance The Night Away / I’ll Wait / Hot For Teacher / Women In Love / Girl Gone Bad / Beautiful Girls / Ice Cream Man / Panama / Guitar Solo / Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love / Jump