After Van Halen’s Vancouver show the jury’s still out on whether Dave or Sammy rule



By Steve Newton

The vast majority of people at last week’s (December 5) Van Halen show appeared to be males between the ages of 30 and 50, eager to reconnect with the unbridled guitar-rock noise that erupted straight outta Pasadena when David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen hooked up. I was hoping to relive that late-’70s/early-’80s vibe too, so I brought along a buddy I used to hang with back in the day, when skunk weed, Baby Duck, and Van Halen II were a triple threat to our already scarce brain cells.

The show started off strongly, with Roth staking out a ramp above Alex Van Halen’s drum kit, waving a huge red flag while Eddie churned out his famous take on the riff from the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”. Sporting a yellow version of the matador-style bolero jacket he’s been partial to of late, Roth strutted around the stage looking so elated you’d have sworn he’d just been handed a platinum membership card to the Hair Club for Men.

Two songs later, he donned a red top hat for “Runnin’ With the Devil”, another ear-busting gem from Van Halen’s self-titled 1978 debut, glancing at an imaginary wristwatch while crooning “I live my life like there’s no tomorrow.”

Next up was “Romeo Delight”, one of the quartet’s more forgettable ditties, and green lasers kicked in as if to make up for its aural deficiencies. These weren’t mind-blowing lasers though, and their ineffectiveness was in line with the show’s other drawbacks. The staging was basic, the lights no great shakes, and the sound passable. Folks who had paid upwards of $160 deserved better.

What they were mainly shelling out for was the chance to see Roth back in the lineup for the first time in 20 years, replacing his replacement, Sammy Hagar. Despite the fact that Eddie couldn’t stop grinning the whole time, it didn’t seem as if there was any deep connection between the long-lost bandmates. Roth’s vocals were weak in spots; perhaps the massive reunion tour has sapped his vitality. He was much more of a powerhouse a few years back, when he played the Orpheum as a solo artist.

While not energetic, both Roth and Eddie VH looked in shape. The shirtless Eddie was the picture of sinewy strength. The same couldn’t be said of his teenaged son, Wolfgang, who handled the bass and backup vocals normally assigned to long-time member Michael Anthony. But so what if the kid could stand to shed some baby fat? He’s 16 and he’s in Van Halen.

It would have been cool to hear Roth tackle a tune or two from Van Halen’s Hagar era instead of padding the set with such mediocre numbers as “Mean Street” and “So This Is Love?” After a tedious drum solo–is there any other kind?–things improved with the dynamic “Unchained”, the smouldering “I’ll Wait”, the ribald “Hot for Teacher”, and the intense “Little Dreamer”.

When Eddie was left alone on-stage for his own extended solo, he repeatedly twiddled his volume knob to mimic the sound of a string section, apparently forgetting that nobody wanted to hear the sound of a string section.

As expected, the group encored with its biggest hit, “Jump”, but by then I was already pondering the question that has raged among Van Halen fans for decades. After this unspectacular gig, I’d say the jury’s still out on whether Dave’s the best or Sammy rules.

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