Review and photos by Doug Koztoski
Like just about any band that has existed for any length of time, rock royalty Van Halen has, to put it mildly, experienced ups and downs, like a sine wave. Or, perhaps, even more appropriately, like those inch-thick battle ropes that people try and whip at the gym.
Characterize it as you will, but it was a good sign on the last Saturday night in August at Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Virginia, about 35 miles from Washington, D.C., when the band strolled on stage and immediately throttled up on the thrill ride that was the latest stop on their 2015 tour.
Launching into “Light Up the Sky,” lead vocalist David Lee Roth and the Van Halen contingent of Eddie, Alex and Wolfgang might have surprised some in the near –capacity crowd with that show starter. But during this tour “Sky,” was one of the album cuts, along with “Romeo Delight,” “In a Simple Rhyme,” and “Dirty Movies,” that the band mixed in with their more well known hits from the 1970s to mid-'80s. It added a fun flavor to the festivities.
Just after the quartet filled the sky with light they followed it up with the more familiar thump-thump-thump of one of the tunes that first put them on the rock 'n' roll radar in the late '70s: “Runnin’ With the Devil,” the initial track from their debut album. “Everybody Wants Some!!” soon surfaced and the band stayed in the fast lane for most of the rest of the 25-song set.
In many respects the band sounded better than decades ago. Not only are Roth, Eddie and Alex original members of the group, but also they have the vast life experience, both onstage and off, that they bring to a performance. Eddie seems to be very healthy and happy and when you combine that with better music technology from years ago, and the guitar great just having more time to noodle on his axe, it produces, to lean on their album tour from 2012: “A Different Kind of Truth.” Eddie and Wolfgang, his 24-year old bass-playing son, worked well together with their guitars and harmonies. Alex’s energetic drum playing also consistently came through.
And then there was Mr. Roth, Diamond Dave. Back in the mid-1970s to mid-'80s, when he was the original lead singer of Van Halen, before about a 20-year hiatus/exile, Roth could much more steadily hit the screams, squawks and other high notes in the band’s tunes.
Nowadays, understandably, Roth’s vocal range is thinner, but he still brings a certain shtick, with the dancing, mugging to the crowd and the interesting use of giraffe-worthy scarves to somewhat offset his voice. Sometimes at Jiffy Lube Live Roth hit the notes, other times not, on occasion he pointed the microphone toward the crowd and let the thousands of fans sing certain high parts. So if one followed the band the past few years in particular, they should have known what they were likely going to get from Roth on this tour.
Maybe more by design to give himself and the band a break of sorts, but perhaps it is his nature, too, but when Roth came out just by himself on stage before getting into the cover version of “Ice Cream Man,” he brought a wooden straight-back chair to sit on, a harmonica, an acoustic guitar and what looked like a beer to sip—and a few things on his mind that he wanted to share.
Roth reflected mainly on his youth, growing up in California near the Van Halens, the importance of good parents, teachers and coaches and playing Pop Warner league football. And how things sound so much differently when one is wearing a football helmet. I am not kidding.
Eventually it all transitioned to talk of ice cream and then, you know. Like on the record, the band did join in to round out the tune. It satisfied.
After the refuel segment, more hits and how-does-Eddie-do-that? : “Unchained,” “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” Eddie’s guitar solo (including parts of “Eruption” and “Cathedral”), “You Really Got Me,” “Panama,” and for the encore, you guessed it, “Jump.”
It was two hours of rock with a mixed bag of lead vocals, granted, but instrumentally it was likely even deeper than in years past. Later in the concert a few lines from Van Halen’s song “Unchained” seemed to summarize much of the performance and vibe that night: “Change, nothin’ stays the same/un-chained, yeah ya hit the ground runnin.”
The band certainly hit the ground runnin’ at Jiffy Lube Live and overall delivered a very entertaining show that the band members seemed to perform and the crowd in general experienced in much the same way, with a lot of passion and joy.
August 29, 2015 Van Halen setlist:
Light Up The Sky
Runnin’ with the Devil
Everybody Wants Some!!
Drop Dead Legs
Feel You Love Tonight
Somebody Get Me A Doctor
She’s the Woman
Dance the Night Away
Women in Love
Hot for Teacher
In a Simple Rhyme
Ice Cream Man (John Brim cover)
Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love
You Really Got Me (Kinks cover)
(End of setlist)