HOLLYWOOD, California -- Henson Studios is located just across the street from Crazy Girls. It's hard to imagine a better place than the crossroads between Kermit the Frog and a Hollywood strip club for David Lee Roth to lead Van Halen through a hit-packed club show. With three giant video screens and a wall of EVH amplifiers loud enough for an arena, the newly recharged band were agile and full of smiles as they performed Wednesday in front of a few hundred VIPs deep inside Charlie Chaplin's old stomping grounds.
Invitations for the event called it an "album release celebration" to promote next week's A Different Kind of Truth, the band's first full length with their original singer since 1984. Eddie Van Halen, drummer/brother Alex, his 20 year old bassist /son Wolfgang and Roth played for over an hour with few stops and zero hiccups in front of press, industry VIPs and fans. People spied by us and others in the crowd or the ultra-VIP section included Live Nation head Irving Azoff (no. 1 on the Billboard Power 100), Universal chief Lucien Grainge (no. 3), Interscope's Jimmy Iovine (no. 10), Steve Berman and Brenda Romano, and Live Nation's Michael Rapino (no. 6), Mark Campana and Bob Roux ( who share no. 39) and Liz Morentin, Front Line's Jeffrey Azoff, publiicist Ken Sunshine, and Scoop Marketing's Larry Solters and his team, Anna Loynes, Eve Samuels and Erik Stein. Wolfgang's mom Valerie Bertinelli, Evanescence's Terry Balsamo and Rob Zombie guitarist John 5 were also in the house, and Victoria's Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio showed off her baby bump as she danced along to the music.
Van Halen dancing the night away at a secret show in Hollywood. (Photo: Ryan J. Downey)
Before the band took the stage, guests drank free booze, ate from four different trendy L.A. food trucks (Dogtown Dogs, Ragin Cajun, Komodo and Coolhaus) and took photos of several handfuls of chocolate coins emblazoned with the iconic "VH" symbol.
"Every interview I do, I talk about Van Halen. They really changed my life," Rob Zombie guitarist John 5 told Billboard.biz shortly after he arrived. "It was a complete epiphany for me. Everything I've done is because of Van Halen. Not just Eddie, but all of the guys."
Fans enjoying the free alcohol and Van Halen chocolates before the band's show. (Photo: Ryan J. Downey)
Prior to joining Marilyn Manson, John 5 recorded and toured with David Lee Roth not long after the last attempt at a reunion with Van Halen (which resulted in little more than two tracks for the 1997 Best Of Volume I) had fallen apart. "Dave and I have been close friends ever since. I called Dave and I told him the [new Van Halen] stuff is amazing, it's incredible, and congratulations."
Another VIP guest, "A-Team" filmmaker Joe Carnahan, called Van Halen his "desert island band." Still celebrating the #1 debut of the "The Grey," which stars Liam Neeson, the director happily acknowledged his presence at the invite-only event as "one of the perks. This is incredible! I've been a fan since I was a kid. To be here, munching on the Van Halen chocolates, is amazing, dude."
A darkened hallway draped with black curtains and lit only by blue Christmas lights led the way from the food and drink area to an intimate soundstage fashioned in a bit of a horseshoe shape with large ramps. The three giant video screens played footage from Van Halen's recent "Tattoo" video filmed at the nightclub The Roxy, where they had secretly rehearsed for several months. Loud cheers greeted the band, all of them original members save for Wolfgang, as they walked comfortably onto the stage and tore into their well-worn cover of the Kinks' "You Really Got Me."
Roth wore a blue leather suit that showed off the enduringly charismatic 56 year old's trim physique. Alex had his signature shades and slicked back hair. Noticeably more filled out and grownup looking than when he joined the band in his teens, Wolfgang wore the same grin as the rest of the band throughout the night as he provided backup vocals reminiscent of his predecessor, Michael Anthony (who of course is now in Chickenfoot with former Van Halen singer Sammy Hagar). Eddie's t-shirt and jeans looked like they had been crumpled on his bedroom floor for months before he put them on, but his playing was anything but sloppy. All of them brought their A-game. The high notes Roth can't hit as well anymore were more than covered by his athleticism and infectious showmanship.
"We've been dusting off the set for the past couple of months and tonight we're gonna dust off the barbecue," Roth announced as the band launched into "Runnin' with the Devil," the first track from their 1978 eponymous debut. 1981's "Unchained" was next, followed by a new track, "The Trouble with Never." Mimicking the voice of an emergency broadcast, Roth announced that everyone was tuned into a Van Halen party emergency channel. "In the event of an actual celebration, you will be required to report to the bar for an alcoholic beverage and you will be required to dance properly to the rock n' roll music." Then, boom: "Everybody Wants Some."
Van Halen's very own chocolates. (Photo: Ryan J. Downey)
Roth told the crowd that the event was originally conceived as a late morning press conference but was switched "to 8pm on a Wednesday, so we could drink." Van Halen then played another new track, "She's the Woman," followed by "Dance the Night Away."
As the foursome erupted into one of their biggest hits from Roth's era with the band, he asked: "Would it kill you if I told you 'Panama' was just a stripper from Albuquerque?" As "Panama" reached its spoken word bit, the singer reached into his brief stint as a New York City EMT. His "Paramedic jokes," as he called them, included: "Mr. Rodriguez, how many fingers of yours am I holding up?"
Despite the obvious audience favoritism toward the old stuff, A Different Kind of Truth's "Tattoo" had many of the folks in the crowd singing along, as well. Evanescence guitarist Terry Balsamo told Billboard.biz he wasn't sold on the track at first, "but hearing it live made me like it a lot. And the other new songs were sick. They were awesome. I thought the [entire] performance was amazing."
David Lee Roth with a stage full of Vegas-style showgirls. (Photo: Ryan J. Downey)
Roth was cognizant of the history in the room, which has stood since the silent film era. Earlier in the set, he said that Charlie Chaplin was a "Van Halen fan" who inspired "Hot for Teacher." He noted later that Chaplin was 35 when he became involved with a 16 year old girl, which made Eddie crack up. (To his point, when Chaplin was 54 he married an 18 year old and had eight kids with her).
The band left the stage after "Hot for Teacher," but Roth returned by himself with an acoustic guitar and waxed sentimental about Van Halen's L.A. beginnings, referencing local hotspots like Pink's Hotdogs. He started 1978's "Ice Cream Man" by himself before he was joined by the rest of the band. Eddie, who drank from what appeared to be a Red Bull can covered in duct tape throughout the evening, said simply, "Davey" into the mic after the song's conclusion and motioned to the crowd to applaud the frontman.
"Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" was the second-to-last song of the night before, with typically effective Van Halen bombast, confetti dropped from the ceiling and an eight-piece drum band accompanied by a small army of Vegas-style showgirls joined the group as they brought down the house with "Jump." Once the band left the stage, the drummers and dancers led the assembled crowd back to the bar where the troop encouraged everyone to dance the night away.
Roth's first album with the band in 28 years is due in stores and online February 7 on Interscope Records.
"You Really Got Me"
"Runnin' With The Devil"
"The Trouble With Never"
"Everybody Wants Some"
"She's The Woman"
"Dance The Night Away"
"Hot For Teacher"
"Ice Cream Man"
"Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love"