October 11, 1991|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Van Halen

When: Oct. 17, 8 p.m.

Where: Capital Centre

Tickets: $22.50 (obstructed view only).

Call: 796-7490 for information, 481-6000 for tickets When Edward Van Halen apologizes over the phone for being "a little crazed," it's not hard to forgive him. After all, it had been a pretty frantic morning in the Van Halen household.

His band, Van Halen, was taking a brief break from its current tour, and so he was at home in Los Angeles with his wife, actress Valerie Bertinelli, and their son, Wolfgang.

But Bertinelli was due in Pittsburgh that day to begin work on a movie, and before she could leave, she wanted to return a pair of baby shoes. It was no big deal -- until her car broke down in traffic.

"It was like the car would idle, but when you pushed on the gas, nothing would happen," explained Van Halen. "So I just got back from picking her up, getting her in the car and out of here. It's been kind of a crazy."

Still, he's not complaining. "Believe it or not, we're actually kind of happy that we're both working at the same time," he says. "That way, when we're both off, we're both together."

Such concern for home and family isn't exactly common in rock and roll, but contrary to what you might read elsewhere, there's no doubting Van Halen's devotion to his wife and child. Indeed, as much as he loves playing with his bandmates, he really dislikes having to leave home to do it.

"I hate it," he says, and then explains some of what he went through on the first leg of the band's current tour to keep up with his family. Bertinelli "spent seven weeks in Wilmington, N.C., doing a miniseries, and every day off I would fly out there. It was a pain, because there are no direct flights there. . . .

"But it's a real drag not being there -- especially at this age. [Children] change so quick. We had a week off here at home, and just within that week he started crawling. If I had been on the road, I would have missed it."

None of this, by the way, should be taken to mean that he regrets being on the road. In fact, if you ask him how it feels to be back out with Van Halen, his enthusiasm is audible. "This is the best Van Halen has ever been," he says emphatically. "I think we've really turned over a new leaf."

Not that you'd know it from the reviews. Even though Van Halen's new album, "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge," went straight to the top of the charts, and despite the fact that it is one of the few touring acts to do sell-out business on a regular basis this year, the group has gotten more than its share of drubbings in the press.

And frankly, Van Halen is pretty peeved.

"I don't know what these people are expecting, but some of the reviewers just don't dig it," he says. "I read a review of the L.A. show the other day, and the guy just couldn't believe that we were having fun."

"It's funny," he adds, not laughing. "I got a feeling they don't quite know where to put us. We're not Skid Row. We're not Guns N' Roses. We're not angry young men. We're just out there making good music and having a good time."

Van Halen has always been a party band, of course, but this time out, the group is emphasizing a different kind of fun. "What the show feels like to me is like I'm playing in my backyard, and I've got all my friends over," says Van Halen. "Seriously. It's not a show, believe it or not. It really isn't.

"We do a different show every night, depending on how we feel and depending on how the audience feels. We just get down and play. It's like a huge club gig."

It helps, of course, that the band sounds great, even by its own standards. "There's a lot more spirit in this record than previous ones," says the guitarist, and he credits producer Andy Johns for that. "He gave us more of the sound that we prefer, which is us four in a room playing live. That's what it sounds like to me onstage.

"And when things sound a certain way, you play a certain way."

In addition to a new producer, the album found Van Halen -- the guitarist, not the whole band -- using a new axe: The Edward Van Halen signature-model guitar. Funnily enough, he admits that when he was approached about designing a guitar, he didn't warm to the idea.

"It hit me as a little pompous, you know what I mean?" he says. "A guitar with my name on it? It took some convincing. I've endorsed products on the past, but I've never really put my name on one specific thing."

Not only did the guitar work out, but Van Halen wound up designing an amplifier to go with it. "It's like finally, I'm getting to be able to work with people who are listening to me," he says.

Except the critics, that is. "I've really got a thing about reviewers, if you haven't noticed," he says. "I read another one; just for fun, we used Jimi Hendrix's 'Star-Spangled Banner' to open the show, and this guy opens the article by saying, 'The nerve of Eddie Van Halen to cover Jimi Hendrix's "Star-Spangled Banner." ' But if you knew the song at all, you'd know it wasn't me, it was Hendrix. It was a tape. Woodstock." He laughs, and adds, "I just thought it was funny. Maybe I should write him a letter."

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