Review: Van Halen at Perfect Vodka Amphitheatre

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Van Halen’s critically acclaimed 2012 record, A Different Kind of Truth, saw the band come full circle 40 years into its existence. On that album, lead singer and human slinky David Lee Roth properly completed his reunion with his old band, a journey that began in 2007 and led them to what seems to be a very successful 2015 tour. He and the Van Halen family made a stop last night at Perfect Vodka Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach, and clearly the joy and the magic were still there for everyone involved.

It was truly a family affair. Van Halen is now made up of three-quarters of Van Halen men: Eddie, the patriarch; Alex, the faithful brother; and Wolfgang, the prodigal son. Joining them along the way once more is Diamond Dave, the wacky, once-estranged lunatic cousin.

Roth began the show by immediately striking a visual contrast to his fellow musicians, walking out in a top that sparkled brighter than all of the crown jewels. Eddie and Wolfgang, meanwhile, sported jeans and t-shirts. However, that’s not to say that Van Halen on the whole don’t know what an arena-busting rock show should both sound and look like.

Between the wall of speakers in the background, the triple, massive arches of cascading lights overhead, and Alex Van Halen’s gleaming Taj Mahal of a drum kit, everything about Van Halen and their setup was brash, over the top, and felt like it should be on fire — all the time.

The veteran quartet wasted no time dusting off the classics, breaking out “Running With The Devil” two songs in. Eddie and Wolfgang worked their guitar and bass, respectively, providing backing vocals to an invigorated Roth, who summed up his crackling energy with, “In this humidity, I’m feeling young, skinny, and fucking dangerous.”

Clad in a black and yellow disco outfit, Roth had the vitality of a man half his age, even performing the occasional split. Before the end of the night, he’d go through more costume changes than a Broadway musical, an indication that this truly is a spectacle meant to be experienced live. It’s been three decades since their seminal LP, 1984, but Van Halen are still a righteous party band that just so happen to employ one of modern rock’s most venerated guitarists and a convoluted, sometimes ugly, personal history.

Eventually, Roth shed his shiny jackets and sweat-soaked scarves and went nearly topless, perhaps because of the sweltering warmth of the evening, or perhaps as an ode to all the strippers who have made a living over the years pole dancing and strutting around catwalks to a number of Van Halen hits.

One of the more remarkable things about the show was how this band, with these two strong personalities, EVH and Roth, were able to not just co-exist on stage, but to make amends and fluidly shine together. Even more impressive was that, although Van Halen are the hard-charging, runaway-freight-train forefathers to the detritus that is 90s cock rock, even through all of their macho posturing, EVH and Roth never come off as anything less than badass and charming. In fact, when Roth channeled his goofiest, 80s wild man persona, it only added to the aura of the band, illustrating that Van Halen are larger than life entertainment.

During Eddie’s screeching guitar solos (of which there were many; honestly, the man never met a guitar note or pedal effect he didn’t want to stuff into a set), Roth found plenty to do with his hands and feet. Sometimes he’d swing the mic stand like a samurai sword; other times he’d prance around, arms bent like an Egyptian hieroglyphic. The solos (including Eddie’s, Alex’s drum solo, and a personal, sit-down story time session with Roth and his harmonica) acted as short intermissions. The show was set up almost like a play, split up into acts — meaning, there was no real encore, so to speak. Still, that didn’t mean the crowd couldn’t feel the surge of electricity as “Ain’t Talking ‘bout Love,” “Panama,” and the obvious final jam, “Jump,” all drifted closer and closer.

Although the Sammy Hagar era produced more charting singles, this — the original incarnation of Van Halen (minus longtime bassist Michael Anthony) — is the most beloved. It’s the reason why a band comprised of men in their early 60s (mostly) can sell out an amphitheatre on a Tuesday night. It was a good-natured, positive show led by sometime stand-up comedian Roth (his impressions of famous rock stars were worth the price of admission alone) and guitar virtuoso Eddie Van Halen. Their appeal stretches to both fans dressed like cover band singers as well as all of their head-banging children and, barring yet another breakup, could very well remain that way for years to come.

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