Van Halen at the Pepsi Center, 5/24/12
Evidently, 1982 was a very good year for David Lee Roth. "You're taking pictures here tonight, hot stuff?" the Van Halen frontman asked a woman in the front row in the middle of "Panama." "What? Oh, you want to make a sex tape. I'll tell you what, girlfriend, you can save that Kardashian shit. I made my first sex tape back in 1982. And except for the two hours I spent on stage with the brothers here, I was naked the whole motherfucking tour. Yeah, man! That was a good year. That was a very good year. I slept with every good-looking girl who had two legs in her pants. Even slept with an amputee. She was missing a forearm, but I think it still counts. What are you laughing at? I'm capable of a relationship. I'm not insensitive. Hey, I'm only missing a few parts. What, are you going to vote me off the motherfucking island? I don't think so."
But while 1982 might have been good year for Roth and an ideal time to see one of the world's greatest rock bands, thirty years later it's a slightly different ballgame. Roth doesn't quite have the pipes he used to. As many have noted about previous shows, Roth can't quite hit the high notes like the old days and mumbled his way through lines here and there, only to be saved at times by vocal harmonies by Eddie Van Halen and his 21-year-old son, Wolfgang, who also did a noble job holding down bass lines.
The guys in Van Halen recently postponed 31 dates so they could "recharge their batteries." For their part, the Van Halen boys brought a hell of a rock show -- Eddie, Alex and Wolfgang were all in fine form for the most part. Roth seemed to be the weaker link. At times, he seemed to be trying to compensate with antics, the occasional karate kick, James Brown spin and he even did the splits -- which was pretty damn impressive, both that he's still able to pull off that sort of move and that it didn't tear the crotch out of his skin-tight pants. Just the same, dude managed to give a fairly decent performance, hamming it up, sporting a cheesy grin most of the show.
While five or six roadies sprayed, mopped and swept the center stage floor prior to the show, and even poured some sort of powder on the floor, Roth wasn't totally happy with it. The band had already turned out energetic takes on "Unchained" and "Runnin' With the Devil" to kick off the show, but during "Romeo Delight" Roth used his jacket and mike stand to wipe down the floor, which didn't quite do the trick.
As drummer Alex Van Halen kicked off the heavy tom intro to "Everybody Wants Some!!" Roth said, "You people deserve the very best here, and they fucked the floor up. Hold on one second. I'm going to make this perfectly right for ya here. You're gonna get a show like you never fucking saw. Are you with me so far here? Because I hear the drummer talking. Yeah, I can do their job. You bet. This is how I fucking started, and I'm never leaving. There we go. This is for the dipshit who wasted all of this good audience's fucking time. Yeah, baby."
After he wiped down the stage floor some more with a towel under his foot, the band kicked out a fiery take on "Somebody Get Me a Doctor," with Eddie and Wolfgang's backing vocals sounding better than Roth's. While the near-capacity Pepsi Center crowd ate up classics like "Oh, Pretty Woman," "You Really Got Me" and "And the Cradle Will Rock...," folks were noticeably less receptive to the four songs from Van Halen's latest effort, A Different Kind of Truth.
Kool & the Gang actually seemed to have gotten the crowd a little more fired up than Van Halen did, locking into heavy grooves with cuts like "Jungle Boogie," "Ladies Night" and "Celebration," which had people dancing. Aside from exuberant cheers after most of Van Halen's songs and the occasional fist pump or head nod, the crowd seemed a little lifeless, save, of course, for the more energetic cuts like "Hot for Teacher" and "Dance the Night Away."
One of the highlights of the show was Eddie's nine-minute guitar solo near the end of the show where he dipped into "Eruption" and "Cathedral." Eddie did a fair amount of shredding throughout, but this was the centerpiece. While sitting on the stairs leading up to Alex's drums, Eddie ripped into some super-fast tremolo picking while a close-up on his hands was projected on the giant screen behind him. There was no question why those hands have influenced thousands of guitarists over the last four decades.
After ripping through "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love," the guys smiled and hugged each other, and without leaving the stage and coming back for an encore, they closed out the night with "Jump," while confetti canons blasted over the stage and Roth twirled his mike stand like some demented drum major.
Personal Bias: Being a guitarist and a fan of Van Halen for the last three decades, just watching Eddie Van Halen was something special.
By The Way: While the guy standing next to me seemed to absolutely love every minute of the show, a guy in the row in front of me was really disappointed in the show and said that Roth really only "sang" about two songs.
Random Detail: There were quite a few parents with their kids.
Van Halen Pepsi Center - 5/24/12 Denver, CO
Unchained 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 Oh, Pretty Woman (drum solo) You Really Got Me The Trouble with Never Dance the Night Away I'll Wait And the Cradle Will Rock... Hot for Teacher Women In Love... Beautiful Girls Ice Cream Man Panama (guitar solo) Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love Jump
Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.