Van Halen – Xfinity Center, Mansfield, MA 8/1/15 (SHOW REVIEW)

“Eddie has got you in the room, but I’m gonna sell you the Bibles.” chuckled the iconic frontman David Lee Roth midway through Van Halen’s set at the Xfinity Center – formerly known as Great Woods. And he was right. Eddie Van Halen still can play guitar like no other, or rather no one can play like him – but Roth is undoubtedly still an amazing entertainer who is clearly meant to be onstage. And he and the band did not disappoint. For this tour, in support of the paled double live album, Tokyo Dome Live In Concert and subsequently 2012’s A Different Kind Of Truth – Van Halen brought an eclectic setlist that spanned the band’s entire career. Allegedly, bassist Wolfgang Van Halen puts the tour’s set lists together and if this is true – he knows how to make the band’s fans happy.

The simple stage rig of arcing chrome scaffolding, bass and guitar amplification and drummer Alex Van Halen’s drum kit were symmetrically arranged behind Diamond Dave’s portable dance floor. Alex hit the stage first and quickly settled in behind his kit while smiling ear to ear and flashing the peace sign with his right hand. Wolfie crossed the stage and postured behind his mic stand and pedal board. Eddie slowly walked out and stood inches from his stacks of amplifiers in order to sonically engage his reliced white signature EVH guitar as master of the house David Lee Roth strutted out to center stage with his Cheshire grin, waving his white scarf like a peacock spreading its tail feathers.

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The band wasted no time in getting the show and party started with the deep track “Light Up The Sky” and the wrecking ball “Runnin’ With The Devil”. Anyone in attendance knew right from the start that this reconfigured Van Halen was tight – maybe even tighter than Roth’s spandex pants. The mix was solid and the harmonies between father and son were quite impressive. Roth’s flair for vocal fills and thrills permeated the air. After graciously greeting the crowd, Roth went into his first of just a few rambling stories of mumbo jumbo that you really needed to be paying attention to understand. He referenced (the non-PC term) Indians and a few specific tribes before going full circle and letting the crowd know that he lived just a few towns away in his formative years. Whatever the case, Roth is still a magnetic personality and has the ability to make you stop and listen, even if you’ve got one eyebrow raised.

The band continued to impress with more deep cuts and hits just the same. Musically, they all sounded stellar and old school fans were certainly in their glory. They included fan favorites such as “Everybody Wants Some” and “Somebody Get Me A Doctor” all while doling out the non-single tracks “Drop Dead Legs” and “I’ll Wait” from 1984 – the pinnacle of their career with Roth at the helm.

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Alex Van Halen played along to a Salsa-infused backing track for his seven minutes alone on stage.  The abbreviated drum solo was actually quite intriguing and it didn’t offer much time for fans to hit the head or to grab a beer, or three. Roth and the other Van Halen family members came back on stage. Wolfie and Eddie toted 3/4 size electric guitars – appropriate for playing “Little Guitars” from Diver Down. Unfortunately, this is where Roth’s voice really hit the skids. This was a bit risky of a track to try to pull off in 2015. No evidence has surfaced that Roth was able to do so back in the early 80’s – but it was a fun song nonetheless. Roth reigned it in and the band continued with more choice songs, “Dance The Night Away”, “Beautiful Girls”, “Women In Love” to name a few.

Then Roth, who had disappeared backstage for a fleeting moment, returned with his third wardrobe change that included a newsboy cap and blue-sequined jacket for the monster “Hot For Teacher” – as if the party hadn’t already started. Roth adlibbed his Roth-isms when given openings during the song, but the band tore it up and blew the roof off of the venue. A couple more tunes for the purists followed before Roth hit the stage by himself. A stool, acoustic guitar, amplifier and harmonica were brought out for him to have a moment in the sun without family Van Halen behind him and it was really cool.

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After Roth took his guitar and set up his harmonica around his neck, he sarcastically told the audience that yes, “Eddie got you in the room, but I’m gonna sell you the Bibles.” He then slowly, and deliberately read from, ‘The Book of Dave’. Like a preacher, he artfully recited and intertwined the lyrics of Truth‘s “Stay Frosty” with playing parts of “Ice Cream Man” from their debut album. The Van Halen’s then resurfaced to rock out the second half of the song to add the proverbially cherry on top. It was all done quite tactfully and was quite a great moment in the set. Hats off to Diamond Dave – for keeping it all in check.

Van Halen never slowed down, finishing off the set with a handful of non-stop rockers a la “Unchained” and “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” before Eddie’s legendary and obligatory guitar solo. They then wrapped up the party with the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”, “Panama” and “Jump”.  Whatever one paid for their ticket, they got every penny’s worth. Say what you will about Roth’s voice and the grumbling Van Halen brothers – tonight they were on top of their game.

Photos by Marc Lacatell

Van Halen Setlist Xfinity Center, Mansfield, MA, USA, North America Summer/Fall 2015

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