First of all, I completely dig the concept of DLR wanting Kool & the Gang to open...it's a fun idea, it's not boring, and it actually opens the possibility that perhaps the vetran act will shelve their Vegas schmaltz and do a 70s-style funk show, since the guitar-happy VH audience might dig that. No such luck. They open with 20 minutes of 80s awfulness, not just "Fresh" and "Too Hot" but even scraping as low as "Emergency." JT's replacement has a mediocre voice and the pandering band (doing summersaults and handstands and desperate banter) was just discomforting. The do a mini funk set in the middle ("Hollywood Swinging" and "Jungle Boogie") but it's kinda punchy and off-sounding, not in the pocket at all. Then they stretch out "Ladies' Night" and "Celebration" for the last 15 minutes, and that was actually better than you'd expect, with one acrobatic sax battle straight out of Louis Jordan-era clubs. Considering how many original members are still in the band I expected better, but I will say that the crowd was into it, which says something good about VH fans...Maiden fans wouldn't have dug this...even KISS fans mighta showed their ugly side at this.
As far as Van Halen, if anyone tells you David Lee Roth can't sing anymore, they may be technically accurate, but they are fucking crazy! As the show opened it was obvious the DLR does some croaking where he once did singing, and compensates with weird prasing and despite being able to occasionally demonstrate some smooth notes, high notes, and vocal power, he rarely can draw upon these skills exactly when he desires, and certainly can't simulate his 70s/80s prowess (which is extra apparent when contrasted with Eddie Van Halen, who can shred exactly like he did at any point, and at times improved on recordings). That said, fuck you if you don't realize how magical Roth is! Five minutes of ridiculous banter, roundhouse kicking, splits, mime, prop comedy, and stuck fighting into the show any vocal imperfections became obscured by a cloud of pure awesomeness. On their first trip through Chicago in February, one of the first shows this tour, Roth was reportedly not interacting with the crowd and not in the best mood. Here, other than at one point cursing at the building (not the staff) for turning on the air-conditioning, thus causing his froggy vocals (he called structural facility a "fucking moron"), he was delightful and seemingly delighted. He did lots of well constructed banter (a ridiculous, extensive L.A. cholo culture dance lesson; a joke about meaning to take an Advil with a glass of water but downing a handful of sleeping pills and four shots of Tequila by mistake; a treatise on competitive dog breeding, complete with Jumbotron PowerPoint) and he even went off the cuff a few times, reflecting on his Jewish immigrant mother settling in Chicago in the early 20th Century. And his glittery outfits, newsie cap, and perpetual runway strut would have made the cut on America's Top Model. Roth was the kind of beautiful as a young man that can go south...like Cameron Diaz and Nick Lachay he had that type of stunning look that because of oversized featured and cheekbone angles could take a turn for the grotesque with just a minor tweak. While it would not be inaccurate to say Roth 2012 looks a bit like Wayland Flowers' Madame puppet, the fact that every deep line in his face works towards framing his perpetual ear-to-ear smile makes Father Time his partying buddy. And his kicks, splits, slides and jumps were genuinely impressive (so much so that on the mammoth screen behind the stage that was mostly showing close-ups of the live footage, they would do slow motion replays after every 7.5-or-higher athletic move he landed). Alex sounded pretty amazing, and I lost count of how many drum solos there were, but none were excessive. And even though you'd like to see a complete original lineup, husky, happy-looking Wolfgang on bass was pretty great in that he looks like a six year old compared to his bandmates, and more importantly, as is the case with most family vocal acts, the Van Halens voices sounded great together on the (now more important than ever) support vocals. And Eddie was pretty killer. I had pretty good seats and spent the first part of the concert trying to figure out if there was something weird about his face. Did he get work done? Was he bloated? Was that a slightly-off EVH lookalike? But I finally concluded that what made him look different may just have been that he never stopped smiling the entire 1:57 set, which is a good look for him...and for all of us in the arena.