10/26/2007 @ 05:57 AM: Below is my review of Van Halen's Minneapolis show. It was intended for mass consumption, hence the bits of VH history laced throughout.
Van Halen 4.0 - Target Center - Minneapolis - October 24, 2007
Diehard fans have debated Eddie Van Halen's statement that the most recent incarnation of Van Halen is a "new band." If it is indeed new, why does the band only play material that is 23-plus year old? While the true test will be whether or not Van Halen 4 can functionally produce new music after this tour, there was plenty of evidence beyond the "4" spray painted on Eddie Van Halen's Wolfgang guitar to this being a different brand of Van Halen than the original David Lee Roth-fronted version from 1978 to 1984.
For one, only once did Roth "forget the fuckin' words," and his classic-style announcement of having done so seemed more planned than accidental, as was his deliverance of the must-have line: "Well look at all the people here tonight!" Similarly, gone were the colorfully goofy outfits Eddie and Dave wore in the 80s, not to mention their long hair. ("This is the first time in the history of Van Halen where the opening band has had better haircuts," Roth stated when complimenting the opening act, a band fronted by Bob Marley's son Ky-Mani Marley.)
But the most obvious and deliberate difference in Van Halen 4's presence was in fact a LACK of a presence--that of now-former bassist and founding member Michael Anthony. Anthony's signature background vocal harmonies and keep-it-simple-stupid bass lines were performed by Eddie Van Halen's 16 year old son, Wolfgang. Perhaps the catalyst for this "three-union," Wolfgang responded to the immense pressure put on him by his dad, fans, and critics by holding his own for the more than two hour set; likely engineered so, he mostly stayed in the background, only occasionally walking the circular stage path and offering a rehearsed "Dave, can you give me a break?" during the breakdown of "Unchained."
Also staying relatively low-key was drummer Alex Van Halen. Aside from a solo spot one-third of the way through the set, the elder brother kept himself at work recreating his drum parts from the first six Van Halen albums.
But this was the Dave and Eddie show. If Van Halen's August press conference in Los Angeles didn't make that clear, the majority attention given to the two of them by the camera crew for the giant behind-the-stage screen did; from bluesy vocal-guitar call and response sessions (improvised or routine at this point?) to high-fives and hugs, the interaction of Roth and EVH together again was the band's selling point--and most "Dave-or-the-grave" VH fans probably would have accepted it without the loving exchanges anyway.
The show was tight and made up of a set list--THE set list--performed at every stop on the tour thus far. Gone are extended outro jams, long spaces between songs, and excessive stage banter (Roth limited his storytelling to a couple of "back in the day" nostalgia bits), and in are tight endings and transitions, a vocal coach for Roth, and a sober Eddie. Was this preferred over the once heavily improvised "whatever happens, happens" stage shows of Van Halen? Considering the volatile personal nature of Van Halen's past--not to mention the cost for a ticket--it probably was indeed best to ere on the side of caution.
So while it would appear Van Halen have pulled themselves up from their bootstraps to overcome low expectations for this (or any) tour after their previous 2004 outing with vocalist Sammy Hagar, the show still lacked a key personal ingredient: relevance to the town. While performing with The Police in St. Paul this past July, Sting told a brief but detailed story about the first time the band played the Twin Cities. In contrast, this extremely rehearsed Van Halen show would leave you hard pressed to determine the city when examining YouTube footage from any of the stops thus far.
Also lacking were the well know stage antics of David Lee Roth of the past. One might even dare to say he got BORING after the honeymoon that was the first half of the set. (A comedic "Ice Cream Man" intro saved it.) Now that's not to say we'd WANT to see a 52 year old Roth acting his overtly-hetero-yet-still-kid-of-homosexual egotistic flare of two decades ago, but it does beg the question: What else does he have to offer?
Musicianship reigned from Mr. Edward, though; he was arguably playing his best in more than 12 years. The lone setlist downer was "Oh, Pretty Woman," the Roy Orbison cover song from the band's weakest Roth-era album. And for all the anticipation 23 years of not hearing "Hot For Teacher" carried, the finally-performed song lacked energy. But just hearing Dave scream, "We heard you missed us, we're back!" helped make up for that.
Was Van Halen's Minneapolis show a success? Yes, indeed. Was it worth the wait? Debatable, but the band certainly made a strong effort to play their music--that many fans carry a heavy affection for--as well as could be asked for. Was it worth the money? Very debatable. Were souvenir t-shirts worth the $40 asking price? No. Will Van Halen 4.0 go on to make new music or tour again? Simply put, they MUST put out new music in order to tour again; this was and is their one shot to cash in (and they are most definitely cashing in) on the trip with Roth. Will Michael Anthony and/or Sammy Hagar again enter the Van Halen fold in the future? With the tedious nature of Van Halen, that, unlike Wednesday's show, is unpredictable.