Jump for Van Halen

November 01, 2007|By Brian McCollum | Brian McCollum,McClatchy-Tribune

For a certain breed of Van Halen fan, it's like finally getting to scratch a pesky itch.

More than 20 years have passed since David Lee Roth was unceremoniously dumped from his band in favor of vocalist Sammy Hagar, carving a schism between Van Halen aficionados and creating years of frustration for fans of the original singer. And more than a decade has passed since Van Halen first teased at a reunion with Roth, initiating what would become a continuing procession of rumors, botched plans and public feuding.

That's why the most common reaction to August's announcement that Roth was back on board for an autumn tour (which stops at Verizon Center tonight) may have been a single exclamation:

Finally!

It's been a long time coming for the band that provided the soundtrack to countless high-school parties and muscle-car joyrides so many years ago.

The Hagar version of Van Halen was a commercial success, forging a body of work many consider on par with the Roth years. But easy as it could be to get fatigued by the self-aggrandizing Roth - a star whose big mouth has frequently welcomed his own foot - there was no denying the unique, lightning-in-a-bottle magic that produced all those early classics: "Runnin' with the Devil," "Panama," "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love."

Punk may have considered itself the back-to-basics movement in the late '70s, but in an era of big-for-its-britches rock artistry, Van Halen marked an equally important return to rock roots. The music was fun - loud, loose, libertine fun. As other rock songwriters burrowed into themselves, the L.A. quartet remembered that rock 'n' roll was about sharing good times.

Fans nervous about rustiness for the regrouped band - patched up, rehabbed and 20 years older - can probably rest easy. Reports from the tour have described a Van Halen that's spirited, electric and, most important, musically tight.

If anything continues to raise fans' hackles, however, it's the presence of Eddie Van Halen's son, Wolfgang, on bass. The 16-year-old may be musically adept, and he may come with a potent pedigree. But there's one crucial thing he's not: Michael Anthony.

In a move that remains muddied by mystery, Anthony was eased out of band activity in recent years and wasn't invited to join the group when rehearsals began in late summer. The band, which has done little public talking on any topic this year, has offered minimal comment about the Anthony situation. In a 2006 session with Howard Stern, Eddie Van Halen criticized the former bass player's touring with the solo Hagar and justified the inclusion of Wolfgang by declaring that, "the name Van Halen, the family legacy, is going to go on long after I'm gone."

In one of his few public conversations about the matter, Anthony played diplomatic while talking with Rolling Stone magazine last month: "I'm not a spiteful person. At this point in my life, I don't need the drama. I went through that when I was in my 20s, and I don't feel like going through it again in my 50s." Meanwhile, the bassist is back on the road touring with Hagar.

But aside from Anthony's absence, all seems to be intact for the group that churned out six multimillion-selling albums between 1979 and 1984. Eddie Van Halen, the most influential guitarist of his day, may have been all about the sonic wizardry. But underneath the fireworks, Van Halen's music was essentially simple: uncluttered arrangements, a steady bottom end, an upbeat tempo that found a sweet spot where guys could pump their fists and girls could dance.

Van Halen performs at the Verizon Center, 601 F St. N.W., Washington, at 7:30 tonight. Tickets are $49.50-$149.50. Call 410-547-7328 or go to ticketmaster.com.

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