Van Halen Up To Their Old Theatrical Tricks

Van Halen

Van Halen

LIVE: Van Halen
October 7, 2007
Air Canada Centre
Toronto, Ontario

Before Van Halen hit the stage, the hallways of the sold-out Air Canada Centre were ringing with an endless series of “Eddie! Eddie! Eddie!” chants. And, sure enough, his guitar theatrics would go on to melt many minds that night. But the real story of the night was two other Van Halen members — returning singer David Lee Roth and newly installed 16-year-old bassist Wolfgang Van Halen.

It’s taken 23 years of fits and miss-starts, but there was DLR waving a giant red flag when the curtain came down and Eddie ripped into the opening of their Kinks cover, “You Really Got Me.”

There was no discernible sign of the years of feuding and acrimony between Roth and Eddie that led to Diamond Dave’s two decade-long exile. Indeed, the two hugged and made multiple, pointed displays of bro-manship throughout the evening.

Roth dug deep into his bag of showy tricks all night. There were the obligatory staff twirling and spin kick exhibitions, a session of mic stand phantom baseball playing, bedazzley sequined jackets, top hats, harmonicas and a Razhel-worthy imitation of a motorcycle engine revving. In pretty much any other band, antics like this would quickly be considered irritating. But Roth’s role in Van Halen is still clear after all these years. He’s the trickster, the joker and the party maker, and it works to conceptual perfection against Eddie’s potent riffing and an endless series of songs about chicks ‘n’ rockin’ ‘n’ gettin’ unchained.

Eddie’s son Wolfgang joining the band is an entirely different and intriguing new element to Van Halen. VH traditionalists are bent out of shape by Eddie’s ousting of longtime bassist Michael Anthony in favour of his son. But, let’s face it, Halen are a family business.

So if anyone was going to replace Anthony, the fact that it’s an actual blood relation softens the blow. And besides, Eddie seems to really, really dig playing on stage with his son.

They bumped into each other, played from their knees together and ran around in a way that arguably very few fathers and teenage sons will ever have a chance to relate to in any type of scenario, let alone on a stage in front of thousands.

Better, though, was that Wolfgang seemed smart enough to know his place. VH2007 are definitely the Ed and Dave show, so, save for a run around a circular catwalk that extended into the crowd from the stage during “Atomic Punk” and a grandstanding platform moment to intro “Runnin’ With The Devil,” he stayed mostly in the background.

Sure, it’s fun to joke that if Wolfgang was still a virgin before the tour, he certainly wouldn’t be by the end of it. Or to suggest that when he turned 16, Eddie told him he’d have to start paying rent and get a real job, so he did. But the truth of it was that Wolfgang’s presence was entirely accepted by the audience — the drunken, wildly manic audience.
That audience had a lot to “yearrgghh!” and fist-pump about. Halen pretty much stuck to the hits all night, delivering a set list of familiar anthems.

“Everybody Wants Some” had a fun twist, with Roth segueing into The Who’s “Magic Bus” during the breakdown. Likewise, a shirtless Eddie looked remarkably limber and healthy (even though he’s still smoking cigarettes, apparently), and he riffed on Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water” in the midst of some guitar theatrics. These moments and excellent takes on “Jamie’s Crying,” “Little Dreamer” and “Unchained” had people literally stumbling over themselves in the aisles.

It was, however, the mega-hits that sealed the deal. A home stretch run of “Hot For Teacher,” “Panama” and “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” both showcased Eddie’s relentless guitar playing and Roth’s perfectly shameless frontwork. By the time the band hurled into “Jump,” their final song and biggest hit, Eddie hammered at a phantom keyboard with a free hand between playing, Roth ran around with a giant inflatable microphone and wore a captain’s hat, confetti rained from the ceiling, and wobbled fists were hoisted throughout the arena.

After just six dates on the tour, it’s impossible to predict if Roth and Eddie are going to keep it together, but there was no indication this night that Van Halen would be back-stepping any time soon. It’s safe to say the party is definitely on.

This review was originally published October 9, 2007 via Chart Communications.

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