Van Halen 'Bit Off More Than We Could Chew' with Tour, says Eddie

'Eddie Van Halen Is Better Than Any Pyrotechnic Special Effect'

Kool & the Gang's Robert "Kool" Bell asked the sold-out crowd at the Palace of Auburn Hills if it was ready to party. Then if it was ready for Van Halen. Then if it was ready for David Lee Roth.

The real question, however, was if it was ready for Eddie -- Van Halen, that is. And the answer for that on Monday night (Feb. 20) was an emphatic and euphoric "yes!"

Roth may be Van Halen's amiable clown prince, but Van Halen is the iconic quartet's star attraction even 34 years after its debut album. When he's on form -- as he was during the second show of the Van Halen's new tour, rescuing what is clearly still a work in progress -- Van Halen is better than any pyrotechnic special effect, playing with nimble precision and mixing lightning-fast solos with tasteful ambience. Time after time, the hour-and-50-minute who's best moments -- "Mean Street," "Dance the Night Away," "Unchained," "Beautiful Girls" and "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" -- were the six-string Van Halen's doing; he even reclaimed the 1984 hit "I'll Wait" from its synthesized hooks, turning it into a granite-hard, guitar-driven anthem.

That, and a 22-song set list filled with favorites, was what kept the Palace faithful on their feet throughout the night as Van Halen (the band) continued to warm its way back into the concert arena.

It is, after all, Van Halen's first road trip in nearly four years, and its first with brand new material by Roth since 1984. The group was tightly rehearsed but also a bit tight on stage, self-consciously focused on the task at hand -- especially Roth -- and not yet in that smooth, instinctual zone bands aspire to reach. Even the massive video screen behind the group took several songs to get into working order, causing Roth to quip, "That's one night we don't have to pay for that s***, huh?"

So the second-night brilliance was episodic but mitigated by a set that deftly wove material from the new "A Different Kind of Truth" amidst the favorites, with the single "Tattoo" and the pop-flavored "The Trouble With Never" faring the best of the four songs the group played from the album. Van Halen also dug out deep cuts such as "Women in Love" and "Girl Gone Bad" -- albeit too late in the show -- while the fans got an abundance of the proven anthems they came for, including the Kinks' "You Really Got Me," "Runnin' With the Devil," "Everybody Wants Some!!," "Somebody Get Me a Doctor," "Panama" and the show-closing "Jump." Alex Van Halen provided his typically thunderous drum attack, while Wolfgang Van Halen, now 20, was perceptibly more confident and assured than he was in 2007-09.

Roth, however, was surprisingly less animated than usual, seemingly pre-occupied with production details -- he shouted for a change in lighting cues during the group's cover of Roy Orbison's "Oh! Pretty Woman" -- than performing. Despite a cheerful, vaudevillian air and periodic quips such as "The only thing I got on my SATs was tobacco stains" during "Hot For Teacher," he stayed mostly rooted to a hardwood dance floor at the center of the stage, executing only a few of his trademark high kicks and barely working the ramp that jutted out into the front rows. Roth changed jackets four times and sported a variety of shirts and hats, but he seemed curiously reserved, lacking the Diamond Dave shimmer Van Halen fans know and love.

Van Halen does have time to right all that, of course; tour dates stretch to late June, and there are plenty of rumors about summer shows both here and abroad. One "experiment" that did work on Monday, however, was having Kool & the Gang open the night; any doubts about whether the R&B group would fly with Van Halen's audience were quickly dispelled with the 11-piece outfit's fluid brand of lite funk, and by the end of the 50-minute set even the T-shirted, beer-drinking RAWK boys were dancing and singing along to "Get Down On It" and "Celebration."

Van Halen's set list included:

1. You Really Got Me
2. Runnin' With The Devil
3. She's The Woman
4. Romeo Delight
5. Tattoo
6. Everybody Wants Some!!
7. Somebody Get Me A Doctor
8. China Town
9. Mean Street
10. (Oh!) Pretty Woman

-- Alex Van Halen drum solo --

11. Unchained
12. The Trouble With Never
13. I'll Wait
14. Dance The Night Away
15. Hot For Teacher
16. Women In Love
17. Girl Gone Bad
18. Beautiful Girls
19. Ice Cream Man
20. Panama

-- Eddie Van Halen guitar solo

21. Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love
22. Jump

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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