Van Halen: New Orleans Arena, New Orleans, LA 6/26/12

The last show of Van Halen’s tour was everything you might expect it to be: David Lee Roth did his fun schticky vaudevillian act, Eddie Van Halen took your breath away with his finger-tapping, Alex Van Halen did what any disciple child of Bonham would do and pounded the hell out of his drums with sticks the size of Redwoods, and Michael Anthony … well, he wasn’t there. But to all the Wolfgang Van Halen haters out there, it’s time to leave the boy alone. He may not be Anthony but he doesn’t dishonor or embarrass the band whatsoever. There were blinding lights, a huge illuminated stage and screen which made these mighty men appear larger than life, plenty of amps, a few big splits and kicks, and more than your fair share of good time music. What more could you ask for?

Well, from listening to some people talk after the show, I heard that Roth was more of a joke than ever, the bass parts were pretty rudimentary and some of the songs were too altered to be recognizable. On the other hand, men of all ages left the venue high-fiving, shouts of “Eddie Is God” echoed through the parking garage, and numerous females were happy about Roth’s choice of tight pants.

So what you got if you attended the band’s last show, since all the concerts that were supposed to follow this one in New Orleans were cancelled, was a big mixture of all of the above. Whether you liked Roth’s vocal reinterpretations of such classic songs as “Jump” and “You Really Got Me” or Eddie’s approximately eight minute solo soliloquy, you still got Van Halen doing one hell of a performance.

With Kool & The Gang opening up with some peppy, dance-inducing 70’s R&B, to throw a hard rock band like Van Halen on afterwards might have seemed a strange move on the promoters part; but it actually worked. (both are managed by Irving Azoff) Kool & The Gang were serving up slices of jazz-influenced pop soul with the sole intention of lightening up the crowd and creating a laid back fun vibe. Van Halen would bring the behemoth sound that might weigh down younger fans who have only seen the videos or pubertized during the Sammy Hagar years. This was a whole new ball game in more ways than one.

Times have changed since their glory days in the 70’s and early 80’s: Eddie has fought through addiction and cancer, Roth has gone on strange scratch-your-head tangents and Alex has also fought demons of his own. And we won’t even get started on all the slings and arrows that Van Halen The Younger has had to walk through. But here they stand, as a band, all survivors and all with an obvious love of performing music in front of an audience.

Big songs in the voluminous oeuvre of the VH catalog were at times played back-to-back for a mighty one-two punch. “Unchained” was followed by “Runnin’ With The Devil” to open the show, “I’ll Wait” bumped into “And The Cradle Will Rock” which slammed into “Hot For Teacher”, and the ginormous “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” was followed by the even bigger “Jump”.

There were definitely some so-called odd moments as well. While the band seemed to be in one sphere, Roth was off in his own world of the soft-shoe vaudeville act, hamming it up with the big megawatt smile and twirling silver cane. Eddie and Wolf were dressed down in jeans and t-shirts while Diamond Dave, also in black, had a little more sparkle and flash. All Alex needed was his drums to stand out, which he did numerous times.

“Ice Cream Man” served up the most amusement, intentional or not. With a screen the size of Big Brother watching behind him, Roth, alone and strumming an acoustic guitar, talked about his sheep-herding dogs as a black & white video of them played in unison with his story. But if there is one thing that Roth DOES have, it’s a sense of humor. When introducing “Everybody Wants Some”, Roth told the story of “Illegal Evelyn” who scored a 1400 on her SAT but “her legs were just too damn long.” And leading into “Hot For Teacher”, he introduced himself as “Mr Roth and I’m going to be your substitute teacher for the rest of the concert.”  And although during “The Trouble With Never” he said, “I’ve got a great memory, it’s just short”, which may very well allude to his past differences with Eddie, he laughed at the beginning of “Dance The Night Away” admitting “Keep it going, I forgot the fucking words.”

So while Roth was in his own element, so was Eddie. With none of the flamboyance of his younger days, he tended to just sit back and enjoy the moments, sitting in front of the drum riser to start off his mammoth solo spotlight, finger-tapping an orgy of unfathomable notes. If you have ever wondered why he has been praised as much as he has, then this should put all the doubts to rest. He is and will always be an innovator of the guitar.

And how did the old gang seem to get along on stage? Maybe not as close as they once were but not avoiding contact either. Numerous times Roth and Eddie leaned on each other during songs, smiling and enjoying what was happening. Praised Roth after one of Ed’s masterful solos, “That’s the best part of the song right there.”

Whether you came out to the concert to hear some great tunes from the past or to see Ed set the world on fire once more, it was a night of nostalgia and new breath rolled into one big extravaganza of a rock show. Gathering for their final bow following “Jump”, the men exited with waves to their fans while Roth took his time, absorbing the moment. As he had said during “Ain’t Talking Bout Love” when the big drum moment was about to commence, “Bring it way quiet so we can smack the shit out of it when we hit it cause this is the last time for a while.”  And with a peace sign held high, Roth exited for maybe the last time as the Van Halen front man.

SETLIST: Unchained, Runnin’ With The Devil, She’s The Woman, Romeo Delight, Tattoo, Everybody Wants Some, Somebody Get Me A Doctor, China Town, Hear About It Later, Oh Pretty Woman, Drum Solo, You Really Got Me, The Trouble With Never, Dance The Night Away, I’ll Wait, And The Cradle Will Rock, Hot For Teacher, Women In Love, Beautiful Girls, Ice Cream Man, Panama, Guitar Solo, Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love, Jump.

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