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First impression: Van Halen, "Tokyo Dome: VH in Concert"

Van Halen, "Tokyo Dome: VH in Concert" (2 CDs, Rhino)

Ever since David Lee Roth returned in '07, I've wondered if he's the lab rat in an elaborate experiment, where Eddie and Alex Van Halen exact revenge on the diehards who insist the group is lost without him. If "Tokyo Dome," recorded in 2013, proves anything, it's that Diamond Dave serves at the brothers' pleasure, and that they, through nightly demonstrations of instrumental dynamism, wield the real power. Remember who needs who, buddy. Remember who signs the checks.

Roth's pipes remain reliably inconsistent, limping past howlers, boomeranging from impressive explosions to wet-cat scat, and stumbling chagrined through "Hot for Teacher" (lead-in: "And the Cradle Will Rock ... , " natch), but you can't blame him, since it's mutated from ribald juvenile fantasy to social epidemic. Yet he's retained his usual charm as host, engaging Tokyo in its native tongue, although when he asks, "How are we doing so far tonight?" during a shambolic "Unchained," it sounds more like apology than repartee. Eddie's son Wolfgang has acclimated to Michael Anthony's shadow as a passable bassist/vocal support. However, while he nails the general vicinity of his predecessor's range, he lacks that firework wallop (see: "Women in Love").

Alternately overlong and unsatisfying -- a frustrating appraisal of a set fat with pleasers (dump " Tattoo" and replace it with, I dunno, "Little Dreamer") -- "Tokyo" comes alive precisely once, near the end, with a titanic "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love," where at last the rock gods parry and feast. Good news for Dave, since such performances keep him out of soup lines. Bad news for listeners demanding more. A worthy live document is out there somewhere. It may even be possible now. Only stray traces exist on this sunken ship.

Cory Frye is a news editor at the Albany Democrat-Herald. He once owned "Van Halen II" on eight-track and feels middle schoool would have been a bust without "1984."

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