It's all so unlikely, or is it? I'm talking about the fact that David Lee Roth, at 53, has a lustrous, full head of hair, a mind-bogglingly ripped physique and enough command over his voice to lead Va

It's all so unlikely, or is it? I'm talking about the fact that David Lee Roth, at 53, has a lustrous, full head of hair, a mind-bogglingly ripped physique and enough command over his voice to lead Van Halen through a truly incredible, triumphant return to New York's sold-out Madison Square Garden in the year 2007.

This tour has been met with a healthy dose of cynicism by observers, and for obvious reasons. For one, Roth's many prior attempts to rejoin the group he quit in 1985 have met with disaster, and he was last seen singing bluegrass versions of Van Halen hits on "The Tonight Show."

For another, beloved bassist Michael Anthony was unceremoniously booted from the band and replaced by Eddie Van Halen's 16-year-old son, Wolfgang. Eddie's stint in rehab earlier this year nearly scotched the tour in the first place, but here they all are anyway, rocking out with a power rarely seen among current acts.

In New York, the show consistently teetered between ridiculous and ridiculously awesome, and was often some of each. Eddie Van Halen, bare-chested and in drawstring pants as if he was just sprung from prison, might not have been much to look at, but his playing was astounding. Any time his handiwork began to border on pure self-indulgence (the vaguely planetarium-esque noodling from "Cathedral," excerpted during his solo), he quickly shifted gears into displays of undeniable virtuosity (the fret-tapping evergreen "Eruption," cue devil horns).

Roth was the consummate rock frontman, employing a full arsenal of hats, microphones wedged into the top of his tight pants and garish top coats to accent the belting out of classics like "Beautiful Girls," "Runnin' With the Devil" and "Hot for Teacher."

Even when he "forgot the f*ckin' words" during a cover of Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman" and ran around the stage waving a giant red flag during "1984," you couldn't help but smile. "Three-quarters original and one-quarter inevitable," he bellowed when introducing the band.

As for Wolfgang, well, he's a 16-year-old kid, and he looks like it. His stage presence is nearly non-existent, but he played well. It was pretty clear the backing vocals once so identifiable as Anthony's were being piped in through the PA (as were all the keyboard parts), but Wolfie was dutifully on the mic and on cue every time he needed to be.

That leaves drummer Alex Van Halen, who looks much older than his 54 years but managed to deliver all the signature fills fans were expecting, particularly on "Hot for Teacher." And hardly any fans hit the bathroom during his solo between "Pretty Woman" and "Unchained" -- take that, Neil Peart!

The set list wisely ignored the Sammy Hagar era, hitting most of the high points of Van Halen's first period ("Panama," "Jamie's Cryin'," "I'll Wait"). One of the more left-field moments came when Roth began "Ice Cream Man" solo on acoustic guitar, while telling stories from his pot-smoking, lady-chasing days in the early '70s.

The bottom line, and it ain't hyperbole: on this crisp fall night, Van Halen was, if only for two hours, once again the greatest rock band in the world. And that was the greatest surprise of all.

Here is Van Halen's set list:

"You Really Got Me"
"I'm the One"
"Runnin' With the Devil"
"Romeo Delight"
"Somebody Get Me a Doctor"
"Beautiful Girls"
"Dance the Night Away"
"Everybody Wants Some!!"
"So This Is Love?"
"Mean Street"
"Pretty Woman"
Drum solo
"Unchained"
"I'll Wait"
"And the Cradle Will Rock"
"Hot for Teacher"
"Little Dreamer"
"Little Guitars"
"Jamie's Cryin'"
"Ice Cream Man"
"Panama"
Guitar solo
"Ain't Talkin' Bout Love"
"1984" -> "Jump"

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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