Van Halen hit the ground running on the first show of their 2012 tour in Louisville, Ky. tonight (Feb. 18), proving that a four-year layoff has done pretty much nothing to diminish their ability to delight a sold-out arena crowd with both old and new songs.

Hitting the stage with little fanfare -- no dropping curtain, no pyro, very little in the way of warm-up music -- via their familiar show-starter 'You Really Got Me,' the blood-related trio of Alex, Eddie and Wolfgang Van Halen and their charismatic frontman David Lee Roth quickly had the fans on their side.

A gigantic video screen behind the band displayed live footage along with some scrolling photos and images to fill out the visual presentation for the evening. Free to roam on the extremely clean, simple stage thanks to his new headset microphone (inspired by perhaps Janet Jackson, or, dare we say... Sammy Hagar? Nahhh), Roth proved to be an ageless wonder, dancing and sliding across the stage with grace and boundless energy.

Even more impressively, he was in strong voice throughout, even as any notion of sticking to the original lyrics on tunes like 'Hot for Teacher' and 'Everybody Wants Some!!' was joyfully jettisoned in favor of some classic stream-of-consciousness musings. (It should go without saying by now that Eddie, Alex and Wolfgang performed with precision and fire all night, but if that wasn't obvious, let the record be clear!)

The 22-song set list featured four songs from the band's new album 'A Different Kind of Truth,' and if we had to quibble with anything about tonight's excellent show, it would be with which tracks from that album made the cut. We were really hoping for 'Big River,' 'You and Your Blues,' 'Blood and Fire' and especially 'Outta Space' in addition to early show highlight 'She's the Woman.'

Instead, we got 'China Town,' which went over rather well, along with 'The Trouble With Never' and 'Tattoo' which didn't succeed quite as much, the latter kicking off the first obvious "bathroom break" exodus of the evening.

This minor (and highly subjective) complaint was more than washed away by the late-set 1-2-3 punch of songs from the band's 1979 sophomore album 'II,' including 'Beautiful Girls' together with the long-unheard 'Women in Love' and 'Outta Love Again.' This sequence also found the band locking into the most satisfying, slightly relaxed groove of the evening.

Following that, we got 'Ice Cream Man,' whose intro found Roth rhapsodizing about the difference between his sheep- and cattle-herding dogs, an exceptionally jaw-dropping (and somewhat economical) guitar solo showcase from Eddie Van Halen, and the group's now-traditional and confetti-aided finale 'Jump.'

Any one of the tens of thousands of fans in attendance could have easily named six more songs they'd still want to hear, but nobody could say we didn't get our money's worth.


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