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Charlotte Bobcats Arena, Charlotte, N.C.
Thursday, Sept. 27
They opened with “You Really Got Me.” The supercharged Kinks cover was their first single almost 30 years ago, but it was even more exhilarating Thursday night as the rebuilt Van Halen came blazing across the stage before a sold-out crowd of frenzied classic rock fans in Charlotte, N.C.
It’s been more than two decades since David Lee Roth toured with Eddie and Alex Van Halen; and with Eddie’s teenage son Wolfgang on bass, the band was every bit as exciting as when it debuted in 1978.
It’s not a full-fledged reunion without original bassist Michael Anthony, but given the group’s volatile history, fans seemed blissfully unconcerned and just happy to see Roth back onstage with the Van Halen brothers. The charismatic frontman was equally ecstatic, beaming to the arena, “Well look at all the people here tonight!” Roth was a campy, lunatic master of ceremonies and in excellent voice all evening as he twirled around the stage and the runway that snaked out to the floor. Backed by a giant video screen, the members of Van Halen were larger-than-life, an aspect they lived up to for the 2 1/2-hour show.
They might be a little long in the tooth, but there is a timelessness in Van Halen’s music. VH hasn’t recorded with Roth in years, and songs from their multiplatinum 1978-84 catalog remain staples of rock radio. These churlish, melodic, guitar-driven confections have become legendary, and from every squealing note to every yelping chorus, the crowd was positively delirious as Van Halen rocked through such gems as “I’m the One,” “Runnin’ With the Devil,” “Romeo Delight,” “Somebody Get Me a Doctor” and “Beautiful Girls.” Roth was a lecherous, grinning harlequin in leather, kicking and screaming all night long. Age might have affected his hairline, but it hasn’t softened his edge; he’s still a bum in the sun who’s having fun, and he brought it all to Charlotte.
From start to finish the show was about Diamond Dave and Eddie Van Halen. The ultimate guitar hero was a living spectacle, bending and tapping strings on his various signature guitars. Shirtless and smiling the entire night, Eddie Van Halen is thrilling to watch; the man is a virtuoso who basically reinvented the wheel, guitar-wise, though he made it look effortless, especially during his solo late in the show.
Alex Van Halen delivered a drum solo, but his strengths were best met within the songs the band played. His 16-year-old nephew Wolfgang gave the songs the rock bottom and groove and filled Anthony’s place just fine. But much like Anthony before him — and perhaps because of the conspicuous nature of his presence (Anthony was not asked to join the tour) — the youngest Van Halen stayed out of the spotlight. Still, he played admirably and clearly has inherited his family’s musical genes.
Throughout the night, his father would run to play alongside of him or casually look over and smile. It was a treat to watch the two generations of Van Halens together.
There was hardly a misstep as the band played one audience favorite after another: “Everybody Wants Some,” “And the Cradle Will Rock,” “Unchained,” “(Oh) Pretty Woman.” Keyboards were tracked for “I’ll Wait,” but the group relied almost solely on the guitar histrionics its known for. Roth was a fuzzy mess during “Hot for Teacher,” as he seemed so eager to get to that “Hey, I heard ya missed us, we’re back!” line.
The band closed with an encore of its biggest hit, “Jump,” digitally piping in the bouncy synthesizer that carries the song. When the song was over, the band took a bow, but no one wanted the show to end. After 22 years, David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen were back onstage together rocking and rolling, and hopefully they will continue to do so for a long time. But come what may, for one perfect night in Charlotte, Van Halen was nothing short of spectacular.
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