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Concert Review: Van Halen's Van-Sanity at Madison Square Garden

Concert Review: Van Halen's Van-Sanity at Madison Square Garden

New Yorkers are getting a brief break from Lin-sanity this week as Van Halen came to Manhattan to perform two shows at Madison Square Garden, where the storyline shifted from the Knicks to guitar licks.

It’s been more than four years since the band’s last appearance at the venue, although it’s been only two months since Van Halen’s surprise warmup show at Greenwich Village’s tiny Café Wha?, a venue smaller than Van Halen’s current arena stage.

A lot has gone down since the last MSG gig — the band released A Different Kind of Truth, Ed had reconstructive surgery on his hand, and Wolfgang transformed from teenager to adult — but these developments all led to huge improvements in the band’s performance.

While the 22-song set list (plus a drum solo by Alex and guitar solo by Ed) that the band performed Tuesday night, February 28, was similar to the one they played on their 2007-08 tour, songs from the new album (“She’s the Woman,” “Tattoo,” “Chinatown” and “The Trouble With Never”) replaced tracks from Van Halen’s first album, and deep cuts like “Hear About It Later,” “Women In Love” and “Girl Gone Bad” took the place of “And the Cradle Will Rock,” “So This Is Love?” and “Mean Street.”

The band has altered the set list slightly each night on the tour, usually substituting one song for another instead of making wholesale changes like the Grateful Dead or Radiohead.

Besides the opportunity to hear new material and a handful of classic Van Halen songs that the band hasn’t performed for almost 30 years, the main reason even the most casual Van Halen fan shouldn’t miss this tour is Ed’s phenomenal guitar playing, which is as good — if not better — than it’s ever been.

His solo section near the end of the show, which blends “Eruption,” “Spanish Fly” and “Cathedral” is still mind-blowing as Ed unleashes a flurry of tremolo picked and classical-inspired tapped lines with incredible speed and precision. Ed’s solos on “Girl Gone Bad” were also standouts, flowing like astral-projecting Coltrane as notes flew furiously and effortlessly from his fretboard.

Old diehards may still bitch about the absence of Michael Anthony, but Wolfgang has proven to be less of a replacement and more of an enhancement with his growling, percussive bass tone and melodic fills that add a new aggressive vitality to the band’s sound.

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