By Richard Bienstock
“It took us 50 years to get this gig,” joked David Lee Roth partway through Van Halen’s intimate, invite-only set at New York City’s Café Wha? last night. The 57-year-old singer was in the midst of reciting one of several extended tales, this one a remembrance of visiting, as a seven-year-old boy, the legendary Greenwich Village club with his uncle Manny, the venue’s former owner who, now 92 years old, was also in attendance on this evening. “I’m more nervous about this gig than I would ever be at [Madison Square] Garden,” he added. And so if the show was a homecoming of sorts for Roth, it was also a triumphant night all around for the band—Eddie, Alex and Wolfgang Van Halen—who tore through an hour-plus, 11-song set of classics and one “new old” track, an uptempo rocker titled “She’s the Woman,” likely to appear on their long-awaited upcoming album, A Different Kind of Truth.
The band opened in fine form with two cuts from their 1978 self-titled debut—their cover of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” and “Runnin’ With the Devil”—before kicking into high gear with Van Halen II’s “Somebody Get Me a Doctor” and Women and Children First’s “Everybody Wants Some!!” Throughout, Eddie, dressed in a loose fitting t-shirt and jeans, appeared content to hang back and let Diamond Dave take the spotlight; with a smile plastered across his face he planted himself stage left and unleashed a torrent of riffs and wrenched blazing leads from his Wolfgang axe, in particular a scorching solo on the crowd favorite “Ice Cream Man.” It was a guitar performance as predictably virtuosic as it was surprisingly easygoing and laidback.
The band rounded out the set with a slew of hits, including “Dance the Night Away,” “Hot for Teacher,” “Panama” and the show-closing “Jump.” And while only a lucky 250 people were on hand to witness the gig, Van Halen’s official arena tour kicks off February 18 in Louisville, Kentucky before working its way across the U.S. Additionally, the new A Different Kind of Truth, the band’s first studio album with Roth since 1984, is set for release on February 7, and the first single, “Tattoo,” will debut on Tuesday, January 10. Indeed, as Roth quipped at one point during the show, “Welcome to Occupy Van Halen.”