Despite Van Halen‘s many reunion tours over the past 12 years, the classic David Lee Roth lineup of the band hasn’t actually performed in public since September 7th, 1984 when the 1984 tour wrapped up in Turin, Italy. The 2004 tour featured Sammy Hagar, while every show since 2007 has been with David Lee Roth but not bassist Michael Anthony. It’s been a frustrating situation for fans, and even for Roth himself. “We have at our fingertips is arguably one of the greatest high tenor voices ever – that was in Michael Anthony,” he told Rolling Stone in 2013. “I would always look forward to that reunion.”
There was a single moment in time that the classic four-man lineup did reunite in public: The 1996 MTV Video Music Awards. The group had recently parted ways with Sammy Hagar after a dispute over, of all things, the Twister soundtrack. David Lee Roth was brought back to record a couple of songs for a new compilation album, and on September 4th, 1996 they shocked the crowd at Radio City Music Hall by presenting the Best Male Video Award. “We have to make an announcement,” Roth told the crowd. “We have to address a subject here. This is the first time we’ve actually stood onstage together in over a decade.”
Roth was going off the teleprompter, and Eddie Van Halen’s body language speaks volumes. They weren’t out in public for more than 30 seconds and Roth was already annoying him. They then had an awkward hug that had the entire theater cheering, but then Roth cut off Michael Anthony and again took over the mic. “Have you noticed how things have changed a lot since the last time we were up here?” he asked the crowd. “It used to be, ‘I Want My MTV!’ and now it’s like, ‘Gimme your fucking MTV or I’ll blow your head off man.” Eddie than physically removed Roth from the podium, but even without a live mic, he continued to thrust his hips and do everything possible to soak up attention.
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Beck won the award for “Where It’s At.” It’s customary for award presenters to stand back quietly while the winner speaks, but Roth stood directly behind Beck and proceeded to shimmy around while grinning like a madman. They walked offstage together and everyone presumed a reunion tour was about to be announced. After all, that same year Kiss came out in full makeup at the Grammys to announce their big reunion tour. The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and Page & Plant were all on the road. Van Halen was the obvious next 1970s superstar act to follow.
No reunion tour came, however, and months later Eddie and Alex Van Halen went on MTV to explain what happened. “I felt his onstage antics were embarrassing and disrespectful to Beck,” said Eddie. “Backstage he basically spit in my face. We get shuffled off to the first mob press conference and everyone was yelling and screaming questions and Dave wasn’t answering any of them. I just kinda walked up to him and say, ‘Look, here’s what is happening. Two songs for Best Of Volume One. Warner Bros. would like us to do two videos and that is it. If you think we’re going on tour in the summer, forget it. We’re not going to go out there and take your money. If we ever do a tour with Roth in the future we’ll have to write and record a new album. Also, I’m getting a new hip on December 6th, so that’s going to throw a wrench in the works.'”
According to Eddie, this splash of cold water didn’t sit well with Roth. “All of sudden his vibe changed,” said the guitarist. “He goes, ‘Tonight’s about me man and not your fucking hip.’ I just bit my tongue and say, ‘OK, Dave, you, Alex and Michael do it. Answer the questions and I will not address my hip.'” He says Dave simply said, “You better not.” The band’s tour manager nearly had to hold Eddie back. “If you ever speak like that to me again,” said Eddie, “you better be wearing a cup.'”
And that was it for Van Halen’s first attempt at a David Lee Roth reunion. Things were so fragile they couldn’t even present Beck with an award without nearly coming to blows. Extreme frontman Gary Cherone was then brought in for a new album and tour, but it didn’t connect with a mass audience he was quietly let go in 1999. Five years later they reunited for a tour with Sammy Hagar, but Eddie was battling a major drinking problem at the time and it was a complete fiasco. David Lee Roth finally returned in 2007, but by that point Michael Anthony had been replaced with Eddie’s teenage son Wolfgang. Fans continue to fantasize about a reunion with Michael Anthony, and even a super tour with both Dave and Sammy Hagar on lead vocals. But until now, if you wanna see the classic four onstage anytime after 1984, all you have is this YouTube clip of the 1996 Video Music Awards.