Van Halen’s concert at Cricket Wireless Amphitheater on Wednesday was the rock ’n’ roll equivalent of a big-budget action movie. Rather than a summer blockbuster about an alien invasion or a suspenseful crime caper, the show resembled a disaster film with slapstick interludes.
The years since Van Halen promoted its debut album while appearing at the bottom of the bill at a concert at Royals Stadium in 1978 have been plagued with bitter infighting. After stints with replacement vocalists Gary Cherone and Sammy Hagar, Van Halen is once again fronted by David Lee Roth.
Roth’s presence displeased a portion of Wednesday’s audience of more than 10,000. A few disappointed fans exiting the Bonner Springs venue at the conclusion of the concert initiated a chant of “Sammy Hagar.”
While Roth is in tremendous physical condition and can still twirl a microphone stand like a standout member of a high school drill team, Roth has lost his voice. He’s also a shameless ham. Roth seemed to channel Jerry Lewis’ antics in the 1963 comedy “The Nutty Professor” during Van Halen’s two-hour outing.
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The remainder of the band — guitar virtuoso Eddie Van Halen, drummer Alex Van Halen and replacement member and Eddie’s son Wolfgang Van Halen on bass — admirably attempted to uphold the band’s legacy.
The pop-laced heavy metal songs on the California band’s first few albums perfectly encapsulated the frustrations and fantasies of teenage boys. The primal approach made Van Halen one of the greatest party bands in the history of rock ’n’ roll.
Roth played the part of a wacky uncle at Wednesday’s party. His well-intentioned but deeply flawed efforts severely handicapped the band.
Roth’s frequent costume changes and shoulder-high kicks couldn’t disguise the limitations of his voice. His tuneless caterwauling on “Somebody Get Me a Doctor” was excruciating. His odd sense of rhythm threw a reading of the 1979 hit “Dance the Night Away” into disarray.
An odd monologue about barbecue cookouts killed the mood during a rendition of the hard rock classic “Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love.”
Roth occasionally acknowledged his errors. When a microphone slipped out of his hands during “Everybody Wants Some,” he joked that “I’m falling apart.” After a rendition of “In a Simple Rhyme” — the only weak song in the otherwise stellar set list- Roth asked, “Did I screw that up as bad as I thought?”
Eddie Van Halen also had to contend with a different type of irritant. A large insect momentarily disrupted his eight-minute guitar feature. The spotty performance of his band’s vocalist may have bugged the guitarist even more.
Light Up the Sky; Runnin’ With the Devil; Romeo Delight; Everybody Wants Some!!; Drop Dead Legs; Feel Your Love Tonight; Somebody Get Me a Doctor; She’s the Woman; China Town; I’ll Wait; Little Guitars; Dance the Night Away; Beautiful Girls; Women in Love; Hot for Teacher; In a Simple Rhyme; Dirty Movies; Ice Cream Man; Unchained; Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love; You Really Got Me; Panama; Jump