Both Van Halen and Kenny Wayne Shepherd gave the crowd in Clarkston, Michigan a double shot of electrifying guitar work.

1998 was the last time Van Halen had stepped foot on stage at DTE Energy Music Theatre (formerly known as Pine Knob). Tonight’s capacity crowd is amped and ready for their return. But before Van Halen hits the stage, Kenny Wayne Shepherd (KWS) is up and his band is about to tear through a fiery 50-minute set of blues-inspired rock n’ roll.

KWS kicks things off with “Somehow, Somewhere, Someway” and “Slow Ride” from his ’97 Trouble Is… album. Next, goes back to his ’95 Ledbetter Heights album for his first Billboard Top Ten single, “Deja Voodoo.” Without a moment’s hesitation, the band segues right into their cover of Earl King’s “Come On (Part 1).”

Singer Noah Hunt asks the crowd, “Are you ready for the Blues?” The band kicks into another classic off the Ledbetter Heights album, “Shame, Shame, Shame.” Halfway through the song, Noah tells the crowd, “I’m going to step aside for a bit and let these guys play some Blues for you,” as he points to the bass player, Tony Franklin and keyboardist, Riley Osbourn. These two continue to jam with KWS for a few minutes before Noah comes back out to finish the song.

KWS walked up to the microphone and says, “Thank you so much. Feel free to sing along on the next song if you want.” The house goes manic as he kicks into the guitar intro to his very first Billboard #1 hit single, “Blue on Black,” the crowd singing along to every word.

KWS plays two cover songs; first up is Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee.” Next is Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well,” which the crowd seems to enjoy especially.

As KWS introduces the band, he mentions how he was only 17 years old when he and keyboardist Riley Osbourn played together in Willie Nelson’s band. He tells how bassist Tony Franklin had played in the Paul Rodgers/Jimmy Page supergroup, The Firm. He describes how drummer Chris Layton had played in Stevie Ray Vaughn’s band, and he states he is honored to have been working with vocalist Noah Hunt for the past 17 years.

They close their performance with an electrifying dead-on cover of The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” At one point, KWS raises his right hand toward the sky while playing the guitar solo with only his left hand. Needless to say, the crowd was amazed at the guitarmanship of this 38-year-old guitar-singer-songwriter in his prime.

Although the Kenny Wayne Shepherd band plays a different genre of music than Van Halen, the crowd doesn’t seem to mind. The music of both bands is based around exquisite guitarmanship of two truly talented musicians. KWS proves to be the perfect warm up to the exciting guitar pyrotechnics of Edward Van Halen.

It had been just over two weeks since Van Halen had to cancel a tour stop in Hershey, Pennsylvania due to David Lee Roth having the flu. Remnants of his cold hampered his ability to hit the high notes of many songs however David made the best of his voice and was able to put on an exceptional performance with the help of Eddie and Wolfgang Van Halen singing harmony.

The show started with David and Eddie walking out center stage, intertwining arms together, and spinning around in a circle with Eddie breaking off playing the guitar intro to “Light Up The Sky.” This song was a hint of the rarities and welcome returned ones the band was to pull from their four decade long catalog of songs .

There was no hesitation as the band cranked through “Runnin’ With the Devil” and “Romeo Delight.” Alex Van Halen played every inch of his drums, with such perfection, it sounded like a thunderstorm in the distance as Eddie played his guitar with weird intergalactic type space sounds coming out of it. David asked the crowd “Is everybody having a reasonable time so far?” then the song picked up into “Everybody Wants Some!!”

David’s voice struggled at points. Nonetheless, he was in good spirits grinning from ear to ear while exchanging pleasant conversation with the crowd. David, Eddie, Alex and Wolfgang played off each other so well that there was a sense of unity and comfort between them. “Chapter One, Fifty Shades of Dave” David jokingly told the crowd pointing at someone in the front row stating, “How old are you? Do I know your mom?” then the band continued on with “Everybody Wants Some!!”

Eddie walked up onto the drum riser and began the intro to “Drop Dead Legs” which segued flawlessly into “Feel Your Love Tonight.” They continued on blasting through “Somebody Get Me a Doctor” and “She’s the Woman” before David jokingly mentioned to the crowd “I never learned the set list. Every time I come up on stage it’s new to me. I call this selective denial.”

The band played “China Town” and “I’ll Wait” followed by a faithfully precise drum solo Alex is known for playing. David stated “Nice solo” hitting the head on the nail with “That’s like some cinematic shit” which described Alex’s drum solo to a ‘T’ as cinematic is a perfect one-word description.

They broke into “Little Guitars” while David pulled out some of his classic dance moves sliding across the stage. Alex hit the instantly recognizable cowbell intro to “Dance the Night Away” and the crowd was back in a manic state screaming out every word while pumping their hands up to the sky. They followed this with a slew of Van Halen devotee’s favorites; “Beautiful Girls,” “Women in Love,” “Hot for Teacher,” “In a Simple Rhyme” and “Dirty Movies.”

Eddie, Alex and Wolfgang left the stage while David sat center stage playing the harmonica and acoustic guitar. While diddling around with the acoustic guitar, David told us a genuinely sincere story about meeting James Brown at the 1985 MTV Video Music Awards ceremony. David mentioned he was up for 14 awards that night. As he sat down, James Brown turned to him and mentioned to him that he liked his stuff and told David he was going to sweep up that night (meaning win all of the awards he was up for). Each time his name came up for an award, he lost out to “We Are The World,” not winning any awards that night. He turned to James Brown and jokingly asked him, “When you mentioned I was going to sweep up tonight, did you mean sweep up the floors after the show?” James Brown was a personal hero to David and what was important to him, he told us, was that James Brown knew who he was. David’s acoustic guitar playing then turned into the beginning of their cover of John Brim’s “Ice Cream Man.”

They followed this with “Unchained” and “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” before everyone left the stage leaving Eddie standing center stage under a single light shining down directly on top of him. Watching Eddie play his guitar with his unique finger tapping style sent chills down your spine as he pulled off his space-age sounding guitar sounds. I over heard several people stating, “He’s the mad scientist on the guitar!” Eddie’s guitar solo slowly became heavier with him performing his classic style jump in the air he is famous for doing on many of their music videos.

Eddie’s guitar solo quickly turned into their cover of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” followed by “Panama” and “Jump”. There was no encore. The band played a solid non-stop two-hour set of four decades worth of fan favorites; rarities and long-forgotten songs, which made a welcome, come back to their live set.

Edward Van Halen shined and amazed the crowd with his guitar wizardry playing as strong as he has since he started back in the 70s. Alex Van Halen played every inch of his large drum set never slowing down nor needing a break. The crowd welcomed Wolfgang Van Halen back into the band which bears his family name. Something he first did nine years ago surprising everyone who was hoping for Michael Anthony’s return. Michael was not missed, however, as Wolfgang’s bass playing and back up vocals have secured a valid place in this band. And, David Lee Roth, struggling some with his vocals was triumphant in the fact that he is still able to WOW the crowd with his unique stage presence, funny stories and classic dance moves, even hitting a couple of high kicks like he did in year’s past.

“You got a good show tonight, I’ll tell ya,” David told the crowd towards the end of the show. Even though he struggled some with his vocals, he was right as was also evident by the crowd’s standing ovation and thunderous applause at the end of their performance.

Photography by Thom Seling

Van Halen
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About The Author

Erik's interest in music began at an early age. In high school, he was the co-host of the underground metal show the Social Mutilation Hour, on 89.5 WAHS, under the name of Neurotik Erik. During this period of his life, he independently promoted shows under the name of Ding Dong Ditch Productions. Erik would rent out local VFW Halls, use space at Oakland Community College Auburn Hills Campus, or simply throw basement parties around the Detroit area. While at college at Ferris State University, he became head of the student run organization, Entertainment Unlimited, and continued to promote shows, but on a larger scale. He also helped start an underground magazine, 'Outpunk', where he interviewed bands and wrote music reviews. Additionally, Erik joined the staff at the Ferris State University Torch and wrote on a larger scale.

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