They didn't play their cover of "Where Have All the Good Times Gone." They did, however, show the New Jersey crowd a really good time.

By Brian Ives

“My enthusiasm outweighed my abilities…”

David Lee Roth was talking about his skills as a football player during his extended solo acoustic intro to “Ice Cream Man,” during which he paid tribute to Frank Gifford, and to football in general: “Football has everything to do with who I am,” he said, noting that he had posters of Gifford and Vince Lombardi on his wall as  kid, right next to Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan.  It sort of explains Van Halen‘s wide appeal: less creepy and less druggy their their ’70s and ’80s hard rock peers, Van Halen was loud guitar-based music that fit right in in the locker room.

Dave’s sermon came about three quarters of the way through Van Halen’s concert last night (August 9) at New Jersey’s PNC Bank Arts Center. This was David Lee Roth playing a “David Lee Roth solo”: there was a little acoustic guitar, a little harmonica and a lot of Dave being Dave. At other points in the concert, Edward Van Halen had a guitar solo; Alex Van Halen had a drum solo. The instrument that David Lee Roth excels at, of course, is wielding the personality of David Lee Roth. He does it well.

And the “enthusiasm > abilities” equation, it must be said, holds true for him today as a frontman. That’s not really a dig; you can’t expect a guy at 60 to be able to do the onstage jumps and flips that he did in his 20s. And I’m not saying that Dave’s “matured.” But he has adapted to the realities of being a middle aged dude. Instead of performing mind blowing athletic feats onstage while singing, he now spends more time mugging for the onstage cameras, and playing up his “char-AS-ma.” It’s like he’s become the Dave of the post-VH “Just a Gigolo” and “Yankee Rose” videos.

David Lee Roth (Maria Ives for Radio.com)

(Maria Ives for Radio.com) 

Related: Op-ED: Van Halen’s 1978 Debut Album Made Rock Entertaining Again

Vocally, he isn’t what he was either, which is the case for nearly every other iconic singer in their 50s or 60s. But here’s the thing: you can go see a cover band if you want to hear someone more closely approximate the band’s sound from the ’70s and ’80s. If you want to see the real deal, then go see it now, while Van Halen is still playing. Will it sound like the record? No, and that’s why you can play the record whenever you want to.

Ed and Wolfgang Van Halen (Maria Ives for Radio.com)

(Maria Ives for Radio.com) 

All that said, all three Van Halens are, remarkably enough, at the top of their game. Alex was solid on drums all night, and Edward blew minds, as always, with his lightning fingered playing. Also, despite his well-publicized health struggles, he looks amazing. Like, unfairly amazing.

Related: David Lee Roth Says This Cover of ‘Hot for Teacher’ Will Lower Your IQ

Dave and Ed seem to have a real rapport onstage, which is why I kept thinking about that head-scratching interview that Ed gave to Billboard a few weeks back, where he said of the singer, “He does not want to be my friend.” That just didn’t jibe with what we were seeing from the audience. There was a lot of smiling at each other, back slapping, and Dave even grabbed an inflatable Ed Van Halen guitar from the audience and jammed with his bandmate. Are they not friends? Well, they do a great job playing friends on stage. But they sure seem like they’re having fun.

Ed Van Halen and David Lee Roth (Maria Ives for Radio.com)

(Maria Ives for Radio.com) 

Wolfgang Van Halen is the band’s secret weapon; however you feel about their firing of founding member Michael Anthony, you have to acknowledge that Wolf’s playing is on point; he’s also the guy who selects the setlist, so we had him to thank for bringing non-hits into the show including opener “Light Up The Sky,” “Romeo Delight,” “Drop Dead Legs” and “In a Simple Rhyme.”  (Much of the rest of the set was the more expected hits, along with “She’s the Woman” from their 2012 reunion album, A Different Kind of Truth.) Ed’s comments about Michael Anthony’s backing vocals in the aforementioned Billboard  interview seem unnecessarily cruel (“That’s a blend of Mike’s voice and my voice” on the Van Halen records, he said, “It’s not just him”); but it has to be said that Ed and Wolfgang do a great job on backing vocals.

Van Halen by Maria Ives

(Maria Ives for Radio.com ) 

So, when Van Halen come to your town, do you want to go? That’s the question. The answer will be based on how much you expect them to be exactly like the Van Halen of 1978-1984. You have every right to decide not to go to the show, of course. But you’d be missing a great time. And besides, can you do everything you did 30+ years ago?

If you do go to see them, though, make it a point to get there early to catch opening act the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band; like VH, they’re named after their mostly non-singing guitarist. And like EVH, KWS blows minds with his playing; in his case, it’s a much more down-the-middle blues style, influenced by Stevie Ray Vaughan (and Double Trouble drummer Chris Layton is in his band). Singer Noah Hunt is like the opposite of Roth: a great singer, but without much stage presence. He seems happy to yield the attention to his boss. It’s probably the way Ed Van Halen wishes things went in his own band. Of course, if they did, Van Halen would be a lot less exciting.

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