Guitar solos are supposed to be tiring, self-absorbed examples of instrumental onanism, an opportunity for the audience to check out the T-shirt vendors in the lobby and the rest of the band to catch its breath. Fortunately for the 5,494 in attendance, no one ever explained that bit of stage wisdom to Eddie Van Halen.
At 47, Van Halen has added some gray hairs but he’s lost none of his dexterity, which he aptly proved during a nearly 20-minute solo near the end of his band’s two-hour tribute to a career that spans 30 years and shows no sign of ending.
Looking amazingly fit for someone who’s endured divorce, hip-replacement surgery and cancer (and, astoundingly, continues to smoke), the shirtless Van Halen proved that he can still bring people to their feet even when he’s flat on his back. Lying before a wall of amplifiers bearing his initials, the man who inspired millions of air guitar players ripped through a series of finger-friendly instrumentals that had the audience chanting, “Ed-die! Ed-die! Ed-die!” Not too shabby for someone wearing his hair in a goofy topknot and an undecipherable display of graffiti on his still flat stomach.
As for the rest of the band, any signs of uneasiness or ego were nowhere to be found. Certainly, a portion of the audience turned out to hear lead singer Sammy Hagar’s attempts at replacing former front man David Lee Roth. He managed to do so by putting his own personal touches on such classics as “ Jump,” “Unchained,” “You Really Got Me” and even “Panama,” on which he relied on the audience to handle most of the vocals. Hagar, who turns 57 in October, took the time to honor the fans of his solo work, turning in inspiring versions of “Eagles Fly” and “Deeper Kind Of Love” that showed Van Halen wasn’t the only member of the band who knew his way around a guitar.
Bassist Michael Anthony did his best to live up to the band’s hard-partying image, taking swigs from a bottle of Jack Daniel’s during his solo while drummer Alex Van Halen’s kinetic pounding kept the show on course. Some drummers tend to flail about, but not Alex Van Halen, a master chef when it comes to cooking up round after round of meat-and-potatoes rock ’n’ roll. The evening’s menu had only a few variations on some tried-and-true favorites, but the audience left the arena feeling sated after being served a hearty portion of musical legerdemain.
— By Tim Taylor