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It’s right there, in black and white, about four paragraphs into “The Primeval Atom — an Essay on Cosmogony” by the Belgian astronomer/physicist Georges Lemaître. “Atom” is the first work to suggest the origin of the universe through the Big Bang Theory, and early on Lemaître wrote:
“As to what it sounded like when the universe exploded into Being, well, I can only think of the exquisitely badass Tone of Eddie Van Halen’s guitar through a wall of monstrous amplification.”
At 7:53 p.m. Saturday night in a sold-out Mohegan Sun Arena, accompanied by a ruffle of drums from brother Alex, a smiling, fit Eddie Van Halen blew onto the stage, guitar in hands, and … yep, there it was: the glorious noise of Worlds Being Born.
“Unchained” was the first in a long-anticipated and much-heralded evening of 24 anthems, and Van Halen — with Eddie’s son Wolfgang on bass and, in full pomp-and-strut majesty, David Lee Roth — immediately put to rest any concerns or doubts they could recapture the spontaneous formula that made them, three decades past, one of the finest rock ‘n’ roll bands ever.
A word about “anthems.” Even the least of Van Halen’s tunes — and plenty have been mediocre — nonetheless have a genetic, anthemic quality that has everything to do with the melodic and performance spark between Eddie and Big Dave. Eddie’s core riffs, his spidery riptide of fretboard flash and, yes, that inimitable tone, provide an instantly fun musical anchor for anyone with ears.
As demonstrated with great success, someone like Sammy Hagar can take Eddie’s sonic blueprints and turn them into good or great songs. But Roth, one of the hands-down greatest frontmen in rock history, provides a special yin to Eddie’s yang — the winking, good-times wit, the Vaudeville-by-way-of-Sunset-Strip stage presence and charm, and an innate ability to toss out killer vocal hooks and choruses like Bachus himself throwing Mardi Gras beads.
It was so fine to see Eddie smiling and happy. Given his well known substance troubles, and in the wake of the recent deaths of Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse, to witness Edward taking childlike joy in his art and talent is something, frankly, a lot of us doubted we’d ever see again.
With Alex a blur behind his signature double-bass kit, the other three roamed the vast stage with easy confidence but also a sense of wonder at the power they collectively unleash.
Songs from the new album, “A Different Kind of Truth,” held up solidly, particularly “Tattoo” and “The Trouble With Never.” The iconic cover triumvirate — the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” Roy Orbison’s “(Oh) Pretty Woman,” and John Brim’s “Ice Cream Man” — resonated in huge fashion (even if Roth’s melody wavered under Wolfy’s solid harmony during the Orbison).
Eddie’s requisite solo contained elements of “Eruption” for the guitar nuts, and then there was of course the band’s own hit parade: “Hot for Teacher,” “Runnin’ With the Devil,” “Beautiful Girls,” “Panama,” “Ain’t Talkin’ ’Bout Love” and the encore “Jump” were all performed with vitality and joy. Roth had a rough time hitting all the notes on my own fave, “I’ll Wait,” but he mugged happily throughtout.
After two hours, by the time the four group-hugged as Roth waved a checkered victory flag, it was delightfully obvious VH had shown us their future as well as the past.