Live Review: Van Halen at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, February 28

If there’s one thing Van Halen have set out to prove in 2012, it’s that they know how to throw a party. Beginning with their intimate, invite-only gig at New York City’s Cafe Wha? in January and then at another small show in Los Angeles, the semi-reunited lineup of frontman David Lee Roth and the Van Halen family (guitarist Eddie, his bassist son Wolfgang, and his drummer brother Alex) showed that not only are they getting along and having fun, but that they’re not slowing down while doing it. Now, having released a new album that’s gotten positive reviews (A Different Kind of Truth), they’re touring North America with the sort of supersized party that made them superstars in the late ’70s and early ’80s. (They even got “Celebration” singers Kool & the Gang to kick off the party.)

Thanks to Van Halen’s go-with-the-flow attitude, it works. At their first of two dates at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, the shiny-shirt-wearing Roth paraded around the stage, doing his trademark dance moves on a makeshift wooden dance floor and even throwing a few of his signature roundhouse high kicks in for good measure. The Van Halens performed classics like “You Really Got Me” and “Runnin’ With the Devil” with aplomb, and even when things got a little out of hand (as when Roth was messing with his Madonna-like head mic or when he shouted, “I forgot the fucking words,” before the chorus of new song “China Town”), they played it off with a smile. This is, after all, one of the greatest hard rock bands touring yet again with one of the greatest hard-rock frontmen.

And since being a frontman is somewhat akin to being a circus ringleader, Roth assumed the role of master of ceremonies for what became a great night indeed. Whether it was tossing summer beach balls back into the audience (which bounced around the arena for the first half of their two-hour set); or, during “Hot for Teacher,” throwing candy into the front row (saying, non-sequitur, “How about some candy, kids? There’s gonna be some changes around here. We’re gonna have chocolates for breakfast!”); or shooting confetti cannons over the whole arena for “Jump” as Roth waved a checkered flag, the singer led a celebration of the fact that the band was there—a feat for a group of musicians who, over their 40-year career, has endured some very public inner rivalry.

And the fans reacted to the positive vibes. Throughout the evening’s litany of big hits (“I’ll Wait,” “Unchained”) and deep album cuts (“Romeo Delight,” “Hear About It Later,” “Girl Gone Bad”), the feeling within the crowd was electric. And this is in spite of the evening’s few frustrations (Roth’s mic problems and the fact that the big screen behind the band would show still photos for practically every Eddie solo), the audience rolled with it, eating up every second. Perhaps the most telling moment was that the only moment of silence among the concertgoers was when Eddie took center stage for his jaw-dropping guitar solo (which contains bits of “Eruption,” “Cathedral,” and “Spanish Fly”—not in that order), during which the only other sound in the house was of thousands of people flipping on their cell-phone video cameras. The rest of the evening, was the sort of party only Van Halen could throw. And luckily for the rest of New York not lucky enough to see them at Cafe Wha?, they invited 18,000 of their closest friends.

Van Halen Set List

“You Really Got Me”
“Runnin’ With the Devil”
“She’s the Woman”
“Romeo Delight”
“Tattoo”
“Everybody Wants Some!!”
“Somebody Get Me a Doctor”
“China Town”
“Hear About It Later”
“Oh, Pretty Woman”
Drum Solo
“Unchained”
“The Trouble With Never”
“Dance the Night Away”
“I’ll Wait”
“Hot for Teacher”
“Women in Love”
“Girl Gone Bad”
“Beautiful Girls”
“Ice Cream Man”
“Panama”
Guitar Solo
“Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love”
“Jump”

 

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