By Chris Varias
The Cincinnati Enquirer
David Lee Roth's 2002 Cincinnati appearance stands as the best performance of last year's Riverbend season, and his Friday-night show at Annie's was even better.
After all, it was a Sammy Hagar-free affair.
Roth is the original Van Halen front man who left the band nearly two decades ago, and his legacy is intact. He's not only in a league of his own among ex-VH singers, he's the quintessential pop-metal vocalist and showman.
So, despite the fact that his leg kicks are no longer stratospheric, he blew away Hagar last year when the pair united for an ex-Van Halen double bill, and his 90-minute set in front of an Annie's outdoor-pavilion crowd of about 3,000 was triumphant.
Roth rolled through several Van Halen classics and solo hits, while a four-man band ably reproduced the familiar sounds of "Dance the Night Away," "Yankee Rose," "You Really Got Me," "Panama," "Hot for Teacher," "Runnin' with the Devil" and a dozen others.
Some might say Hagar (the man who "replaced" Roth in Van Halen) can out-rock Roth in the sense that he sings louder and puts more effort into his performance. But rock isn't measured in such terms. Roth knows this. He turns sloppiness into excitement and camp into grand art, and he's a generally crowd-pleasing dude.
He was clearly breezing through portions of songs and getting away with it. On one occasion, he allowed his band to sing a chorus while he positioned a whiskey bottle against his body in a provocative manner and proceeded to spray the front rows of the crowd with the bottle's contents.
Such exploits were rewarded with cheers. This was a pro-Dave crowd - real rock lovers, no misguided Sammy partisans like last year at Riverbend. Dave was among friends. Every cheer from the crowd brought about a big, goofy David Lee Roth smile - the most basic cause-and-effect situation in hard rock this side of Ozzy Osbourne yelling at his bratty kids.
Roth's charisma sets him apart from Hagar, and so do his songs. No one else can do a block that goes from "And the Cradle Will Rock" onto a cover of the "Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody" medley back to "Unchained."
Dave busted out the acoustic guitar for the opening of "Ice Cream Man," which kicked off a finale rounded out by "Ain't Talkin' 'bout Love" and an encore of "Jump."
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