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Weekend Reviews | Pop Music Review

Classic Van Halen With a Fresh Twist

July 06, 1998|MARC WEINGARTEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

No matter how strenuously the band has tried to put a positive spin on the situation, it's obvious that Van Halen, version 3.0, hasn't exactly set the world on fire.

"Van Halen 3," the quartet's first album with lead singer Gary Cherone, has fallen out of the Top 200 sales chart after just three months, which makes it a longshot to reach the band's customary multi-platinum status in this country.

Yet the veteran band managed to generate considerable fireworks during its Fourth of July night performance before a large, enthusiastic crowd at the Blockbuster Pavilion in Devore.

For Cherone, this show was a chance to prove his worth and dispel any lingering doubts about his ability to fill a position previously occupied by Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth, two vocalists who each enjoyed successful tenures with the durable group.

As if to silence the skeptics right away, the band opened the show with "Unchained," a Roth-era standard. Cherone wisely steered clear of Roth's vocal quirks, opting instead for a more straightforward, if no less strident, approach. That workmanlike strategy worked in Cherone's favor throughout most of the set, which went heavy on the Hagar material and songs from the band's new album.

In fact, Cherone, whose strained, octave-leaping rasp resembles Hagar's, acquitted himself nicely on material such as "When It's Love," "Why Can't This Be Love" and "Right Now." Judging by the roars these songs elicited, their anthem-like impact hasn't waned, either.

Even the band's new material, which comes off as somewhat tepid and tedious on the album, was given a vigorous adrenaline jolt by Cherone and Co. Curiously, given the testosterone-fueled appeal of Van Halen over it's two-decade shelf life, Cherone makes for a surprising front man.

Mincing and scissor-kicking his way though the set, the wafer-thin vocalist's stage moves were equal parts Freddie Mercury and Chita Rivera--refreshing in the wake of Hagar's hairy-chested machismo.

But this is still Van Halen, which means the audience got what it paid for: guitarist Eddie Van Halen's trademark cluster-bomb solos, a too-long drum solo from Alex Van Halen, and overly literal rear-screen projections. Still, the venerable band seemed none the worse for wear, bounding and leaping across the stage with goofy abandon. For all the turmoil and tabloid speculation that has swirled around the group the past two years, Van Halen's still got game.

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