David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen of Van Halen at MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheater Sun., Sept. 13, 2015.
Rainstorms early in the day mercifully cleared out some of the late-summer humidity in time for the Van Halen show at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on Sunday night, drawing a respectable crowd, though not the sell-out of screaming daughters and their long-suffering moms on hand for the previous evening’s concert from Aussie pop-punk heartthrobs 5 Seconds Of Summer. Of course, this isn’t the height of Van Halenmania circa 1984, when said 5 Second moms might well have been found flashing their naughty bits at a Van Halen show. [Text by Mark, photos by Tracy.]
Van Halen at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheater Sunday, Sep. 13, 2015
Nonetheless, the California quartet did their best to pretend the intervening decades never happened with a setlist that drew heavily from the beginning and the end of the band’s run with the original lineup. A casual unscientific survey of the crowd revealed many father/son boy’s-night-out pair-ups, appropriate considering that Van Halen itself is something of a father/son boy’s-night-out itself, with Eddie Van Halen’s 24-year-old son Wolfgang now on bass and backing vocals in place of the criminally-underrated (and underappreciated by his former bandmates) Michael Anthony.
As the sun settled below the horizon and the crowd settled into their seats, opener Kenny Wayne Sheppard and his band ambled on stage. Kicking into a midtempo Texas shuffle, the Strat-slinger proved an apt support act, eliciting spirited applause during his 45-minute set.
Kenny Wayne Sheppard Band at MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheater Sun., Sept. 13, 2015
His quintet included longtime vocalist Noah Hunt, bassist Tony Franklin (The Firm), and drummer Chris “Whipper” Layton, notable for being the drummer with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, an appropriate choice as Shepard owes a monumental stylistic debt to Vaughan.
David Lee Roth with Van Halen at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheater Sun., Sept. 13, 2015
Enthused readings of Earl King’s “Come On Part One” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” two songs that Vaughan himself used to pay tribute to, underscored the point. Just as well-received by the still-arriving crowd was Sheppard’s own “Blue On Black,” his breakthrough hit on rock radio in the late ‘90s.
Following an interval to clear the opener’s equipment, Van Halen took the stage nearly on time, kicking off a two-hours-and-change show with “Light Up the Sky,” a song we haven't live since the 1980 tour behind the album that spawned it, Van Halen II. The setlist, purportedly curated by Wolfgang, included other never/rarely heard vintage VH tracks such as “Dirty Movies,” “In A Simple Rhyme,” and “Drop Dead Legs,” a standout and this writer’s personal fave from 1984. (It also gained an ending as the studio version is a fade-out.) Drummer Alex Van Halen was solid throughout the night, though his mid-show drum solo included a backing track and lacked a flaming gong, the latter a signature bit of VH theatrics.
Wolfgang did his dad proud on bass and for the most part on vocals, though his harmonies at several points late in the set were just plain bad, both in terms of pitch and balance.
Wolfgang Van Halen with Van Halen at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheater Sunday, Sep. 13, 2015
David Lee Roth’s transformation from samurai sex god to Borscht Belt song/dance/joke man came complete with a portable dance floor like one would see at a wedding reception, rigged in the middle of the downstage area where Roth would occasionally slide and shimmy a la Sammy Davis, Jr. Early in the show while walking backwards, Roth presumably misjudged the location of the dance floor’s edge and took a tumble. Kinda scary at his age (Roth is 60), but Diamond Dave quickly shook it off, with a quip: “That fall was brought to you by Budweiser!”.
David Lee Roth of Van Halen at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheater Sunday, Sep. 13, 2015
Several songs found Roth delivering Liza Minelli-style vocal, in particular 1984’s synth-driven paean to erotic photography, “I’ll Wait.” This came as the band neared the halfway point of the evening’s setlist, leading me to guess that it was a vocal cord-saving move for Roth. But later in the set, he returned to his currently “normal” singing voice so apparently, this was a deliberate stylistic choice on his part. (To be fair, he was wearing a Sally Bowles-style sparkling sequined coat at the time.) Roth’s sense of time and meter in live performance has always been a bit, er, elastic and frequently, were it but for the rock-solid instrumentation of the Van Halen family, you'd be hard pressed to identify the song being performed. For lesser-known tracks such as “China Town” off the band’s 2012 reunion album with Roth, A Different Kind of Truth
, even the die-hards were left scratching their heads. Truthfully, DLR has always been more “entertainer” than “vocalist” and by that measure, Diamond Dave certainly was most entertaining, particularly during a harmonica and open-tuned acoustic introduction to “Ice Cream Man” that included a reverential James Brown anecdote.
Alex and Eddie Van Halen, Van Halen, MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheater Sun., Sept. 13, 2015
Much as the other three minutes of any Van Halen song is a setup for Eddie’s guitar solo, so is the centerpiece of every Van Halen concert “Eruption,” the catch-all title for Eddie’s nightly unaccompanied guitar excursion. Following a long-established template, Eddie dazzled newcomers and the faithful alike with bits of “Spanish Fly,” “Mean Streets,” “Cathedral” and of course, the recorded studio version of “Eruption” known the world over. In its time, Ed’s guitar heroics were nothing short of revolutionary and seeing him perform feats of guitar sleight of hand live and in person served to remind us of the Dutch-born maverick’s place in the pantheon of greats.
David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen, Van Halen, MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheater Sun., Sept. 13, 2015
When the quasi-reunion of the classic VH lineup was announced in 2007, prevailing wisdom was not if but how soon things would fall apart. With a studio album, a live recording, and one-and-a-half tours on the books, fans can be cautiously optimistic for the band’s future.
Hell, we’ve all had coworkers that we otherwise couldn’t stand to be around and the Eddie/Dave dynamic by all counts functions similarly. At the conclusion of “Jump,” the evening’s final number, the Van Halens exited stage left, Diamond Dave headed for the wings at stage right and we can assume they’ll next see each other come next showtime. Roth may be back in Van Halen but he’ll never be a Van Halen.
Van Halen Setlist:
Light Up the Sky
Runnin' With the Devil
Everybody Wants Some!!
Drop Dead Legs Feel Your 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
Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love
You Really Got Me