Van Halen at Xcel Energy Center, 5/19/12

Van Halen
Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul
Saturday, May 19, 2012

View a slideshow here.

The David Lee Roth-led version of Van Halen is a throwback to a time when arena rock actually rocked. Seven albums worth of great material, combined with an apparently sobered-up Eddie Van Halen sounding better than ever these days, meant the 14,000 shelling out pretty pennies to see three Van Halens and Roth rock the Xcel had little reason to doubt that Saturday night would be a lot of fun.

And you know what, it was a lot of fun, even if Father Time has taken a toll on Diamond Dave.

Roth, now pushing 60, still puts on a great show and carries himself onstage with the same I-love-chicks-and-they-love-me bravado as always. Yes, the reports are true -- he can't hit the high notes like he used to and faded toward the end of Saturday night's approximately two hour set, presumably due to fatigue. But you know what? With Eddie making his guitar sing and scream with each pick-flick, Dave's struggles were barely noticeable. Dave is the window dressing, but Eddie is the gorgeous vista that makes in-concert Van Halen such a fist-pumping pleasure.

Van Halen at Xcel Energy Center, 5/19/12
Photo by Steve Cohen

Eddie opened Van Halen's set with one of the most epic guitar riffs of all time -- the foot-stomping lick from "Unchained." That segued into "Runnin' With the Devil," which also features one of the most legendary riffs in rock history. No Van Hagar or Van Cherone tunes were played -- just the ball-busters from the seven tremendous albums fronted by Dave, including four tunes from this year's as-rockin'-as-they-ever-were A Different Kind of Truth. In a testament to just how good the new album is, I can say with a straight face that it would've actually been nice to hear a couple more of the new songs.

Eddie and drummer Alex Van Halen sound like they just got off a time machine from 1980. Wolfgang Van Halen, Eddie's son and Van Halen's bass player since 2007, doesn't provide the same sort of endearing drunkeness that fans of whiskey-bottle-bass-player Michael Anthony came to love, but is probably more of a player than Anthony ever was and does a fine job filling the low end. And having Kool & the Gang open the show with an hour of feel-good funk? Brilliant. The energy in the Xcel was just right when Eddie ran on stage and started doing what he was put on Earth to do -- entertain the masses with his guitar playing.

Of course, reports circulated late last week that Van Halen is postponing the second part of their summer tour. Rolling Stone cited "sources" saying that the band 'hates each other,' which wouldn't surprise anyone given Eddie and Dave's acrimonious history. The band didn't address the situation during Saturday's show, but seemed to be getting along swimmingly on stage, and Dave, in a PR video filmed "in the woods north of Minneapolis and St. Paul" on Saturday and released yesterday, suggests fatigue is the reason they're taking a break but vows they'll come back to complete the tour.

After hearing Dave's mostly fried voice on Saturday night, his account of the postponement seems more likely than the 'Van Halens and Dave are no longer getting along' story. But you know what? Dave's voice may be largely fried, yet as long as Eddie remains capable of shredding guitar strings with his Godly playing, paying a pretty penny to see David Lee Roth and the boys will remain money well spent.

Critic's bias: Van Halen was the first band I seriously got into when I was young and I've been a lifelong fan of the Roth-era material. Van Hagar? Too poppy, too sensitive. Give me the no-apologies, sex-fueled Dave stuff any day of the week. I also saw the band at Target Center during their initial reunion tour back in 2007. That was a great show, and Saturday's was probably a little better -- you can tell the three Van Halens and Roth have been playing together now for a half-decade, and Wolfgang is visibly more comfortable on stage with his dad and his uncle than he was the first time around.

In the end, there were few surprises during Van Halen's set, and that was probably a good thing. Fans came to tilt heads back, stomp feet and bask in the glow of Eddie's glory, and everybody had ample opportunity to do just that while hearing all their favorite VH tunes. In other words, we got what we paid for and went home happy.

The crowd: The David Lee Roth-led incarnation of Van Halen first broke up during the early days of the Reagan Administration, so what do you expect, man? Lots of middle-aged folks. Our seats were on the club level, which took away from the visuals a little bit, as there was a short lag between what we were seeing and what we heard. But thankfully, the stage was backdropped by a large video screen, so we could all see Diamond Dave's I-can-still-pull-this-shit-off-despite-being-nearly-60 leg kicks and Eddie's orgasm faces as if we were standing just feet away from the band. And though my memory is a little bit hazy, the collective level of drunkeness seemed pretty high by the end of the night, despite pints of beer costing (gulp) $9.50. But, really, how could anybody resist running to buy a beer after listening to Unchained morph into the equally timeless "Runnin' With the Devil"? Van Halen, unlike Van Hagar, plays rock n' roll that makes you want to drink... which is exactly why we decided to cab it from Minneapolis to and from the show. Because really, who wants to be the DD for Van Halen's once-every-five-years appearance in the Twin Cities? We look forward to 2017.

Set list:

Runnin' With the Devil
She's the Woman
Romeo Delight
Everybody Wants Some
Somebody Get Me a Doctor
China Town
Hear About It Later
Oh, Pretty Woman
Alex's drum solo
You Really Got Me
The Trouble with Never
And the Cradle Will Rock
Dance the Night Away
I'll Wait / Hot for Teacher
Women In Love
Beautiful Girls
Ice Cream Man
Eddie's guitar solo
Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love


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