That Van Halen chose to title their most recent album—their first of any kind in 14 years and first with original frontman David Lee Roth in 28 years—A Different Kind of Truth was some kind of fitting, considering the endless stream of lies its members (past and present) have spewed over the past three decades. (No need to rehash the details here; just Google “Van Halen screws its fans,” and you’ll get the gist.) So after walking into the sold-out arena, this unapologetic lifelong Van Halen fan—someone who was utterly underwhelmed the last three times he saw the legendary rockers, including a 2007 reunion gig with Roth—wrote a single entry in his notebook: Tell the truth.
Well, here’s the truth: Van Halen is back and better than freakin’ ever.
Sure, Roth still can’t hit his signature high notes. Check that: He doesn’t even try anymore (this appears to be a common thread that binds classic-rock frontmen). And he’s still a giant, perma-grin goofball whose stage antics were borderline cool 25 years ago. And bassist Wolfgang Van Halen (Eddie’s offspring) is still not Michael Anthony (though he’s getting closer). And the four songs they played off their new release were two too many. But all of that is nitpicking. Fact is, the unit killed it throughout the two-hour, 22-song set that opened with the hard-charging “Unchained,” closed with the pop classic “Jump” and included sensational turns of “I’ll Wait,” “Dance the Night Away” and “Woman in Love.”
Along the way, a finally stone-sober Eddie Van Halen, so sloppy on the last couple of tours, regained his rightful seat on the guitar-god throne. “Ladies and gentleman,” Roth screamed at the conclusion of Eddie’s mesmerizing 10-minute guitar solo, “the winner, and still heavyweight champion of the world—Edward Van Halen.” He might as well have been speaking for the entire band. And that’s the truth. ★★★★☆
Follow Matt Jacob via RSS.