Van Halen returns to rock Utah

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WEST VALLEY CITY — Prior to Saturday night, it had been more than 30 years since a David Lee Roth-fronted version of Van Halen played in Utah.

In the interest of full disclosure I will say: I like both the Roth and Hagar eras; I have no problem with Wolf but wish Michael Anthony was still in the band; and yes the vocals from DLR on the recently released live album and his performance on The Jimmy Kimmel Show scared me to the point that I almost didn’t go to Saturday’s show.

That would have been a really big mistake.

The iconic Van Halen made a long awaited and triumphant return to Utah Saturday playing at the USANA Amphitheatre, and proving why this band must be seen live!

Most people in attendance already knew what the set list was going to be. The set list – filled with radio/MTV hits, rarities and a couple of songs never played before this tour (all DLR songs) – was something that most VH fans had been talking about since opening night two weeks ago. On paper, it’s incredible. The biggest question has been how would it actually sound in concert?

Anyone named Van Halen on the stage Saturday night was on top of their game. Eddie Van Halen doesn’t do the flying splits or move around the stage nearly as much as he used to. But he looks healthy and his guitar playing is as strong as it has been in quite awhile. Alex Van Halen is so steady that sometimes it’s easy to forget how good he is because of all the attention Dave and Ed receive. Likewise, Wolfgang Van Halen –  who wasn’t even born until a few years after Roth left Van Halen the first time –  seemed content to just sit back and unassumingly play his bass parts while his father, uncle and Roth took the spotlight.

Then there was Dave.

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Yes, Dave was kind of all over the place. He sounded good at times, awful at others and even forgot the opening lyrics to “Feel Your Love Tonight.”  Sometimes he sang. A lot of times he just talked. But always with a perma-ear-to-ear smile on his face. And he was the consummate showman, constantly interacting the crowd, telling stories, dancing and doing high kicks and other martial arts-type moves.

But what made the night so memorable is that it was a live concert. It’s that feeling you can’t get from playing a CD or watching a band play on TV. It’s the lights. The stacks of amps. The synergy between the band and audience. The crowd dancing, fist pumping and going into a frenzy when they recognize the opening guitar licks of their favorite song. It’s watching rock-n-roll history unfold on stage, legendary musicians whom you idolize in high school, still play at a high level of excellence.

Opening with “Light Up the Sky,” although there were a lot of kids in the audience likely seeing Van Halen for the fist time, most in the crowd were immediately taken back to their high school years and earlier. The familiar bass thumping-opening for “Runnin’ With the Devil” was next.  Among the highlights were “Drop Dead Legs” (a song never played before this tour), “I’ll Wait,” “Beautiful Girls,” “Women in Love,” “Dance The Night Away.” and the crowd pleasing “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” “Unchained” and “Panama.”

Even without vocals, listening to Eddie and Alex jam the opening riffs to “Somebody Get Me a Doctor,” “Hot For Teacher” and “Everybody Wants Some” was well worth seeing. In fact, I would love to see just Eddie, Alex and Wolf play samples of several other songs strung together, like “Girl Gone Bad,” “On Fire” (a song they sound checked on opening night), “D.O.A.,” “I’m The One” and “Atomic Punk.”

That would be similar to what Eddie Van Halen, one of the greatest guitar players in history, does for his solo. With chants of “Eddie, Eddie” from the crowd, Van Halen played a 10 minute solo highlighting some of his best known guitar parts – “Eruption,” “Mean Street,” “Cathedral,” “Little Guitars” and “Spanish Fly.”

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Dave also had his solo segment to play “Ice Cream Man,” but mostly it was a chance for Dave to talk more, telling entertaining stories about the “disco submarine” and how the band and crew slept on a cramped bus during their first tour of the UK 30+ years ago.

“You Really Got Me,” “Panama” and “Jump” rounded out the evening.

Everyone seemed to get along well on stage. Dave and Eddie exchanged frequent smiles, and Dave even got both Alex and Eddie to participate in his banter at different times during the show. If there are ill feelings between Dave and Eddie off stage, they didn’t show on stage.

Overall, Saturday night was why we go to rock shows. For the atmosphere and energy they provide and the memories they invoke. No, this isn’t the Van Halen of 1978 or 1984. But the Van Halen of 2015 is still worth seeing.

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