In a different era, David Lee Roth would have been selling patent medicines off the back of a wagon. He’s a born showman, and he’s finally made his way back to his rightful place in the show he was born to front: Van Halen.
Diamond Dave and the boys swept into Mohegan Sun Arena Saturday night with the manic energy of a two-hour lightning storm, flickering, flashing and booming their way through a generous allotment of old favorites, mixing in a handful new material from “A Different Kind of Truth” — Roth’s first album with Van Halen since “1984″ 28 years ago. (See more photos from the concert here.)
For a band whose history is as fraught as Van Halen’s, the musicians couldn’t have looked happier on stage. Roth served as the fast-talking master of ceremonies, Eddie Van Halen beamed as his hands played blinding runs up and down the neck of his guitar and his son, bassist Wolfgang Van Halen, looked at once entertained and bemused by crazy ol’ Uncle Dave’s strutting and sliding around the stage.
Roth’s voice isn’t as limber as it once was, and there were times when it seemed like it settled on a pitch largely at random. He can still do the leg kicks, though, and he was clearly in his element as the band (also including Alex Van Halen on drums) blew through “Runnin’ With the Devil” and “Everybody Wants Some!!,” which featured one of many dazzling solos from Eddie Van Halen.
He balanced his guitar tone perfectly between squelchy chords and squealing leads, shifting from one to the other so smoothly it looked (but never sounded) effortless. Eddie and brother Alex locked in on a full-throttle version of Roy Orbison’s “Oh Pretty Woman,” and after Alex Van Halen laid out a drum solo, they jumped right into the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.”
Even the new songs fit right in, with Roth mugging on “Tattoo” and offering conversational asides between verses on “The Trouble With Never.” The applause was bigger, though, for “Dance the Night Away,” with Eddie and Wolfgang singing harmonies behind Roth; and “Hot for Teacher,” as Alex Van Halen’s drums rumbled like a souped-up engine revved to the red line.
As if things weren’t lively enough already, Van Halen let it all loose as the band built to a grand finale. After Roth did a few near-splits on “Beautiful Girls,” the band zoomed through the virtuosic workout “Ice Cream Man” like a party of 5-year-olds with sugar highs. Next, Eddie let fly the arcing riff to “Panama,” which turned into a solo turn of his own, incorporating parts of his “Eruption” showcase and more. The rest of the band rejoined him to end the regular set with “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” then, after a round of hugs, closed the show with “Jump,” as Roth waved a giant checkered flag through a downpour from confetti cannons.
Van Halen’s set list Saturday.