Wednesday night at Henson Studios in Hollywood, a reunited Van Halen transformed real estate constructed in the silent film era by Charlie Chaplin into a high-tech rehearsal space and banged out a handful of very loud jams, old and new, for a few hundred VIPs.
David Lee Roth, the ever-enthusiastic lead singer of the band, acknowledged the venue's history between songs: "It's a little bit crazy making so much noise in the temple of silent film here, in the name of Charlie Chaplin." Roth then added a little made-up history: "Most people don't know Charlie Chaplin was a major Van Halen fan. He inspired 'Hot for Teacher,' which we're going to play in a little while."
They indeed played it and more in an hour-long set for both industry bizzers and skeptical critics wondering whether a ragged bunch of aging dudes can still kick it with the kind of enthusiasm you’d hope, given both the anticipation -- and the fat paychecks each will be cashing in the coming year.
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Practicing for an American tour that commences in Louisville, Ky., on Feb. 18 and hits Staples Center on June 1, Van Halen -- Roth, brothers Alex and Eddie Van Halen (drums and guitar, respectively), and the latter's son Wolfgang on bass -- has obviously been sweating to get its oldies back into shape.
Eddie's fingers remain loose and nimble -- even if he did rub his wrist a few times over the course of the evening. And Wolfgang and his uncle Alex are an incredibly sturdy rhythm section that over an hour-long teaser set jammed solid versions of the songs that made them scream-along rock heroes: "You Really Got Me," "Runnin' with the Devil," "Unchained," and "Dance the Night Away," among them.
Too, the band is attempting to remain relevant for a new generation with a new album, "A Different Kind of Truth," that hits the stores on Tuesday. They teased the record, playing three new cuts, including the first single, "Tattoo," and "The Trouble with Never" and "She's the Woman," with varying degrees of success. (Let's just say that they went one-for-three, with "She's the One" being the tightest and most Van Halen-esque of the bunch.)
As the band was closing, Roth acknowledged the crowd and explained that because there wasn't a backstage, the encore -- if the crowd so desired -- would come without any pause in the action. And it did, in the form of "Jump," accompanied by an eight-person drum line and a dozen or so Vegas show girls. As Eddie ran through the classic solos, Roth and the showgirls whooped it up and danced along.
And with that, Roth bid farewell, and drumline and girls led the crowd into the courtyard, where bartenders gave out free booze while the drummers pounded on.
Van Halen sure knows how to throw a party.
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Updated: The original version of this post got the name of a new song wrong. It's titled "She's the Woman," not "She's the One," as was originally written. The post has been changed to reflect this.
-- Randall Roberts
Photo: David Lee Roth at Henson Studios in Hollywood. Credit: iPhone photo by Randall Roberts