One of rock’s most definitive frontmen is having a moment. David Lee Roth is back on the road again in 2020, opening for KISS on the band’s epic End of The Road world tour and frequenting festivals all year long as well. But Diamond Dave might be most excited about his new Las Vegas residency show, returning to the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay on March 18. I caught up with Roth, or more accurately, tried to keep up with him, during a wild phone call as he made his way back to Sin City.
You’ve been touring with KISS since January. Is that set pretty similar to your Vegas show?
I have a band that is beyond stellar and we’re capable of playing everything from the local millionaire’s birthday party to the Super Bowl. I can play Willie (Nelson’s) Farm Aid and I can play Las Vegas and I can open for KISS, which in itself is an audience that arrives with expectations. KISS is one of the original Cirque du Soleil-level rock bands. It starts with the music but escalates into millions of dollars worth of bang for your buck that moves from city to city. (Opening for them) requires reading the audience and taking a chance. If all you do when you arrive in Las Vegas is simply play your concert set from the local arenas, that’s not what we came to Las Vegas for. We want more. There are plenty of casinos (around the country) to go play in, but you earn your way into Vegas right now.
So how would you describe what you’re doing in Vegas at the House of Blues?
For me, it’s a little bit closer to what (John) Coltrane or Billie (Holiday) was doing on the jazz stage. We take chances here, big chances. It’s the high bar. We call it genius by midnight. In jazz, if you reach for it, there’s no in between. There’s in between in baseball; I say he made it, you say he don’t. In the high bar, there’s no equivocating. You either made it or you didn’t, but it’s glorious in its effort.
There was certainly plenty of Van Halen classics in your first Vegas shows earlier this year.
It’s a universal kind of sound that allowed us to do things (like) when Van Halen was brand new, to open for Black Sabbath in 22 cities in England, and two weeks later, we worked with Journey at the height of its Steve Perry (heyday). We’ll be opening for Metallica on this tour and then we’re playing with Rage Against the Machine at the Firefly Festival. It’s a universal and timeless sound. Nobody ever looks at Bruce and goes, “Wow, Springsteen, what a great ’70s act.” I don’t think anyone is looking at what they hear in our music and finding a time capsule.
How has the experience of touring and performing live changed for you?
I’ve come to value it eminently. That’s a space like a boxing ring. How many people have literally sacrificed their health to get to it, and then again to stay with it, whether it’s a theater, an opera stage, a ballet floor? There’s so much great talent and ambition and energy out there now, so much more than when I started. I value that effort and I value that which I have more than I ever have before. The injury rate for my job is like the NFL—100 percent. But I’m looking at 40 summers and a full house. Are you kidding me? We’re going to play to half a million people by Hanukkah.
How did it feel to be back on the Vegas stage in January? And did you get the energy from the audience you were expecting?
A lot of folks depend on the audience for energy and I reverse the ratio. You are coming for your fix. When you walk out of my show, you will feel young, skinny, invincible and invulnerable. Ladies will feel eminently desirable and all men will feel like they’re the perfect example of sexual perfection. Small children will inexplicably stop crying when you walk by and smile, and tiny house pets who refuse to obey will paw your leg for the next directive. That’s on a bad night. You should see what’s gonna happen for you on a good night.