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Van Halen still rockin’

March 2, 2012

Classic rock titans Van Halen and opening act Kool & The Gang drew a full crowd last Friday night at Chicago’s United Center. Fans ranging in age from seven to 70 packed the stadium, most of them wearing red-and-white tour T-shirts, double-fisting warm nine-dollar beers, and having a fantastic time.

Kool & The Gang took the stage at 7:30 p.m. for an impressive performance that included numerous radio-friendly hits from their decades-spanning career, including “Jungle Boogie,” “Ladies’ Night,” and the crowd favorite, “Celebration.”

Boasting nine members, including two drummers and a three-man horn section, The Gang were never without a full arsenal of sound, at turns soulful, funky, and reservedly virtuosic. Indeed, the highlights of the opening band’s set were those moments in which the band departed from the comfort of the familiar in favor of solo spots and jazz-inspired jam sessions.

Van Halen didn’t take long before erupting onto the stage following Kool & The Gang’s set. Alex Van Halen stalked onto the stage from the rear staircase, unmistakable in his sleeveless shirt and signature dark shades. He began to thunder and crash at the drum kit quite suddenly, and a mere heartbeat later brother Eddie and nephew Wolfgang were striding across the stage, guitars slung low, strumming the opening riff to the band’s famous cover of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.”

The setlist kept within the span of original vocalist David Lee Roth’s involvement with Van Halen, from its inception in ‘74 until their infamous falling-out in ‘85, as well as a handful of new tracks from their 2012 studio album A Different Kind of Truth, which felt strangely at home alongside flagship tunes like “Runnin’ with the Devil,” from their self-titled 1978 debut, “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love,” also from Van Halen, and “Dance the Night Away,” the breakout single from the band’s 1979 sophomore effort, Van Halen II.

Individual performances varied, with Alex Van Halen’s drums — including a stunning solo halfway through the show — being the most consistent, and younger brother Eddie’s legendary virtuosity and inventiveness falling not far behind. Eddie’s playing on the “Eruption”/”Cathedral” solo medley toward the end of the set, in particular, had the audience collectively gasping, and both his rhythm and lead playing were in full force on songs like “Everybody Wants Some!!” and “Somebody Get Me a Doctor,” which were played back-to-back and served as the too-early climax of the concert.

David Lee Roth’s second return to the band, following their high-grossing 2007-’08 North American tour, brought a visible warmth among the formerly conflicted group. Despite an uneven vocal performance throughout the night, Roth’s constant interactions with the crowd felt as warm and genuine as the embrace that he and Eddie shared at the show’s conclusion, when the band was showered with red-and-white confetti during the energetic encore song, “Jump.” With a widely acclaimed new album behind them, it’s fair to say that even after four turbulent decades, Van Halen still has plenty to offer rock and roll fans.

Alex Kane
Contributing Writer

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