Van Halen Deliver Showy Performance at Private L.A. Gig (Video)

The iconic rock band, whose new album, "A Different Kind of Truth," is due Feb. 7, pulled out all the stops for an industry-heavy showcase at Hollywood's Henson Studios.
Wynter Mitchell

As someone who never got a chance to see Van Halen “back in the day,” Wednesday night’s private show at Henson Studios was one heck of a treat. There, in a converted space that held several hundred industry revelers, smack-dab in the middle of the large and storied recording complex (where, legend has it, the ghost of Karen Carpenter still lives), original members Eddie Van Halen, David Lee Roth and Alex Van Halen, along with Eddie’s son Wolfgang on bass (replacing Michael Anthony), shredded, jumped, wailed, joked and most consistently, smiled throughout the 13-song set which ran well over an hour.

Musically, nothing about the performance disappointed. The band kicked out the classics gingerly (“Everybody Wants Some,” “Dance the Night Away,” “Running With the Devil,” "Hot For Teacher"), offered a cover (opener “You Really Got Me”) and a couple new songs (“Tattoo,” “She’s the Woman”) from their forthcoming album, A Different Kind of Truth (out Feb. 7).

Eddie Van Halen’s incredible guitar-playing skills are still a sight to behold. David Lee Roth’s voice, possibly spared debilitating damage because he took so many years off from performing, sounded strong and perfectly on pitch. Alex Van Halen mightily held his own from the back while Wolfie on stage right was particularly impressive, taking away much of the anticipated disappointment over not having a proper full reunion of all four original members.

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The audience responded in kind, especially during the beloved "Panama," which had TMZ’s resident goldilocks Max Hodges flailing wildly and bordering on disruptive -- in the most entertaining way. Meanwhile, outside, invited guests got to enjoy three open bars and a corral of food trucks, offering everything from free tater tots to hot dogs to vegan tacos.

As visuals go, the band lined the walls of the C-shaped makeshift venue with floor-to-ceiling LED video screens, which displayed giant projections of the guys both live in the moment and captured from previous rehearsals. Confetti was blasted over the crowd, Vegas showgirls and a marching band of drummers were brought out for “Jump,” the night’s closer (see video below -- for photos, check out Live Nation's twitter feed, which was posting pics throughout the night), but David Lee Roth kept up much of the energy all on his own, regaling the crowd with stories of his EMT days and taunting them with banter like this: “A lot of you are on prescription meds tonight; the other half of you actually own a prescription for those meds.”

This is where things got confusing. Roth’s frequent mentions of drinking, drugs and partying might make one think these guys are still going at it hard, when, in fact, all four are said to be sober. What’s with all the boozy bravado? The only explanation I could glean from those in the know was that it was all for show. Indeed, that’s what this industry confab felt like: an orchestrated promotional dance, not so much a rock concert.

VIDEO: Van Halen Premieres First New Song With David Lee Roth in 16 Years 

Also baffling: the ear-to-ear grins. For a guy who’s been described as perpetually angry and difficult, Eddie Van Halen sure didn’t give off an air of darkness. To the contrary, his perma-grin coupled with a flamingo pink tee painted the picture of happy-go-lucky dad, who happens to be a world-class guitar god.

And why were they being so nice to the press anyway? Showering us with cocktails (no whiskey or any brown liquor, curiously) and food, even dessert. Everyone knows that after 40 years, the band, and Eddie in particular, detest doing interviews and, in fact, turn down most requests. To me, that says, here’s a band that won’t suck up to the media in the hopes of generating sales, and I respect that. (Worth noting: it’s been proven time and time again that press does not necessarily lead to sales, but awareness still plays a big role in first week numbers.) It also makes me think that whether they move 200,000 units or 20,000, what really matters to the band is whether their core fan base -- no matter how big or small -- is happy with the music. I have no idea whether this is actually the case, but that, of course, is how it should be.  

So to quote an ad from Van Halen’s day, is it real or is it Memorex? And does it actually matter if being entertained is the end goal? In pondering the “showiness” of this gig, which included a stage-wide Best Buy logo that appeared intermittently, my conclusion is that it’s not fair to judge them on it. Weird industry crowds where more eyeballs are on cell phone screens than the iconic band right in front of them does not compare to the feel of an arena and an audience who shelled out their hard-earned dollars for three hours of concert goodness.

No, this was the Cliff’s Notes version of Van Halen -- quick and to the point: we want your column inches, your unique views, your airtime, your influence. Just don’t make us talk to you one-on-one.

Twitter: @shirleyhalperin