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Aging rockers Van Halen can still bring it

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David Lee Roth may not be able to jump like he used to, but he’s still got some moves.

These days the Van Halen frontman favours the shimmy, shake, slide and spin instead of the above-the-head kicks and air splits he was famous for in his younger days, although he still pulled off a few leaps and kicks during the band’s stop at the MTS Centre on Sunday night.

He is 57 after all, so that’s to be expected, as was his flashy outfit that looked like he picked it up at Liberace’s garage sale: a sparkly blue and red jacket, leather pants, a black vest and satin blue shirt. And he never failed to deliver a whole lot of head-scratching and/or hilarious quotes that seemed to come from a part of his brain far away from the 30-odd years of lyrics rattling around in there.

Some examples:

❚ "We're going to hell in a bowl full of cherries."

❚ While talking about a drum beat that sounded like an old beer commercial he suddenly ended the conversation with: "No metaphysics before happy hour. I'll probably lie to you again before the evening is over."

❚ "I made a sex tape in 1982 and I was a 1982 sexy mother (lover)."

❚ While talking to a fan in the crowd: "I might be your Goddamn father. You look familiar."

❚ During a cover of Roy Orbison's Oh, Pretty Woman he stopped the song and gave a fan grief for throwing something on stage. "Wait a minute, wait a minute. Don't throw your garbage up on stage; throw your girlfriend up, (bad word insult)."

Oh yeah, he's still full of spunk and both he and the veteran California band were in fine form for a crowd of about 8,000. Official attendance wasn't released for the show, but the arena was set up in its full configuration and there were plenty of unused seats. With a top ticket price of $165, Van Halen might have overestimated their value in today's market.

The money wasn't spent on production. The simple setup included only a large video screen behind the band showing black and white images of the action on stage, replays of that action (you could see Roth pretending his fingers were guns twice), still photos and the band's logo. There were some steps leading up to a drum riser and bass amps, but as far as arena rock spectacles go, this ranked low on the spectacle scale.

Not that it really mattered in the end, since it was hard-rock nostalgia we were there for and hard-rock nostalgia we got.

Reviews of the tour have been mixed, but Winnipeg appears to have caught the band on a good night with Roth and the Van Halens — guitarist Eddie, drummer Alex and bassist Wolfgang (who replaced original member Michael Anthony in 2006) — offering up 22 tracks and two solos in nearly two hours.

Eddie is known for his "brown sound," but everything about his style Sunday was colourful, from the recognizable riffs and the speedy solos to his whammy bar dive bombs and his legendary tapping. He smiled through much of the night and was in fine form while harmonizing with his son Wolfgang and Roth.

The band is touring on the new release, A Different Kind of Truth, and offered up four tracks from it, but otherwise the material focused on the albums recorded with Roth from 1978-84.

The band took the stage and launched into Unchained off Fair Warning before revisiting their 1978 self-titled debut with Runnin' With the Devil. Other early highlights included Everybody Wants Some!! and Somebody Get Me a Doctor.

Things started lagging in the energy department about 40 minutes in with the new China Town, Oh, Pretty Woman, a drum solo and the Kinks' You Really Got Me, but things picked up again with Dance the Night Away, I'll Wait and Hot for Teacher, which had Roth working up a huge sweat while dancing around the stage.

In one of the show's strangest bits, Roth stood alone on stage plucking an acoustic guitar while talking about his sheep-herding dogs while videos of them played behind him.

"I love dogs! Is anybody with me here?" he asked before introducing everyone to his pets — including one from Manitoba — and talking about his hobby and his vehicles.

"I own three pickup trucks. There are no other cars in the garage."

The story led into a full-throttle version of Ice Cream Man followed by the party anthem Panama before Eddie was left alone for his nearly 10-minute solo and the guitar god showed he is still a master by playing clean, distorted, making weird noises by messing with the volume knob, tapping and climaxing with Eruption, arguably one of the best known guitar solos in rock 'n' roll.

The strong finish concluded with Ain't Talking 'Bout Love and Jump. During the final song Roth didn't do any jumping, but spun a microphone stand around like a baton before confetti shot into the air.

In an odd bit of counter-programming, Kool & the Gang were hand-picked by Roth to open the show and treated a sparse crowd to a 50-minute set of funk, R&B, disco and pop.

The 10-piece group has been together in various incarnations since the mid 1960s and are still led by brothers Robert "Kool" Bell on bass and Ronald Bell on saxophone. It took about half the set for the crowd to get into it, but the people who were there were treated to a tight, energetic set by a hard-working band that played nothing but hits, including Hollywood Swinging, Jungle Boogie, Get Down On It, Ladies Night and the wedding/social staple Celebration, which had some people dancing in their seats and singing along.

rob.williams@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Monday, May 14, 2012 at 11:26 AM CDT: Adds byline

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