Van Halen in Concert

Freedom Hall, February 8

By Rob Frayser

In the words of Wayne Campbell and as always Garth: Excellent! It was almost eight years to the day since I last saw Van Halen in concert and a few things had changed.

The average age of the concert goer was about 8 years older, souvenir T-shirts were about $10 to $20 more expensive and the band had switched former vocalist/showman David Lee Roth for vocalist/musician Sammy Hagar. Hagar, who joined the group in 1986, told the crowd that though it had been a long time since they had performed in Louisville, that they had not changed except 'that we play longer and better.' While the concert (which lasted two hours) was not any longer than the previous Van Halen show, Hagar was correct about the quality of their performance. From the concert opener 'Poundcake' to the encore closer 'Standing on Top of the World,' Van Halen had the crowd on its feet.

Once again playing the part of guitar hero, Eddie Van Halen ripped into both old and new songs alike, leaving few doubting Hagar's statement that he is the best guitarist in the world. Concentrating on his guitar, Van Halen dropped the synthesizers that had been a big part of the 1984 concert. This meant that prerecorded keyboard music was played on a few son gs like 'Jump,'but since Eddie had guitar in hand during those moments, it didn't seem to matter.

An impressive stage show, complete with lights and lasers, took a back seat to the enthusiasm with which the band played. It was apparent that Van Halen was not a band going through the motions of performing; they enjoyed the concert as much as their fans. They did a great job of mixing spontaneity with a faithfulness to their studio sound. Hagar probably tried on at least five different shirts and read every banner the crowd threw to him.

Highlights of the show included supercharged versions of Hagar's 1981 solo hit 'One Way to Rock' and 'Best of Both Worlds' from their 1986 5150 album. Each member of the band performed a solo and both bassist Michael Anthony and drummer Alex Van Halen showed why they are among the better at their profession. Hagar's solo was an impressive acoustic version of his last solo hit 'Give to Live.' The best solo belonged to Eddie Van Halen who electrified the crowd with a pulse-quickening effort that left them chanting 'Eddie, Eddie' when he finished.

Despite not playing as long as I would have liked them, overall Van Halen put on an excellent show that left me wanting to see them play again before another eight years have passed.

The Australian band Baby Animals opened the show on their first tour of the United States. One of the better opening acts I have seen, they played with great confidence even though they knew the crowd was not there to see them.

Look for better things for them in the future.