Reunited Van Halen Parties Like It’s 1984


November 2, 2007

Their mullets may be shorn but hard rockers Van Halen are partying like it’s 1984 on a sold-out U.S. tour with original frontman David Lee Roth – one of several baby-boomer bands back on the road this year.

Propelled by 53-year-old Roth’s clowning and guitarist Eddie Van Halen’s virtuoso rubber-band licks, the band barreled through a two-hour set Thursday with hits like “Runnin’ With the Devil” and “Hot for Teacher,” recorded before Roth quit more than 20 years ago to pursue a solo career.

That was fine with the fans who wanted no surprises.

“I don’t want to hear any new music,” said art curator Anne Shires, 32, who said she paid $260 for a floor seat.

Sales of recorded music have plunged over the past decade, but rock fans long out of college are more willing than ever to pay top dollars to see the now-wrinkled musicians who provided the soundtrack to their youth.

The Police and Bruce Springsteen, who battled Van Halen at the top of the charts in the late 1970s and early 1980s, are also playing to packed houses this fall.

“Every artist now realizes that by and large their major income comes from touring and merchandise sales, and not from recorded music sales,” said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Pollstar, the trade journal of the concert industry.

Van Halen has sold more than 80 million albums worldwide since its 1978 debut, but hasn’t released an album of new music since 1996. The band was dropped by its record label in 2002.

But all 40 dates this year quickly sold out, and the tour has been extended through March.

“This tour is as successful as they get,” said manager Irving Azoff, who declined to provide revenue figures. According to the Chicago Tribune, the band earns $1.5 million per night.

The tour comes after a decade in which Van Halen has been more of a presence on the gossip pages than the pop charts, due to on-again, off-again reunion rumors with Roth and squabbles with Sammy Hagar, the singer who replaced Roth in 1985, as well as Eddie’s struggles with cancer and alcoholism.

Original bassist Michael Anthony, whose harmony singing was a crucial part of the band’s radio-friendly sound, was replaced by Eddie’s 16-year-old son, Wolfgang. Hagar and Anthony are touring on their own, under the moniker “The Other Half.”

“It’s a little bit strange, they’ve been bad-mouthing David Lee Roth for 22 years and now all of a sudden they ignore their past,” said Michel Schinkel, 38, who flew from Delft, Netherlands, to see three shows.

Any lingering tension wasn’t evident at Thursday’s show. Roth delivered roundhouse karate kicks, twirled his microphone stand like a majorette and sported a succession of top hats and embroidered, matador-style jackets.

A slender, shirtless Eddie ripped off his trademark squeals and dive-bomb runs, his fingers magnified on a giant video screen behind the stage, while his son ably held down the bottom end.

It was exactly what the cellphone-waving fans came for.

“We’re bringing back the Seventies,” said mortgage broker Joe Niosi, 48, with a laugh. “We have no rules tonight.”

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