Story and Photo by Scott Smith
Burning cigarettes didn’t dangle from Eddie Van Halen’s lips or guitar neck in Tulsa, Okla. on May 1, and David Lee Roth toned down some of his leaping acrobatics across the stage. But Van Halen still put on a monster, raw-sounding show at the BOK Center.
With drummer Alex Van Halen and bassist Wolfgang Van Halen keeping the rhythms tight and the low frequencies hot, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band stormed the stage of the at 9 p.m. as a near-capacity audience shouted in ecstasy. Sure, Eddie, Alex and Roth are older, but sweat and much-needed grit occupied a set list that ran through the best of Van Halen’s back catalog. “Everybody Wants Some,” with Alex’s assertive, distinguished drumming taking on that familiar, tribal sound, nudged most people in the side and nosebleed sections to stand and dance, and “Unchained,” with Eddie’s grinding, mean-sounding guitar pattern, rarely ever sounded better live.
Van Halen also whipped up a hearty dose of new tracks from their recent “A Different Kind of Truth” album. “She’s the Woman,” colored by Alex’s machine gun-like strikes on the high-hat attack and fiery background vocals from Eddie and Wolfgang, and “Tattoo,” a song that’s good in studio form but even better in the live arena, both came early in the fast-paced set.
“The Trouble with Never” and the excellent, fierce “China Town” also were among the new cuts that strolled out for audience adulation.
Van Halen also threw new firepower into “I’ll Wait,” “Hot for Teacher,” “Hear About it Later,” “Dance the Night Away,” “Panama,” “Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love” and their often underappreciated covers of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” and Roy Orbison’s “(Oh!) Pretty Woman.” Deep into the set’s second half, Eddie sat and later stood under green, red and gold lights to play his “Eruption”-esque guitar solo.
Eddie and David Lee seemingly smiled all night, both at each other and at the fans. The once-feuding duo’s sustained grins were magnified a billion-fold on what must be the largest video screen ever built. Dwarfing the band from behind, the rectangular screen showed live, black-and-white shots of the foursome while sprinkling in pre-recorded videos of Roth dancing and various artwork and graphics.
The videos of a goatee-wearing Roth training and playing with his sheep dogs in a region that resembled the Wild West, like Roth’s solid acoustic guitar playing on “Ice Cream Man,” came as a complete, welcomed surprise to many in the all-age crowd.
Kool and the Gang started the evening’s upbeat mood with a 50-minute opening set, punctuated, of course, by “Celebration,” that feel-good anthem that seemed to compliment Van Halen’s chipper, let’s-have-some-fun-tonight side.