Van Halen fans ea­ger to see re­united lineup

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Ge­off Boucher

PASADENA, Calif. — It’s an old joke, but when David Lee Roth de­liv­ers the punch line it sounds more like a mis­sion state­ment: “How many lead singers does it take to put in a light bulb? One. You hold the bulb and wait for the world to re­volve around you.”

Miss­ing from the joke is how the singer is left stand­ing there in the dark wait­ing for his proper wattage.

On Feb. 7, In­ter­scope Records re­leased A Dif­fer­ent Kind of Truth and, as the world turns, it was the first Van Halen stu­dio al­bum fea­tur­ing Roth as lead singer since 1984 — which was re­leased 28 years ago, right be­fore Ron­ald Rea­gan an­nounced plans to run for a sec­ond term.

Time flies — or does it drag? On a sunny morn­ing in Pasadena, Roth, now 57, wel­comed a vis­i­tor to his 20-room, Ital­ianate man­sion to talk about Van Halen past, present and fu­ture.

Roth ac­tu­ally re­joined the band “five sum­mers and a mil­lion years ago” for the 2007-08 re­union tour, but it took un­til this year for the still-volatile col­lec­tive to fin­ish an al­bum that sat­is­fies all of their agen­das. The amaz­ing thing is that they fin­ished at all; like the Beach Boys, Ea­gles, Red Hot Chili Pep­pers, Guns N’ Roses and Fleet­wood Mac, Van Halen is part of the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia his­tory of world-class soap op­eras dis­guised as plat­inum-sell­ing bands.

Van Halen’s brawny brand of mu­sic has sold more than 80 mil­lion al­bums, but off­stage the group has been a frag­ile al­liance that has fallen apart again and again be­cause of creative clashes, drug tor­por, grudges and, more re­cently, health is­sues.

“We ac­cused each other of be­trayal and thiev­ery and lies and treach­ery,” said the up­beat and chatty Roth. “And it was all true. We were all guilty. Dig up the past, and it’s go­ing to get all over ev­ery­body. And, man, do we have a past....”

The his­tory traces back to 1972, when the Van Halen broth­ers, gui­tarist Eddie and drum­mer Alex — a pair of clas­si­cally trained teen mu­si­cians born in the Nether­lands but raised in Pasadena — au­di­tioned singers for a planned band. Roth didn’t make much of an im­pres­sion at his try­out, but the broth­ers wanted to use his sound sys­tem and let­ting him in the band was bet­ter than rent­ing the gear.

Fame and for­tune would fol­low, but again and again it was the broth­ers Van Halen de­cid­ing who should hold the mi­cro­phone. They could do that be­cause of the stature of Eddie Van Halen, who is revered by rock fans as a sort of mad-ge­nius gui­tar god, the heir of Jimi Hen­drix. He might also be viewed as the El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor of rock, con­sid­er­ing the way he di­vorces lead singers, in­clud­ing Sammy Ha­gar — and, if so, Roth is for­ever his Richard Bur­ton. Roth, mean­while, passed time tour­ing with an Eddie Van Halen sounda­like and at one point did a dou­ble bill with his ri­val Ha­gar to pique at­ten­tion.

The re­united fren­e­mies are a source of fas­ci­na­tion, and fans are ea­ger to see them share a spot­light as the re­con­sti­tuted band (with Eddie’s son, 20-yearold Wolf­gang Van Halen, who re­placed long­time mem­ber Michael An­thony on bass) plays a 46-date arena tour that started on Feb. 18.

Van Halen per­forms Sun­day, 7:30 p.m., at MTS Cen­tre. Tick­ets: $41.75 to $165.50 at Tick­et­mas­ter.

“He’s do­ing re­ally well,” Roth said. “He’s lu­cid, he’s sober, he’s play­ing. You know, I don’t know if Ed has ever felt good. There’s a thin line be­tween rage and great work. He re­ally never en­joyed his fame or suc­cess, and that might be part of what com­pels him.”

De­spite all the squeal­ing gui­tar thun­der, Eddie Van Halen seems like a man sur­rounded by his own si­lence.

Roth, who has short hair now and a lean physique earned with decades of mar­tial arts train­ing, dis­played a few of the dance moves he’s been work­ing on for the show. In his earth-tone over­alls and cap he looked more like a Venice Beach mime than a rock star, but he still has a shark smile.

What ex­actly drives him isn’t easy to glean — does he have the same dark en­gines as Eddie Van Halen?

“You’re ask­ing for a lot of in­tro­spec­tion here,” Roth said. “No­body well ad­justed ever got my job, much less kept it this long. There’s some grasp­ing drive, and it pre­cludes self-sat­is­fac­tion.... You’re al­ways ques­tion­ing.”


The Gang: Den­nis Thomas (from left), Ge­orge Brown, Kool Bell and Ron­ald Bell.

Roth per­forms in Mon­treal in March.

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