David Lee Roth and all things Van Halen

by Brian Clarey

They’re out on the patio in front of Fat Dogs in their black T-shirts and bluejeans amassing a respectable pile of empties, this platoon of middle-aged soldiers in the Roth Army.

It’s the first time many of them have met face to face – the Roth Army is more of a virtual entity, a website that originated as a bulletin board in the early days of the internet that has now spanned the globe, with members from as far away as Europe and Asia, and a healthy demographic right here in the US.

“We’re people who wouldn’t have met without the fiber optics,” says Hyman Roth, a Greensboro lawyer who, for professional reasons, goes by this alias when talking about all things Van Halen.

Like I say, the beers are going down pretty good. But the real buzz comes from the fact that in an hour or so, just a few miles down the road, they will see their dreams come to fruition. Because tonight their hero, David Lee Roth, the embattled frontman for the world’s most kickass band, will take his rightful place at center stage when the lights go down and things get noisy in the Greensboro Coliseum.

And man are they pumped.

They’re passing around an iPhone that’s channeling footage from Thursday night’s kickoff show down in Charlotte: closeups of Eddie Van Halen’s fantastic fingers, wide shots of Diamond Dave working the stage and crowd like he was born to do, visual proof that the boys are indeed back.

And they know of what they speak. Between them they’ve seen several hundred Van Halen shows. One soldier, Eddie Mykietyn of Myrtle Beach, SC, says tonight will be the 78th time he’s had the pleasure.

“I went to a few of the Van Hagar shows,” he says, “Mostly just to see Eddie and yell at Sammy.”

They are all of the mind that Van Halen without David Lee Roth is not Van Halen at all, and if you want to argue the point on the website they will school you in the internet phenomenon known as “pwnage.”

“We call it ‘classic Van Halen,'” Roth the lawyer says. “We make sport of people who post pro-Sammy stuff. We use them for internet fodder.”

It is resolved that Sammy Hagar is an ass clown – “Sammy Hagar is the Ronald McDonald of rock and roll,” one says – and don’t even get them started on Gary Cherone. There is consensus that bassist Michael Anthony got a raw deal, and judgement is reserved on the band’s newest member: Wolfgang, the 16-year-old son of Eddie.

“I thought when Wolfgang was born he’d be in the band at some point,” Mykietyn says.

For all practical purposes tonight it is 1986, and we are all going to see the show that was taken from us when Dave left the band while they were at their most popular. And though its been many long years since any of us has scrawled the Van Halen logo on a blue burlap binder, we do feel young again.

Pete O’Conner is feeling it. He’s up from Charlotte, where he caught the opening show, and he’s brought his wife and two kids who lurk on the fringes of the patio in brand new Van Halen T-shirts. He’s seen the band about 20 times, starting with the Fair Warning tour at Madison Square Garden in ’81, when he was a teenager growing up in Brooklyn. He calls the Charlotte concert “the greatest show I’ve ever seen,” and he plans to catch the dates in Chicago, St. Louis and New York. And tonight he and his wife, who have been together since ’88 and seen a handful of late-era Halen performances, will watch Dave and Eddie perform together for the first time.

Everybody’s talking about Diamond Dave – on the patio, at the tables, in the bar – even those who won’t be going to the coliseum tonight.

Terina Potts, who stopped in for some juice for the toddler she holds in her arms, goes a bit dreamy when the singer’s name comes up.

“He was the best looking man,” she says. “In those tight leather pants… mmm.” She pauses. “And I’m gay.”

Down the road at the Greensboro Coliseum the fans have crowded the arena for an hour before showtime, ordering cocktails in the Carlyle Club, milling around the concession loop, appraising each other’s vintage Halen T-shirts. The opening act is a mere formality – Ky-Mani Marley, son of Bob, who on any other night in Greensboro would be big news. And when the lights go down and the boys take the stage, the moment is like an orgasm that’s taken 20 years to build.

Dave’s in leathers, wearing them well. Eddie’s shirtless and fit. Wolfgang, who seems to be enduring his most awkward teenage years, is nevertheless confident and poised. And Eddie bends over his guitar, flicks his fingers over the strings and lays down a sonic fury, the opening salvo to “Eruption.”

Eruption, indeed.

The room pulses and throbs as the band burns through hit after hit: “Romeo’s Delight,” “Beautiful Girls,” “This is Love,” “Unchained” and so on. They’re playing their asses off, hugging between songs, dashing off the kind of banter that made the live Van Halen experience a legendary thing. It is awesome.

And when the lights go up and the crowd filters to the exits, we all have the same thought on our minds: This is the best fucking show I’ve ever seen.

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