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Van Halen Plays Surprise Show at Tiny Cafe Wha? In NYC

Van Halen, one of the biggest bands in the history of rock 'n’ roll, known for bringing several semi-tractor-trailers worth of gear to stadium-sized shows, played for about 280 people on Jan. 5 at the storied New York City club Cafe Wha?, a warm-up gig for a soon-to-be-massively marketed album and reunion tour. "Diamond" David Lee Roth’s 92-year-old uncle Manny, who was in attendance Thursday night (along with John McEnroe, Jimmy Fallon, Roots guitarist Captain Kirk Douglas, and just about every rock writer, editor, and critic of note), was an owner in the place back in the day when it hosted Bob Dylan and other rock luminaries. Roth spent nearly 10 minutes (presumably eating up two songs on the setlist that the band never made it to, including "Unchained," dammit) reliving his days in NYC, both as an adult living on the corner of Rivington Street and "Ludlow Boulevard," (It’s Ludlow Street, actually, but in Dave’s world, every thoroughfare is a boulevard), and as a kid growing up in the greater New York area and coming to Cafe Wha? with his uncle at age 7.

"This place is a temple," Roth, 57, said. "I am more nervous about this gig than I’ve ever been at the Garden."

The band—all original members except for bassist Michael Anthony, who was dutifully replaced by Eddie Van Halen’s 20-year-old son, Wolfgang—treated an incredibly packed and up-close crowd to near-perfect renditions of "Panama," "Everybody Wants Some," "Jump," "Runnin’ With The Devil," "Hot For Teacher," "Ice Cream Man," and even one new song.

For this reporter, who grew up scrawling flying "VH" symbols on various walls and playing their cassettes on a yellow Sony "Sports" edition Walkman, it was one for the books—an epic rock show for old people, by old people.

Photography was nearly impossible, but here’s some mediocre shots of the madness: