"You're going to see some tears when they hit that stage," said Modesto, California's Matt Caramella as he waited for Van Halen with David Lee Roth to hit the stage for the first time since 1984 in Charlotte, North Carolina, last night. Sure enough, tears streamed down his face as the lights went down and Eddie Van Halen appeared on the darkened stage, shirtless and wearing faded green Army fatigue shorts and white sneakers, cranking out the first few riffs of the band's reconstituted Kinks cover "You Really Got Me." By the time Roth came out, wearing tight black leather pants, a polka-dotted shirt and white sports jacket with gaudy black embroidery, Caramella was in fist-pumping ecstasy. "These guys are my heroes," he shouted over the din, "the gods of rock & roll."
And for more than two hours, the gods delivered. From "You Really Got Me" to "Runnin' with the Devil," "Dance the Night Away," "Oh, Pretty Woman," "Unchained," "Hot for Teacher," "Ice Cream Man," "Panama," guitar-god solo "Eruption," "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love," "Jump" and about thirteen more classic Van Halen tunes, the band was in top form for their long-overdue reunion. "I'm not going to waste time BS-ing around tonight," Roth told the delighted, sold-out crowd of predominantly middle-aged guys in white- and blue-collar work clothes and gals who'd retrieved their Eighties bustiers for a night of original hair-metal nostalgia. But he was lying: Roth was at his BS best.
His hair may be shorter and crow's feet longer, but Diamond Dave is every bit the Vegas showman that he was two decades ago, when he left Van Halen for an ill-fated solo career that took him from cheesy bad to train-wreck worse. He showed his gift for gab -- and flamboyant duds -- from the get-go, imitating Mick Jagger and martial arts moves, smiling like a clown, riding a giant microphone. And despite old wounds, his bandmates seemed charmed by their new old lead singer. Eddie Van Halen, switching from his signature Peavey "Wolfgang" guitar to his old, red- and white-striped "Frankenstein," nuzzled up to Roth several times. And drummer Alex Van Halen, sporting his trademark white headband, pounded his kit with a constant smile. If original bassist Michael Anthony was missed at first, it wasn't long before Eddie's sixteen-year-old son, Wolfgang Van Halen, had the crowd in the palm of his hands. The teenaged slap-style bass player held his own with style, grace and grit, throwing out picks to the audience as he walked the catwalk into the crowd, his bass in hand, during "Atomic Punk." There were some bumps along the way, including a few times when Roth missed his vocal cues, but the audience could not have cared less.
All four members looked healthy and fit, particularly Eddie, who has gone from drug-addict weird to middle-age handsome since the original band's aborted reunion of 1996. Even young Wolfgang seemed to have lost some of the baby fat he showed in earlier photographs with the band. And then there was Diamond Dave, who has evolved from rock & roll cool to old-Vegas hip with style, grace and his eternally smart sense of flamboyant irony.
"Did this really happen?" Matt Caramella shouted as the house lights went up following the encore, "Jump." By then, his tears had mingled with the sweat running down his face from his buzz cut. "Man, that was like a fucking dream."
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