You can fool yourself into believing this is just like seeing Van Halen in 1982; David Lee Roth has. He's been trying to relive his bygone glories for the past few years, since he briefly reunited with Van Halen to record two new songs for the band's 1997 best-of collection. After the album was released, Roth wanted to take the group back on the road, playing all of the songs Eddie and Alex Van Halen hadn't touched in 12 years, since he left for his hit-and-miss-and-miss solo career. It wasn't a bad idea: The fans wanted to hear them, and Roth wanted one last turn in the spotlight. His replacement, Sammy Hagar, wouldn't play anything earlier than 1984, because he didn't want to attempt to walk in Roth's platform boots and leather chaps. Though the reunion proved to be short-lived -- especially after Dave hijacked the podium at the MTV Music Awards, insisting he was back even as the Van Halen boys' sneers told the opposite story -- both sides seemed to like the idea. Van Halen hired ex-Extreme singer Gary Cherone and rescued all of its oldest -- and best -- material from storage for its most recent tour. Alex and Eddie apparently finally realized the audience was tired of hearing music that had more business being on VH1 than on Van Halen II.
And though Roth wasn't able to reassemble Van Halen, he did the next best thing, hiring one of the country's top Van Halen cover bands (Atomic Punk) and cutting the album that should have followed 1984. Actually, last year's DLR Band would have been more at home sometime between Fair Warning and Diver Down. His live shows are almost as dated, making believe Roth's less-than-stellar career after Van Halen never happened. If you think this is a real solo Roth tour, forget it; Roth is hoping you already have. Only three songs from his own albums pop up in his current set list -- two from 1986's Eat 'Em & Smile ("Yankee Rose" and "Tobacco Road") and "Slam Dunk!" from DLR Band. Van Halen's eponymous debut is played almost in its entirety (seven songs), and the rest of Roth's stint in the group is represented with two or three songs an album. He even covers the same songs Van Halen did when he was with the band: amped-up versions of The Kinks' "You Really Got Me" and Roy Orbison's "(Oh) Pretty Woman." When it comes down to it, Roth isn't touring to support DLR Band. More than likely, he's on the road to boost paperback sales of his autobiography, Crazy From the Heat.
Still, it's just not the same: There was a reason the band was named Van Halen. Granted, it hasn't been the same since Diamond Dave took his buttless spandex and karate kicks and strutted off into the sunset. And luckiest-man-alive Michael Anthony was always more of a prop than a bassist -- if you have two fingers, you can play his bass lines without any change in quality. But performing old VH classics without Alex or Eddie -- Roth's band has even been known to take on "Eruption," Eddie's signature song -- just seems wrong, even worse than hearing Cherone scream his way through "Where Have All the Good Times Gone?" or "Beautiful Girls." Maybe it's Roth's final screw-you to the band he always thought he was too talented to be in. Or maybe somewhere along the way, he learned that he's not talented enough not to be in it either. At this point, though, does anyone want to see a middle-aged, balding Roth's bumping and grinding? And no, Dave, you don't count.