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VAN HALEN, WELL AND JUMPING

OK, enough already. Just how much are Van Halen fans supposed to take?

After a string of early-'80s hits, we bit our lips and watched as singer David Lee Roth got the boot and Sammy Hagar got the welcome mat. As Hagar harshly screamed through the tunes Roth so charmingly personalized, we told ourselves nothing was wrong. We even began to like the new songs and the new band.

All for naught.

Eddie Van Halen and company have a new front man, Gary Cherone from Extreme. How could a singer known for such soft hits as "Hole Hearted" and "More Than Words" fill the shoes of two of rock's most powerful singers?

It may not have been a magic carpet ride, but it wasn't exactly a disaster either.

To avoid the misfortune of a show a few weeks ago -- after the third song, Cherone lost his voice and the band had to cancel -- the sound engineer gave Cherone's vocals plenty of volume. So much, in fact, that during the singer's best shouts, several fans could be seen holding their ears.

Also aiding Cherone was the set list. By including several Van Halen golden oldies, his status as the newcomer was less threatening.

But it was Cherone himself who helped ease the pain of yet another Van Halen singer. By combining the memorable qualities of his predecessors -- he had the vaudeville moves of Roth and the strong-to-melodic tones of Hagar -- Cherone justified the band's newest phase.

The predominantly middle-aged crowd roared as the band opened with the defiant rocker "Unchained." Spliced between such oldies were the new tunes, which, although effective, lacked the urgency and innovation of the Roth-era rockers.

Unfortunately, every musician reaches a dead-end, even Eddie Van Halen. During the new tunes, the legendary guitarist's lines carried so many traces of his past solos that fans often cheered at what they believed was the start of a classic hit.

But the man who made fret-tapping an everyday occurrence proved that he still is experimental during the new blues-rock ballad, "Year to the Day."

Like a child left alone in a studio, the wide-grinned guitarist began his solo with slow and easy, Eric Clapton-styled, high-toned, bent-note squeals before jumping into his trademark quick riffs.

The band returned to end the dramatic ballad in a dramatic way: An overhead, octopus-shaped lighting structure slowly lowered, enclosing its tentacles around the band like an unfolding umbrella.

Armed with his Jack Daniels bass and a rebel spirit, Michael Anthony took the spotlight to sing vocals and rile up the already ecstatic crowd during "Somebody Get Me a Doctor." Drummer Alex Van Halen used his double bass set to give a triple beat solo during "Jamie's Cryin' ".

The band's journey through its past also included the Roth-era tunes "Mean Street," "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love," "Panama" and "Jump." Hagar-period tunes included "When It's Love," "Why Can't This Be Love," "Dreams" and "Right Now."

Opening the show was 21-year-old guitar sensation Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Popularized by his Stevie Ray Vaughan style as well as by his ability to stay in the limelight (not only is he the latest spokesperson for Gap jeans, he has performed with a bevy of big-name entertainers), Shepherd kept the crowd cheering. With a Steve Morse casualness and a Jimi Hendrix boldness, he mixed a mature sense of tradition with a youthful sense of showmanship.

REVIEW
Van Halen

Legendary rock band, with blues-rock guitar prodigy Kenny Wayne Shepherd.

Tuesday night at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center.