By Chyrisse Tabone, Tampa Correspondent
Venue: Midflorida Credit Union Amphitheatre: September 13, 2015
I remember the Summer of 1978 like it was yesterday. It was the summer that my dear old friend Lisa and I baked in the sun at her swimming pool (before we knew about skin cancer) while listening to songs like “Baker Street” on Top 40 radio. While we were listening to mainstream music, Lisa’s brother Brad was in his bedroom playing albums on his stereo. Since he knew I was from Detroit and a fellow “CREEM” reader, he introduced me to a new discovery from a band called “Van Halen.” He plopped the album on the turntable and from the first minute I heard the thump-thump-thump of the bass and then the screaming lead electric guitar intro of “Running with the Devil” I knew my life had changed.
I live my life like there’s no tomorrow
And all I’ve got I had to steal…
Fast forward to today, Van Halen is back touring with David Lee Roth (yes, I have read all the comments on Van Halen threads about wishing for Sammy Hagar’s return). Look! It was David Lee Roth who was there in the beginning when the band launched to super stardom, regardless of how people feel. It was his swarthiness, lizard-like moves, long California-blond mane, killer in-the-air splits, and voice that I noticed when the band broke into the limelight. I can still see in my mind the famous full-length posters hanging on the wall of Annette’s bedroom and her saying, “David Lee Roth is the sexiest fucker alive.”
Traffic going into the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre was extra heavy as I made my way through the fairgrounds parking lot. Lots of concert-goers were parked on the lawn doing the “pre-concert tailgating” and partying before the big night. There were plenty of Igloo coolers, lawn chairs, and covered canopies to be seen.
The first concert of the night was the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, a blues rock band from Shreveport, Lousiana. Kenny Wayne Shepherd has been a blues prodigy since he was young, and appeared to be channeling Duane Allman. Shepherd showed great emotion with face grimacing and head shaking. Blue, red, and yellow spotlights darted around the set while Noah Hunt sang with blues grit. At first the vocal sound appeared muffled or drowned out by the music (possibly a technical glitch) but after a few songs, I could hear his voice. Being a fan of blues-rock, this was definitely up my alley.
A little trivia background on Shepherd is he is married to Hannah Gibson, the daughter of Mel Gibson. Shepherd is a recovering alcoholic and some of his songs are centered around his experience. Alcoholism is a topic that Eddie Van Halen has discussed openly and it is possible they are touring together and “keeping it clean.”
Finally, Van Halen arrived on the stage with much hoopla! Diamond Dave stepped out with his silver-sequined smoking jacket, a long scarf, and dress pants while crashing cymbals together. He may be 60 but he is still very fit. During the set he took off his jacket and showed off some of his tattoos and very ripped arms and chest. It could be because he is on a liquid diet. Twice he moseyed toward the back of the drums and slugged a bottle of whiskey, later dabbing some of it on his neck and wrist like perfume. Roth pranced and vogued like a Las Vegas showman and for some reason I thought he would be a good choice for “The Music Man” on Broadway. He did not do any mid-air leg splits from the drum platform but certainly whipped around the microphone. At one point he slipped on the stage (it was slippery because I saw a guy sweeping it before the set) and remarked that he was pulling a “Steven Tyler.”
The band, of course, is almost a total family affair with brothers Eddie and Alex, and now Eddie’s son Wolfgang replacing bassist Michael Anthony. Eddie commanded the stage with his virtuoso guitar playing using his trademark tapping harmonics. He is 60 years old and looked extremely handsome, maybe more so now than in his youth (is it possible or maybe my taste has matured)? Eddie Van Halen was smiling the entire time and I kept thinking “He probably cannot wait for this tour to be over so he can get away from Roth.” It is a well-known fact their relationship has been up and down for years.
As I have written before, photographers are permitted a limited amount of time in the pit but Van Halen was extremely generous to allow us for six songs. Six songs! They played my favorite “Runnin’ With the Devil” and now I have an earworm for “Feel Your Love Tonight.” The audience, which consisted of a full house of 40- and 50-something folks were on their feet, singing the words, and going crazy during the concert. It did not matter that the band was 60-plus or that Roth’s voice was strained but he is still fucking David Lee Roth, for God’s sake! And the Van Halen band is a legend!
KENNY WAYNE SHEPHERD
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