The bigger than life mythos was never just legend, but it was almost 30 years ago.
Van Halen is no longer the same 110 mile per hour adrenaline juggernaut of years ago. Decades of maturation, both musical and personal, will do that to a band. Plus, decades of bickering, often in public, will also tarnish the luster.
So it's a different band that takes the stage at Mohegan Sun. No over the top fanfare, no bravado. Just a band fueled by the unflashy confidence of a endearing new album that's a needed statement of their vitality.
Never launching himself into the mid-air split that was his trademark, Roth, once the quintessential rock star poster child — literally — now draws more from his love of Motown shimmy than acrobatics. If that Diamond Dave panache used to be part of selling the songs, now, cheshire grinning his way through the show, it's enough to just have fun singing them.
Roth was never the best of singers, forced to rely on character over technique. But that was always his charm, and with the 56-year-old frontman sounding robust with that admittedly imperfect voice, he's charming as ever. And most refreshing about his singing, it's real.
Without the over the top bombast of vintage Van Halen, the focus is more on the songs, and musicianship. Wolfgang Van Halen, already an accomplished player, has picked up a few pointers in stage presence since his first tour five years ago. In terms of rock star charisma, he's no Michael Anthony, but he's solid, if non-descript.
The obvious division between fans is those only familiar with the classic rock radio hits — “Beautiful Girls,” “Panama” and “Jump” — and the ones who react even louder to the surge when Eddie Van Halen hits the gas on “Romeo Delight”.
It's not nostalgia with any of these songs, because they all hold up remarkably well. It's cliché, but at Mohegan Sun the band really does prove itself to be timeless. Eddie might be carrying a couple extra pounds, and Roth's wild mane is years gone, but there's still a lean, ferocious power to this band.
And if Eddie seemed burdened by his guitar hero status on recent runs, he's come full circle, glowing with the joy of playing. His deft fretwork may no longer seem so astounding because of its familiarity, but it's distinct and impressive as ever.
The same with older brother Alex, who seems to have changed the least. Overshadowed in the press by Eddie's guitar or Roth's tireless aplomb, the elder Van Halen's sound remains equally distinct. The hooks of his drum fills are exciting, and he still hits with the same force that has always driven the guitar and powered these songs.
Onstage, Van Halen 2012 lacks the swagger of Van Halen 1978-1984. Nearly thirty years since Roth's original reign is a huge gap in continuity, magnifying the changes that would have seemed more subtle if seen and heard gradually over that length of time. But that's okay, because Van Halen is now a more streamlined cannon that still packs plenty of firepower.
Roger Lotring is an author, freelance writer and radio show host based in Connecticut. Hear him Monday nights at 7:00 EST on 91.7 FM and WHUS.org.