When Van Halen last toured in 2008, its attitude appeared to be purely nostalgic, but four years later, a noticeably revitalized version of the band had a more pertinent reason to hit the road. For the first time since 1998’s ill-fated Van Halen “III,” the foursome returned to the studio for a full-length album, and perhaps even more monumental is the fact that “A Different Kind of Truth” (Interscope) marks its first with David Lee Roth behind the mic since 1984.
While it might not have technically been the full-fledged reunion purists would’ve hoped for (sans bassist Michael Anthony, who continues to collaborate with estranged ex-singer Sammy Hagar), this was far better than the last outing’s mere trotting through the most obvious hits.
Besides serving as a welcome return to form record reminiscent of the band’s late 1970s beginnings, the new material lit a fire under Diamond Dave, guitarist Eddie Van Halen, bassist Wolfgang Van Halen (his 20-year-old son) and drummer Alex Van Halen. While it might not have technically been the full-fledged reunion purists would’ve hoped for (sans bassist Michael Anthony, who continues to collaborate with estranged ex-singer Sammy Hagar), this was far better than the last outing’s mere trotting through the most obvious hits.
Of course, plenty of Van Halen classics were on the docket, but when book-ended with the raucous new cuts and a few lost gems, it kept repeat customers on their toes and also introduced the band to younger generations. Opening with a super-charged rendition of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” was a timeless choice for any age, which flowed tenaciously towards the gasoline-doused staple “Runnin’ With the Devil.”
The first taste of “A Different Kind of Truth” came with the scalding “She’s the Woman” and the project’s grungy lead single “Tattoo,” which kicked more butt in concert than the reserved in comparison studio edition. “China Town” found Eddie Van Halen going to town with his furiously fast fret work and Roth kept up far better than the average 57-year-old, while “The Trouble With Never” also benefited from the front man’s charismatic showmanship and Alex Van Halen’s steady backbeat.
Though the new tunes went over surprisingly well, the oldies are likely what sold out Chicago’s United Center and Van Halen didn’t disappoint with pretty much all the Roth-era crests. Fiery album cuts like “Everybody Wants Some!!,” “Somebody Get Me a Doctor” and “Hear About It Later” were interspersed with even more explosive sing-a-longs like the guys’ signature cover of Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman,” “Unchained” and “Dance the Night Away.”
A few mid-80s moments derailed the night ever so briefly, mainly “I’ll Wait” with its corny, piped-in keyboards and the hokey novelty “Hot For Teacher.” But the band rebounded with plenty of bombast come the thumping “Panama” and the pummeling “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” which for the first time in a long time, helped reclaim Van Halen’s rightful place in the upper echelon of hard rock history with plenty of vitality oozing out of the current chapter.