08 March 2012

Review: Van Halen at the Wells Fargo Center

Van Halen brought its Different Kind of Truth tour to the Wells Fargo Center Monday and just eight dates in, appear to be firing on all cylinders.

The setlist has been tweaked for maximum efficiency and technical issues look to be resolved, both elements that plague the onset of any arena sized undertaking.

Opening with the rousing blast of “Unchained,” a recent and welcome replacement of the Kinks cover “You Really Got Me,” the band had the sold-out crowd immediately on their feet, where they remained for the entirety of the night.

Guitarist Eddie Van Halen was at the top of his game. Some are saying that this is the best he’s played since the mid-’80s. His hammer-ons and patented dive bombs looked effortless as he sprinted back and forth across the sparse, stripped down stage. Ed was smiles, likely due to the inclusion of his bassist and son, Wolfgang, who at 20 years old now looks an actual part of the band both in a confident stage presence and unquestionable playing ability.

The showmanship was, of course, left to frontman David Lee Roth, on his first tour with the band supporting a new record in nearly three decades. He’s no longer the high-flying, lion-mane-sporting, banshee wailer doing splits off the machine-like Alex Van Halen’s drum riser, but has adjusted his nimble-footed maneuverings in a manner that is more suitable for a lead man at the age of 57.

These days, Roth has taken a more Bruce Lee meets James Brown approach to his concert demeanor. Flashy as ever, with a wardrobe that might make Elton John jealous, Roth has incorporated a dance floor smack dab in the middle of the stage where he slid about and shimmied for much of the night, occasionally doing a jumping spin kick.

The rapport between the singer and Eddie seemed strong as ever with no hint of animosity that caused so much friction in the past. Roth donned what he called an “adventure hat” as Alex drummed out the jungle beat beginning to “Everybody Wants Some,” ran over to Wolfgang to sing him the lyric, “I took a mobile light, lookin’ for a moonbeam,” and punctuated it with “I wrote the words and I still don’t know what that means!”

The release of a new record, the critically acclaimed A Different Kind of Truth, has played a major role in reinvigorating the band. Four cuts were played from it Monday night: The funky “She’s the Woman,” the fast and furious “China Town,” the Roth-yammerer “The Trouble with Never” and lead single “Tattoo,” which received the most positive response from the audience.

Unlike the extremely regimented 2007 tour, fans haven’t been quite sure what to expect in the set as a few gems have already been dusted off already this time around. “Hear About it Later” and “Women in Love” look to now be staples while the Philly VH faithful experienced “The Full Bug” and “Girl Gone Bad,” the first time those two deep cuts have ever been played during the same set.

Production-wise, everything has been completely stripped down. Gone is the ridiculous and rarely used “S” shaped walkway from the 2007-08 reunion run. There were no overzealous lasers. Roth didn’t dress like a matador and he didn’t end the show by riding a giant inflatable microphone. He even ditched the ridiculous-looking headset from the first dates in favor of the more familiar handheld microphone.

None of those props were needed, and it may be cliched, but the 2012 version of Van Halen let the music do the talking. Like the new material, it was a shock to see a band that hadn’t been dangerous and unpredictable in so long absolutely nail it.