by Bill Forman
If there was one crack in the glowing veneer of last night's Van Halen reunion, it was when David Lee Roth found himself mopping up the sweat-slicked stage.
"This is how I fuckin' started, and apparently I'm never gonna leave," complained the perennially manic frontman, pushing a towel with his foot around the Pepsi Center stage. Roth's drum solo-accompanied interruption — along with a later, somewhat more ambiguous onstage remark ("this is like a time machine where nothing changes") — were the only indicators that the members of the seminal hard-rock band might not actually be having the time of their lives.
The nearly two-hour set included classic originals like "Ain't Talkin' Bout Love," "Runnin' With the Devil," and the obligatory "Jump," infamous covers of "You Really Got Me" and "Pretty Woman," and new tracks like "She's the Woman," "China Town," and "Tattoo," the anthemic comeback single drawing a surprisingly rapturous response from the packed house. (Of course, the most reverential reaction was reserved for Eddie Van Halen's stunningly virtuosic 10-minute guitar solo near evening's end)
The Denver show came at an interesting time for Van Halen: The recent announcement of numerous summer concert postponements fueled rumors of intra-band animosities — most publicly from former bassist Michael Anthony, who currently plays with second-string VH frontman Sammy Hagar in the less-revered Chickenfoot.
But Eddie's bemused smile seemed genuinely affectionate as he watched Roth chew the scenery with his exaggerated rictus grin between arena-sized splits and kicks. Could've all been show biz, I guess, but the band was clearly not going through the motions musically.
Neither, for that matter, was Kool & the Gang. Founding members Robert "Kool" Bell and his brother Ronald have put together an 11-piece band whose opening set proved more intensely brilliant than anyone could have expected (except maybe for Roth, who reportedly saw them at last year's Glastonbury Festival and insisted they be on this summer's tour.)
While hits like "Celebrate" and "Hollywood Swinging" were predictable crowd-pleasers, it was their rendition of a later single, "Get Down on It," that proved more supremely funky and energetically brilliant than anything Prince or James Brown performed when I saw those artists in concert more than a decade ago.
If this version of Kool & the Gang comes through Colorado again, I'll go see them in a heartbeat. Come to think of it, the same goes for Van Halen.