Note: As part of The Tribune’s coverage of the 2013 California Mid-State Fair, we’re running a series of concert reviews. Here, Tribune staffer Sarah Linn reviews the July 24 Van Halen concert.
On Wednesday, the stars aligned at the California Mid-State Fair for a momentous occasion: the long-delayed reunion of two legendary rock gods.
Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth and guitarist Eddie Van Halen first parted ways back in 1985, with Sammy Hagar replacing Roth and Gary Cherone taking over for Hagar in 1996. Roth briefly returned for a 2007-2008 tour, but left after that.
Now he’s back at the mike again, and his fans couldn’t be happier.
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Accompanied by his brother, drummer Alex Van Halen, and son, bassist Wolfgang Van Halen, Eddie Van Halen was in fine form Wednesday night, his fingers flying like lightning over the frets of his white-and-black guitar.
Roth, on the other hand, sounded a bit rough. Whether it was mere tiredness or the ravages of time, he seemed to have trouble hitting the same screaming high notes that were his signature in the 1970s and ‘80s.
The crowd gathered at the Chumash Grandstand Arena -- whipping their hair in the air, strumming imaginary guitars and throwing up the sign of the horns -- didn’t seem to mind.
A combination of aging rockers reliving their youth and younger fans longing to recreate a bygone era, they wore everything from spaghetti-strapped sundresses and shorts to skull scarves, leather jackets and tight, torn jeans. (Several committed the cardinal sin of wearing a Van Halen T-shirt to a Van Halen concert, akin to listening to said band’s songs on the way to the show.)
Not to be outdone by his fans, Roth was resplendent in a sparkling, sequined black jacket, vest and pants, black boots, polka-dot shirt and light-colored scarf. Later in the show, Diamond Dave donned a floppy newsboy cap, then switched to a shiny turquoise shirt and sailor hat.
His final outfit featured a bright yellow mariachi jacket and sunglasses -- his finery a contrast to the no-frills stage design.
Eddie and Wolfgang Van Halen, in contrast, sported basic black V-necked tees and jeans. (Alex Van Halen remained hidden behind his massive drum set upstage.)
Wednesday’s show opened with a series of familiar hits – “Unchained,” followed by “Runnin’ with the Devil,” “She’s the Woman” and “Romeo Delight.” “Tattoo,” up next, appealed to the ink aficionados in the audience.
By the time Van Halen segued into the jungle-inflected “Everybody Wants Some!!,” the band had hit its stride.
Roth’s question to the audience -- “Are we having a good time so far?” -- was met with a resounding cheer. He followed that with “Get Me a Doctor,” “Chinatown” and “Hear About It Later” before switching gears with a cover of Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman.”
After a drum solo by Alex Van Halen came more golden oldies, including “You Really Got Me,” “Dance the Night Away,” “Hot for Teacher,” “Beautiful Girls” and “Panama.” Roth, who wielded a katana and a microphone stand over the course of the show, picked up an acoustic guitar for the bluesy opening to “Ice Cream Man.”
To close out the concert, Eddie Van Halen launched into an electrifying guitar solo that inspired excited cries of “Yeah, Eddie!” Then his bandmates returned to the stage.
“This is our last show for a while here in the United States. I can’t think of a better place to do it,” Roth announced before thanking the band’s hard-working road crew and launching into “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love.”
We walked out of the arena to the opening strains of “Jump!” having heard our fill of hard rock hits.