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Concert Reviews:
Hot playing wins the night for Van Halen at DTE

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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INDEPENDENCE TOWNSHIP -- How much you liked Van Halen's show Friday night, Sept. 4, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre depended on what you came for.

If you were there to hear Edward Van Halen's guitar pyrotechnics, it was a good night. Better than good, actually.

If you craved David Lee Roth's unique showmanship, the performance was certainly satisfying.

But if you came to hear Roth sing...well, maybe not so much.

It was a testament to the strength of the veteran hard rock quartet's catalog and the clearly evident love the boomer-dominated crowd that packed DTE had for Van Halen that Friday's the two-hour, 23-song concert worked as well as it did despite that last factor. Thanks to dynamic musicianship and a setlist drawn from a Van Halen's devotee's dream, Friday's show offered an exuberant kick-off to the holiday weekend for anyone who was there.

The group's first DTE performance since 1998 was marked by a slew of welcome rarities from a catalog that dates back to 1978, starting with the opening "Light Up the Sky" and digging deep for fare such as "Drop Dead Legs" and "Dirty Movies," both of which Van Halen has never played live before its current tour. "Feel Your Love Tonight" and "In a Simply Rhyme" returned to the show after long absences, though Roth wasn't quite up to delivering the latter, an ambitiously arranged 1980's "Women and Children First."

That, by the way, is not a new issue for Van Halen, and Roth spent much of Friday plowing through strained, atonal recreations of most of the songs, unable to hit the high notes and often sounding out of sync with the backing harmonies by Van Halen and his son, bassist Wolfgang Van Halen. The 60-year-old Roth mitigated that shortcoming somewhat with his stage presence, a cross between Liberace and Lothario with a bit of Schecky Green thrown in for good measure. He sported five different jackets during the show and slid around on a small dance floor constructed at center stage. He showed off an array of tattoos on his torso and arms, pantomimed during Van Halen's guitar solos and brandished a Samurai sword during "Dirty Movies."

Roth also peppered the show with some metaphysical chatter, although the group's pacing made sure he never had an opportunity to wander too far of course. And before he played his signature solo piece "Ice Cream Man," Roth told a genuinely sweet story about meeting James Brown, a personal hero, during an MTV Video Music Awards ceremony.

The rest of the group more than held up its end, with Wolfgang and drummer Alex Van Halen ably supporting Eddie's lithe, lightning solos. The band threw plenty of favorites at the DTE crowd, too, from early show renditions of "Runnin' With the Devil" and "I'll Wait" to a hot pairing of "Dance the Night Away" and "Beautiful Girls" and a closing run that included "Unchained," "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love," the Kinks' "You Really Got Me," "Panama" and "Jump."

"You got a good show tonight, I'll tell ya," Roth told the crowd towards the end, and despite some clear challenges on his part, he wasn't wrong.

Blues-rock guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd earned a warm reception for his 50-minute opening set as well, showcasing his own instrumental heroics on his own "Blue On Black" and "Deja Voodoo" as well as covers of B.B.King`s "Woke Up this Morning," Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well" and the Jimi Hendrix Experience's "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)."

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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