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Back to form: Diamond Dave and Van Halen revive band's classic energy

| Thursday, May 1, 2008

Last night's Van Halen concert at Mellon Arena featured the band's reunion with singer David Lee Roth after more than a 20-year absence. From the very first notes of "You Really Got Me," Roth embraced the spotlight at every opportunity.

He preened, he mugged for the cameras, a free electron in a physics experiment gone wild, the madcap conductor seemed to be so gosh-darn happy to be back with his former mates.

And well he should, because the Van Halen family understands that rock 'n' roll without substance is just so much flash. Last night's gig belonged to Eddie, Alex and, to a lesser-but-nonetheless-surprising degree, Wolfgang, Eddie's son, now the bassist.

Start with Eddie, looking trim, fit and well. He's the spark, the flame from which all things Van Halen begin, and he was more or less superb throughout, be it slashing the menacing chords of "Runnin' with the Devil" or picking his way through the more lyrical passages of "Dance the Night Away" or "Pretty Woman," not to mention his commanding performances on "Panama" and "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love."

Next, Alex Van Halen, whose remarkably entertaining mid-show drum solo (these things tending to be tepid and cliched) launched the show's most impressive run: "Unchained," "I'll Wait," "And the Cradle Will Rock" and "Hot For Teacher." His playing throughout was fluid and subtle, providing a solid bedrock for Eddie's excursions.

Finally, Wolfgang Van Halen, now 17; the best part about his work is that Michael Anthony's bass was hardly, if at all, missed. The kid is solid, and like his Uncle Alex, knows his role. Judging by his constant smile, he also seems to realize he's one of the luckiest teens on the planet.

Which leaves Diamond Dave, who, at times, was spot-on, notably on "Ice Cream Man," and at times woefully off key, especially in "Little Dreamer" and the encore, "Jump." Roth has lost a step vocally, but his enthusiasm -- his smile also seemed to be plastered in place -- mitigated his shortcomings.

Roth's performance did highlight one important element: You might get away with replacing lead singers, as the Van Halens have done in the past. But there's no substitute for the brothers themselves.

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