Irvine Meadows Amphitheater
By now, longtime Van Halen fans are accustomed to expecting shenanigans to happen between the band members. Throughout the band's tumultuous 40-year career, there's been enough partying and in-fighting that many of today's bands couldn't accomplish collectively, nevertheless as one entity. Yet Van Halen has managed to survive three singers and two bassists to remain one of the last remaining monsters of rock, if not dinosaurs.
A few weeks ago, that didn't seem possible. Legendary–and ornery–guitarist Eddie Van Halen gave a rare interview with Billboard that was incindiary even by Van Halen standards. Calling out current and former singers David Lee Roth, Sammy Hagar (to a lesser extent) and Gary Cherone and former bassist Michael Anthony, that piece could have easily thawed relations with the guitarist and anyone without the last name of Van Halen. Knowing the history of the band, that could have easily derailed this tour, but alas, it didn't.
Playing a set that veered from hits to obscurities they hadn't played in a long time–if ever– the power quartet rumbled through a two-plus hour set. Some of the songs included the group's middling 2012 release A Different Kind of Truth that was across the board as Roth's vocals. Starting strong before petering out midway through the set beginning during "I'll Wait," Diamond Dave was as jovial as ever. For much of the set, he and Eddie Van Halen seemed to be joking around like two old chums, laughing and smiling like they enjoyed each other's company, a far cry from the recent biting comments the guitarist dished out.
Hearing deep cuts from Women and Children First and Fair Warning were a delight, as was drummer Alex Van Halen's impeccable drumming. In fact, over the band's history, the elder Van Halen has been an underrated steadying influence. Even as others' playing has wavered, Alex has been the band's rock.
Even as Roth's vocals fluttered, his stories about the band's past (including dishing on the legendary brown M&Ms rider) were worth every up-and-down moment. At times you could be excused if you were worried he'd pull a muscle in his back due to his karate kicks, which let's face it, weren't the same as they were in the early '80s. Yet, Roth's hamminess managed to keep the crowd standing and smiling as they digested another slice of nostalgia. His showmanship can be summarized by the assorted jackets he wore over the course of the set, which was at least a handful.
With the band's set geared only towards Roth-era tunes (it would have been amazing to hear Roth sing "Why Can't This Be Love" and "Right Now" to really shock the crowd into silence), it's easy to see why the night's real MVP was one of the band's namesakes. Sobriety has done wonders for Eddie Van Halen's guitar playing. Mixing precision and fury, Van Halen channeled his earlier frenetic energy and was at his peak during his late set solo.
Unlike other reunion tours, this incarnation of Van Halen seems to be really enjoying themselves on-stage. Maybe it's because Eddie enjoys playing with his son/bassist Wolfgang, but no matter the reason behind the band's summer tour, it seems to be drama-free. At least for now. As Van Halen's history has shown in the past, enjoy the band while you can because there may not be a tomorrow.