“It’s like a time machine where nothing ever changes,” said original Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth about halfway through their set in front of a mostly enthusiastic crowd at the Pepsi Center on Thursday night. There was a hint of iciness in his tone, perhaps leading one to believe the recent rumors (of the band hating each other) that spread following the announcement of many cancelled dates for the remainder of their summer reunion tour.
During the Denver performance, which Kool & the Gang opened, you’d never really be able to tell for sure if those rumors were true. Throughout the evening, the rock group put on their best smiles, mugged with the crowd and each other and, like true pros, went on with the show.
The band ran through a setlist that matched nostalgic faves (“Everybody Wants Some!”, “Jump”, “Dance The Night Away”) with select tunes from their recently released “A Different Kind Of Truth”, some of which worked (the rocking “She’s The Woman”) and some which didn’t (the heinously awful “Tattoo” and dull “The Trouble With Never”).
A high point: the band (i.e. the Van Halen family) — drummer Alex, guitar god Eddie and his young son Wolfgang, who handled himself admirably as replacement for original four-stringer Michael Anthony on bass and high harmony vocals — played mercilessly tight. A master of his instrument, Eddie clearly still has his chops, and it was a thrill to witness his fretboard fireworks in person.
However, Roth was an embarrassment.
The once lionesque front man came off like a slightly creepy fourth wheel who’d forgotten to take his meds for the past several months. Throughout the set, Diamond Dave dropped words, changed melodies and even forgot lyrics to the simplest of songs (“Oh, Pretty Woman”). Thankfully, the crowd knew the songs well enough to really amp up the energy and do them justice by happily singing along (especially on “Runnin’ With The Devil” and “Hot For Teacher”).
In his defense, it didn’t help that Roth’s vocals were buried in a murky mix. And really, it could have been worse — it could have been Sammy Hagar up there singing.
“Runnin With The Devil”
“She’s the Woman”
“Everybody Wants Some!”
“Somebody Get Me A Doctor”
“Hear About It Later”
“Oh, Pretty Woman”
“You Really Got Me”
“The Trouble With Never”
“Dance The Night Away”
“And The Cradle Will Rock …”
“Hot For Teacher”
“Women In Love”
“Ice Cream Man”
“Ain’t Talkin Bout Love”
Michael Behrenhausen is a Denver-based writer, musician and regular Reverb contributor. The worst crime he ever did was play some rock ‘n’ roll.
John Leyba is a Denver Post photojournalist and regular contributor to Reverb.