VAN HALEN with Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Los Angeles, CA
October 2, 2015
Writing and Photography by TourBusLive.com
There is a very good reason why I decided to forego my college graduation (don’t gasp – it was junior college and I knew I’d have another chance a few years later) to go to a concert instead. Why? Because it was VAN HALEN. And because it was 1984. Seriously, there was no competition. Trust me, I NEVER even once regretted my decision.
So, for this band to STILL be touring 31 years after that graduation night blows my mind.
But it makes perfect sense that Van Halen can still sell out shows all over the globe. Their influence has been immeasurable in our modern world – from pop culture references to inspiring countless modern guitar heroes (OH! And the actual game Guitar Hero)! I doubt I could even list in one readable article the number of musicians who cite Van Halen as the reason they picked up instruments in the first place (although it takes a rare gem to reproduce the level of skill and technical ability to match that of the young Edward Van).
But here we are – ALMOST as if time has stood still – and ALMOST back to the original lineup! Singer DAVID LEE ROTH returned to the band in 2007 after a 20-year hiatus – and bassist MICHAEL ANTHONY, having been with the band UNTIL the 2007 tour when Roth returned, has been replaced by another Van Halen, guitarist EDWARD VAN HALEN’S son WOLFGANG, while drummer ALEX VAN HALEN still pounds the skins like never before.
And you really can’t complain about their sound – the slight difference in a few notes here and there between Eddie and Alex are expected, as the less nimble fingers of these men, now both in their 60s, still command respect. And, sure, the less experienced yet no less determined Wolfie Van Halen (who was 15 on his first tour with his pops and uncle) isn’t quite the player or vocal harmonist Michael Anthony was for this band – but he sure holds his own! And who in their right mind would even expect Roth to still carry every single note exactly the way he did some 40 years ago when we first watched him dance the night away. Still the ultimate showman –and still mesmerizing to watch from beginning to end, David Lee Roth is definitely still shining like a diamond. Sure, I miss those really limber round-house kicks – and the woo-hooing now replaces most of the high notes he used to hit – but the audience sings every lyric anyway – so why worry.
But none of that matters now – as Van Halen still delivers a show that keeps every single fan out of their seat and up on their feet for the majority of their nearly 2-hour rock fest.
In fact, I think the veteran guys sound better than they have in quite a while (last here in the Southland in 2012) – and they also look amazing (which every female VH fan will tell you is just as important as how they sound – trust me). Eddie’s mostly salt (with a little pepper) hair is making him look rather distinguished, Alex seems as fit as ever, while Roth, sporting a lot less hair but a lot more ink (his new tattooed torso is really cool!), looks almost as good as he did back when he posed for that album-insert poster (you know, the one with the fence?!).
But for such a seasoned band, Van Halen still managed to do something new on Friday night: They walked onto the stage at the Hollywood Bowl for their very first time. Yep. This was the first time they ever played the famed venue – ever. And man, did they give it their all. From opening song “Light Up the Sky” to the closing “Jump”, the whole show was quintessential Van Halen – amazing musicianship with tons of fun mixed in. That party atmosphere (which got them in more trouble than not back in the ‘old days’) still made it seem as though the band has some pretty tight bonds. Even the sometimes-feuding front man and lead guitarist seemed to truly unite and share moments on stage that, on this night anyway, appeared to be genuine and heartfelt. And watching Dave watch Eddie rip through his solos surely makes it seem he shares the love and respect we all have for this legendary guitarist.
And let’s not forget Alex. That guy really is the glue that holds Van Halen together. The three Van Halen clansmen were tightly locked at times, with Wolfgang and his uncle often right there in the pocket. Yeah – there isn’t much more to say other than “Everybody Wants Some!!”
Oh, and in case I didn’t mention it – the guys had me on this tour at “Drop Dead Legs”. I gotta thank the band for pulling that one out of the archives for sure. Yeah, if you could see me now, you’d see a very satisfied smile – 30-plus years in the making.
NOTE: Kenny Wayne Shepherd opened for Van Halen both nights at the Hollywood Bowl with a blues set that would make any guitarist weep.
SPOTTED IN THE CROWD: Rock guitarist Howie Simon in the front row and badass bassist Luciano Ferrea of My Ruin!