Reviewed: Van Halen at St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa

Reunited hard rock heroes play nice — but predictability proves boring.

Van Halen w/Ky-Mani Marley

Mon., Feb. 18, St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa

Photo by Shanna Gillette.

Diamond Dave displayed a giant grin for nearly two hours straight. Eddie melted faces with ferocious guitar exploits. Alex bashed away on a fortress of drums. And Wolfie managed a fine job on bass. The famed feuders maintained a friendly façade throughout the evening but the concert didn’t exactly erupt at any point into hard rock utopia.

The highly anticipated reunion of the Van Halen brothers and original lead singer David Lee Roth arrived at Tampa’s St. Pete Times Forum on Monday. What appeared to be a capacity crowd of 20,000 seemed delighted just to witness the almost classic lineup (Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang has replaced founding bassist Michael Anthony) run through the old hits without former enemies Roth and Eddie hitting each other. Sadly, the dearth of surprises proved rather boring. Van Halen's set list hasn’t varied since the tour started months ago and the performances Monday were close facsimiles of the ones recorded decades ago.

The house lights went down at 8:30 sharp and the crowd jumped to its feet, thanks to an offstage guitar solo by Eddie. The axe man then appeared front and center with Roth coming into view on a walkway above the stage singing "You Really Got Me." Drummer Alex Van Halen was positioned in the back with bassist Wolfie Van Halen (Eddie's 16 year-old son) stationed off to the side.

The bad blood between Roth and Eddie never surfaced. The two men hugged and leaned on each other during workmanlike renditions of early crowd-pleasers such as "Running with the Devil" and "Beautiful Girls." Eddie would unleash a scorching solo while Roth egged him on with hand gestures that occasionally looked like karate moves. Van Halen’s original singer sounded rough, but the vintage voice remained recognizable — although it grew raspier as the show progressed.

Roth, sweaty and shirtless under an open jacket that revealed washboard abs, continued with the charisma cranked to 11 during the concert’s duration. Eddie’s finger-tapping fierceness was awe-inspiring, but the virtuoso has never played with discernible feeling, his tone failing to ever mimic a human emotion other than adolescent glee. Ultimately, there’s only so much shredding you can take before even the most technically difficult accomplishments sound pedestrian.

The boisterous, beer-swilling, male-dominated crowd of 40somethings sang along and pumped their fists dutifully to faves like “(Oh) Pretty Woman,” “And the Cradle Will Rock” and “Hot For Teacher.” Even Alex’s extended drum solo kept the majority of attendees standing, cheering and hollering. Roth, though, nearly lost the crowd with a way long introduction to “Ice Cream Man” — only reeling ‘em back in with a shout-out to weed smoking.

Before the reunited band offered an encore of “Jump” I made a beeline for the exit. Van Halen has always been an act I respected for Eddie’s chops (and to a lesser extent Alex’s) and Roth’s unrelenting showmanship. But they never moved me, never connected with me in a meaningful way. Seeing the band live, in seats that put me four rows up from the floor and about 75 ft. from the stage, didn’t change my decades-old opinion of Van Halen.

See previous post for the real time blogging I did during the concert.

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