Last night, Van Halen played what every major music journalist is describing this morning as a blazing show at Cafe What? in Greenwich Village. The 250-capacity club, which was originally owned by David Lee Roth's Uncle Manny, is famous for early career shows by Michael Bloomfield, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and Richard Pryor. Today, Cafe Wha? is more of a tourist destination than the cutting edge club it was in the '60s.
Still, it was both a sentimental choice and a savvy one as well. Van Halen at Cafe Wha? No way!
And so, the newly reformed Van Halen stormed the tiny stage without fanfare, surrounded by press who were ready to eat them alive if necessary. There wasn't room on the stage for handlers or messing about. There was only space enough for a rock and roll band and from all reports, that's what showed up.
Uncle Manny, now 92, was in attendance last night, rocking to a set of vintage Van Halen tunes like “Panama,” “Hot For Teacher,” and “You Really Got Me,” with a seemingly healthy Eddie Van Halen and a spirited but notably rougher-voiced David Lee churning out crystal clear covers of their younger selves.
"It's like climbing into a rocket in here," Roth said he stepped onto the tiny stage for his first concert back with Eddie. "It's a rocket that comes from way back into the past into what the future's going to look like. Welcome to Occupy Van Halen, ladies and gentlemen!"
Rolling Stone isn't the make-or-break-your career magazine it was in Van Halen's heyday. Lester Bangs and Greil Marcus and all the other serious rock journalists who in their time thought Van Halen little more than a cartoon, are long gone. And so it's no surprise that Rolling Stone's Andy Greene wrote a fevered review of the show that publisher Jann Werner never would have imagined possible in the 1970s: "I stood a good five feet in front of Eddie Van Halen," wrote Greene, "and the man played absolutely flawlessly. It was a beautiful sight."
Most reports make mention that former bassist Michael Anthony's background vocals are sorely missed and you can hear for yourself in the clip below and others you’ll find today that Anthony added much to Van Halen’s classic sound. It’s unlikely any Sammy Hagar-era Van Halen songs will make the set list for the upcoming tour. That's the breaks.
The next hurdle is the release of a new record next month. The first single, "She's The Woman," was originally demo'd by the band in 1976 and was well received last night. And though few reformed bands survive the rigors of the road, for the next few days at least, Van Halen is back. Tickets for the tour go on sale January 10.
Photo: Charles Sykes/Associated Press