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Van Halen ready to jump back in

By ED CONDRAN  | 
Published: April 13, 2012 Updated: March 19, 2013 at 03:11 AM
When Van Halen reunited five years ago for its first tour with David Lee Roth since the mid-'80s, the shows smacked of a perfunctory cash-grab. But that's the way it seems when most recording artists get back together after a lengthy hiatus often spurred by acrimony (see Police, Pixies).However, something has changed for Van Halen, who will perform Saturday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.During the band's recent show at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, that old pre-"1984" spark was present.Roth and Eddie Van Halen, who have had considerable differences throughout their storied careers, actually appear to be having a good time together.There was a palpable ease as the old friends ripped through a 22-song set.Roth can't hit the high notes so easily anymore and forget about those scissor kicks the once limber vocalist executed back in the day while jumping from the drum riser.Diamond Dave actually looks a bit like Mike Love with that Jeff cap covering his head that once was home to long, flowing locks, but the guy still has charisma to burn.Roth, 57, had more mobility this time than on the last tour when he couldn't even jump during "Jump."  He casually shuffles across the stage and is as animated as ever. Young rockers should take notes from Roth as he commands attention, even though his voice can only approximate what it was able to achieve in his youth.Eddie Van Halen, 57, on the other hand, remains a guitar monster. Now that he is out of rehab he reminds everyone why he's perennially a top 10 player on any guitarist list.Van Halen expanded the sonic lexicon with his tapping and hammering skills.During his guitar solo, the iconic axeman delivered the crowd-pleasing "Eruption" and so much more while scaling his fretboard. His work during "Hot For Teacher" and "Panama" elicited shrieks from the audience.Speaking of solos, drummer Alex Van Halen, 58, bashed his extensive kit for a lengthy run.Eddie's son Wolfgang, 21, isn't the background singer former VH bassist, Michael Anthony, was during his long stretch with the band. But he is a competent bassist and there is something to be said for his decision to play in the background while his legendary father and the magnetic Roth bask in the spotlight.Speaking of spotlight, Van Halen lets it shine on veteran pop-funk act Kool and the Gang. It might seem like an unusual choice for an opener but it's an improvement over VH's picks during its salad days. A generation or so ago, Van Halen tapped some non-threatening warm-up acts (whatever happened to The Granati Brothers?).This time VH has upped the ante with the choice of Kool and the Gang, which surprised many, including guitarist/bandleader Robert "Kool" Bell."A lot of people were scratching their head over this," Bell said this week, calling from his Orlando home. "I was taken aback too but David Lee Roth nailed it when he said, 'You guys were the funk-party band of the '80s and we were the rock-party band of the '80s.'"It made perfect sense to me. They have 'Jump.' We have 'Celebration' and 'Get Down On It.'The VH fans in Atlantic City opted to move to Kool and the Gang's grooves. "The most diehard Van Halen fans have been getting with us during the shows," Bell said. "We start off with 'Misled' and 'Emergency.' We showed them we can rock a little. This show is a great time. The bands are having fun and the audience is clearly having a good time too and that's what it's all about."

VAN HALEN

With Kool and the Gang

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Tampa Bay Times Forum, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa

Tickets: $26.75, $46.75, $76.75 and $146.75; (813) 301-2500

and ticketmaster.com