- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 27, 2004

The reformulated Van Halen passed its first test Friday night when Eddie Van Halen emerged shirtless on stage at the MCI Center looking as healthy as a rock deity possibly could. The stamina of his self-named band, though, is another matter.

The mid-era Van Halen — with singer Sammy Hagar in the mix instead of David Lee Roth — reunited this year to crank out a forthcoming greatest hits album along with a few new songs to show they aren’t an oldies act just yet.

Never mind major grievances between singer and band, it’s either now or never for Van Halen to reclaim its mantle.

Trouble is, that mantle may no longer be available for the retaking.

Times change, and today’s listeners wanna hear Jet, The Strokes and other oh, so 2004 music.

Still, the group’s District visit showed the quartet still has the rock chops, particularly Eddie Van Halen. The guitarist jumped, ran and danced across the stage like a man half his age, casting aside his hip replacement surgery and tongue cancer battles. More importantly, he can still coax just about any sound he chooses out of his given instrument.

The band kicked the time machine into gear with “Jump,” a classic from the David Lee Roth era. Today, Mr. Hagar doesn’t mind dipping back into the Van Halen catalog a time or two, as if formally declaring all hard feelings over and done with.

That doesn’t mean his version was superior to Diamond Dave’s, at least in its live incarnation. More shriek than song, the number proved a fairly accurate overview of the entire concert: loud, fuzzy and never coalescing into the kind of sound four gifted musicians should produce.

Either the band needs a few more road gigs to slip back into old form or the songs aren’t holding up as proudly as they hoped.

The hits took up the bulk of the show, from “Unchained” to “Round and Round” and “Why Can’t This Be Love,” each with enough hook left to keep fans roaring.

Mr. Hagar, never a showman like Mr. Roth in his prime, makes do with boxing moves and jerky twirls. He’s got beach-bum charisma to burn, however — which may explain why he kept informing the crowd he was “on the beach.”

Clad in a mustard yellow ensemble, the stocky singer looked like a WWE character ready to pounce into the crowd and bring the party to them. He pulled out every trick in his stage arsenal, from tying a brassiere to the mike stand to wearing whatever was thrown his way.

Doesn’t the Red Rocker know modern rock stars are supposed to be indifferent to their fans?

The group did throw a surprise political punch during their haunting ballad, “Right Now.” You don’t have to be twentysomething to have a chip on your shoulder about the Bush administration, apparently. The song also featured another stab at today’s marketplace, with a huge video monitor flashing “Right now, a 13-year-old is illegally downloading this song.”

That video screen brought a sense of intimacy to the not-quite-sold-out affair. The monitor helped cheap-seaters see the bond between Eddie Van Halen and guest guitarist Wolfgang Van Halen as father and son played together during the guitarist’s lengthy showcase.

After Alex Van Halen’s ubiquitous and tedious solo set, the monitor zoomed in on his face. The smile that beamed throughout the arena let fans know the band was as happy to be back on stage as the crowd was to see them once more, flaws and all.

Opening act Silvertide delivered a respectable pastiche of rock moves and chords until lead singer Walt Lafty began berating the crowd for remaining in their seats.

Rock stat lesson one: let the music do the motivating for you, Mr. Lafty.

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