Written by General Jabbo
Van Halen returned to Detroit Saturday at Joe Louis Arena for the first time in 23 years with original singer David Lee Roth at the mic and for the first time ever without founding bassist Michael Anthony.
In the long Van Halen soap opera, Anthony had a falling out with the Van Halen brothers around 2002, when he joined Sammy Hagar during his joint tour with Roth. This was seen as breaking ranks with the brothers as both Roth and Hagar were out of the band at that point and therefore mortal enemies of Eddie and Alex Van Halen.
Anthony toured with the band on their 2004 tour with Hagar, but only because Hagar refused to do the tour without him. When that tour finished amidst rumors of fighting and substance abuse problems for Eddie (he did a stint in rehab this year), Hagar was once again out and Eddie saw a perfect opportunity for him to take Anthony with him.
Enter Wolfgang Van Halen, Eddie’s 16-year-old son. Turns out, during all those years when Eddie was locked away in his home studio, he was grooming Wolfgang to be the new bassist in Van Halen.
Wolfgang rehearsed with the brothers for over a year when they decided they wanted to take the show on the road. Problem is, they didn’t have a singer. David Lee Roth, whose recent gig as a radio personality fizzled and whose recent solo career wasn’t doing much better, needed Van Halen. Likewise, the band could ill afford to bring in a fourth singer, especially considering their third singer, Gary Cherone, was not accepted by a majority of fans. With Hagar on the outs again, Roth was the only option.
The band announced their tour earlier this year, but postponed it soon after as Eddie entered rehab, suspiciously around the time the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Only Hagar and Anthony attended the event. However, when tickets went on sale in August for the tour, fans who had waited 23 years to see the band’s charismatic original front man at the helm would soon get their wish.
In the first of two Detroit shows, the band played to about an 80 percent full house, opening with their cover of the Kinks’ classic, “You Really Got Me.” Roth was a little low in the mix for the first several songs, but that got sorted out and he sang and performed well, punctuating his vocals with Elvis-style karate moves. He described the new lineup as being three quarters original, one quarter inevitable.
Eddie played with great intensity and passion – a far cry from the hit-or-miss nature of the 2004 tour, which was marred by sloppy playing and band fighting. He had a lot of interaction on stage with his son, high-fiving him a few times (and missing cues as a result) and he had some timing issues during “Hot For Teacher,” but for the most part, Eddie was the Eddie of old – playing well, smiling, running and jumping around.
For having big shoes to fill in replacing fan-favorite Anthony, Wolfgang did an admirable job. He doesn’t have the dexterity on bass, vocal ability or stage presence of Anthony, but he didn’t bring the show down either. Roth took it upon himself to educate him in the ways of rock and roll, saying, “Look out there, that’s Detroit.”
The biggest star of the show was drummer Alex Van Halen. He played as well as he ever has and, more importantly, kept the band together when some songs started falling apart.
With a band as volatile as Van Halen, and with no definite plans to continue after the tour ends in December, fans wanting to catch a glimpse of the (mostly) original band should do so while they still have a chance.