The booze is flowing early on this Monday morning at the Four Seasons. Just because Eddie’s stopped drinking doesn’t mean we have to abstain too. This is a Van Halen press conference, after all — rock & roll. By 10:45 a.m., half the crowd is sipping bloody marys and mimosas — bottles of Jack would have been more appropriate — and nibbling on swank little morsels. Instead of bowls of M&M’s (minus the brown ones), there are yogurt parfaits with berries and homemade granola; spinach, mushroom and cheese frittatas; dinky doughnuts with homemade preserves. As Moby’s “Run On” bumps out of the PA (wait a minute — Moby at a Van Halen media event? WTF?), the whole thing starts to seem more like the launch of a new clothing line instead of one of the most anticipated rock moments of the year.
“I wonder whether those four heads can fit on the same stage,” a craggy old metalhead says.
But then the glorious keyboard riff from “Jump” interrupts the speculation, and David Lee Roth and three Van Halens (Alex, Eddie and bass player/Eddie-offspring Wolfgang) weave through the scrum of reporters to announce their long-overdue reunion tour. (They’ll play Staples Center on November 20.)
A generation of Trans Ammers have been waiting for this moment since the day after Roth left Van Halen in the spring of 1985. Since then, it’s been a fucking nightmare. First there was the whole Van Hagar debacle (made even more difficult by the group’s poke-my-eardrums-out success), then the tease of ’96, when Roth briefly rejoined the band but was booted by the brothers before stepping foot onstage. Gary Cherone? That never happened.
And this year has been hell. In February, Eddie Van Halen confirmed that the band’s true front man was returning for a reunion tour — only to renege a few months later and check himself into rehab after photos surfaced of him looking like the Wicked Witch of the West.
But here they are, Dave and Eddie, hugging onstage as a nation of stoners rejoice. Eddie even pecks Dave on the cheek.
“This is the press conference you never thought you’d see happen, especially while we were young, skinny and good-looking,” says an effervescent Roth, wearing a black blazer with golden rococo curlicues that recall the glowing locks he used to rock.
The plan, according to Dave: “Twenty-five of your greatest hits — all the favorites that you’ve been hearing tearing out of the back of a pickup truck at the Burger King drive-thru for how many summertimes?” That would be at least 30, Dave, maybe more for the old-schoolers who remember the band’s days rocking the Continental Club in Hollywood.
And even if Dave’s hot for teacher all these years later — she’s got to be nearing retirement by now — he’s still got it made. He’s Diamond Dave, the king of the rock & roll anthem, a man who keeps time by counting summers. He radiates joy, has no internal editor and shits platinum quotes. In 15 short minutes, he manages to diss U2 and their hair (“You don’t want to see the same old band, the U2 guys with the mullets. You want something that delights, that entertains and astonishes”), the Police for their lack of commitment (“A band like this . . . could get away with a lot if you do one tour. That’s not our ambition. This is not like the Police”), and Elvis Costello’s Imposters and Michael Jackson in the same breath: “If there was a God, Elvis would be alive and the Imposters would be dead, and if Elvis was alive, so would Michael Jackson be dead.” The latter comment elicits an audible rumble, but Dave won’t have any of it. “What, are you booing me for a Michael Jackson joke? This is a Van Halen audience.”
Indeed it is, and the three Van Halens proper onstage look fantastic. Alex looks like a jet-setting financier; young Wolfgang is quiet and a little nervous, but his sunglasses hide most of it. And Eddie looks not only rehabbed but reconstructed: square jawbone, sparkling smile (new teeth?), twinkle in those eyes — quite literally, a new man.
“It’s all very well intact,” confirms Dave, “the same shitty attitude but with a whole new look.” And what of original bassist Michael Anthony, he who swung from ropes while swigging bottles of Jack and keeping a steady tugboat bass? Not invited on this journey. But Roth is the perfect diplomat: “This is the band’s history. There’s a lot of great alumni who have been through this band. I’m shocked that any of us are still vertical after 30 years . . . Usually when a band comes back like us, it’s rockers with walkers, and this is everything but. Meet us in the future, not the pasture.”
It’s been a long time coming, that’s for damn sure. But Van Halen taught us about patience a long time ago. Remember? “You’ve got to roll with the punches to get to what’s real.”