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Concert Reviews:
Van Halen Rocks The Cradle, And More, At Joe Louis Arena
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

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DETROIT -- Much has changed in the 23 years since Van Halen last played Detroit, at Cobo Arena, with David Lee Roth fronting the band.

There's a People Mover passing by Joe Louis Arena, where the group played the first of two area shows on Saturday night (Oct. 20). There's a 21st Century Stanley Cup championship banner hanging from the Joe Louis rafters. There's a Palace in Auburn Hills. There's even a new bass player representing the next generation of Van Halens.

And while Roth's vocal capacity has audibly diminished and guitar hero Eddie Van Halen doesn't leap quite the way he used to (though he still plays like an impossibly gifted fiend), one thing has not changed at all -- Van Halen's ability to put on a Big Rock Show, a spectacle powered by one of the most durable catalogs of the past quarter-century.

It didn't take long for the quartet to blast away any skepticism about this long-in-the-making reunion. A shirtless and animated Eddie opened the two hour-plus, 23-song exposition with a blast of guitar before leading the group into the cover of the Kinks' "You Really Got Me" that was Van Halen's first hit, in 1978. By mid-song, the guitarist and Roth -- dressed on one of several matador-style jackets he'd sport during the evening -- were engaged in a call-and-response scat vamp, while drummer Alex Van Halen and bassist Wolfgang Van Halen, Eddie's 16-year-old son with actress Valerie Bertinelli (who attended Saturday's show), kept the bottom rumbling.

Off to the races and playing at an eardrum-numbing volume that frequently (and perhaps deliberately?) obscured Roth's vocals, Van Halen mixed expected favorites such as "Runnin' With the Devil," "Beautiful Girls," "Dance the Night Away," "I'll Wait," "Hot For Teacher" and "Jamie's Cryin' " with a welcome selection of "deep cuts" from the group's five albums with Roth, including "Romeo Delight," "Mean Street," "Somebody Get Me a Doctor," "Atomic Punk" and "Little Dreamer." Roth inserted a quick bit of the Who's "Magic Bus" into "Romeo Delight" and a snippet of the blues standard "Born Under a Bad Sign" into "...Doctor," while Eddie Van Halen showcased some of his hottest licks during an expansive rendition of "Everybody Wants Some."

With a massive rear-stage video screen providing close-ups, Roth's innate showmanship and indefatigable energy, including frequent displays of martial arts dexterity with his microphone stand, provided a light-hearted visual foil to the group's leaden musical attack. The exuberant and seemingly genuine, all-smiles interplay between the band members also gave some weight to their claims that the tour is more than just a one-and-done cash-in.

And while there's been much controversy about the cherub-faced Wolfgang's replacement of original bassist Michael Anthony, he handled his playing and vocal parts well, and there was undeniable charm in watching he and his father rock out together as if they were playing in the family basement and not on an arena stage.

"I hear you missed us -- we're baaaaack!" Roth exclaimed at one point. And as confetti showered the Joe Louis crowd during the show-closing "Jump," you can bet the overwhelming emotion was a hope Van Halen doesn't stay away another 23 years.

The group and opener Ky-Mani Marley will, in fact, be back on stage at 7:30 p.m. Monday (Oct. 22) at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are also $79.50 and $49.50. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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