'Nothing but a party': Robert Bell of Kool and the Gang on opening for Van Halen

Robert Earl “Kool” Bell and his fun R&B band Kool and the Gang are nearly midway through their gig as an opening act for the reconstituted Van Halen — and, in many ways, things are going just as expected: “It’s nothing but a party,” Bell tells Charity Apple of The Times-News.

Kool and the Gang’s lineup includes Kool on bass and vocals, George “Funky” Brown on drums, Dennis “DT” Thomas on alto saxophone and Kool’s brother Ronald Khalis Bell on soprano and tenor saxophones. They’re presenting a 50-minute offering of classics like “Ladies Night,” “Jungle Boogie” and “Celebration” — setting a party tone that carries directly over to Van Halen’s set.

Their connection, Bell says, goes back to the 1970s when Van Halen used to play Kool and the Gang hits at bars and clubs. Within a few years, both acts were scoring chart hits — including charttoppers “Celebration” for Kool’s group and “Jump” for Eddie Van Halen and Co.: “In the 1980s, they were a popular band and so were we,” Bell says. “David Lee Roth called up and said, you all have ‘Ladies Night’ and we attract a lot of ladies to our show — so why not?”

That’s why, as odd as the pairing might sound, Bell tells Apple that it works: “The women are often out there standing up the whole time,” Bell says, ” and, by the end of the show, we get the guys into it, too.”

Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Kool and the Gang and Van Halen. Click through the title titles for complete reviews …

DAVID LEE ROTH BREAKS DOWN THE VAN HALEN SOUND, FROM EARLY INFLUENCES TO FIERY ENDINGS: It starts, Roth says, with the principal band members’ childhood influences: “The busing program in America started in 1966 and my sister and I were sent off to schools an hour and a half away that were 95 percent black and Spanish speaking,” Roth said — leading to a key cultural impact: “Today I only listen to R&B — only listen to R&B — from any time period, doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter at all, whether it’s big band swing all the way up to anything that’s on Beatport.” Which explains how Kool and the Gang ended up as an opening act on Van Halen’s new reunion tour.

SOMETHING ELSE! FEATURED ARTIST: KOOL AND THE GANG: We were reminded of Kool and the Gang’s rump-shaking joys all over again when they were invited to serve as opening act on Van Halen’s ongoing reunion tour. Of course, Those Of A Certain Age are no doubt clueless about this good-time, cross-charting group, being as they shot across the party-music landscape beginning in the early 1970s like a tongue-wagging, horn-blasting comet. We’re here to help, with a quick spin through a series of favorites — though we left off 1981′s charttopping “Celebration.” After all, who needs that wedding-party warhorse if “we’re gone celebrate and have a good time”? There’s so much more to the underrated Kool and the Gang.

VAN HALEN – A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH (2012): It’s interesting that A Different Kind of Truth doesn’t always go for the easy hook (recalling Fair Warning), something that may surprise late-arriving fans of keyboard-driven pop successes like “Jump” (and certainly the subsequent period with David Lee Roth’s successor, Sammy Hagar). Some of the material requires more than one listen to completely absorb, and Anthony’s cloud-bursting tenor is missed at times. But A Different Kind of Truth has a way of burrowing in. That’s largely thanks to the presence of Roth, of course. He’s always good for spandex-splitting laugh or two.

SHOWS I’LL NEVER FORGET: DAVID LEE ROTH, JUNE 24, 1988: What will always stick with me about that night was the showmanship. For whatever Roth might lack in vocal chops, he’s always made up for in stage presence and performance. On that night, he was on top of his game, bouncing around all over the stage, kicking and leaping with manic energy. At one point, he rappelled from the lights to the stage. He performed “Panama” from a boxing ring suspended from the roof of the arena and then rode a surfboard over the crowd back to the stage as he sang “California Girls.” It was a production drenched in the excess of the late 1980s, and I loved it.

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Here’s a look at some key upcoming dates for Kool and the Gang and Van Halen:
May 1, 2012 – Tulsa, OK, BOK Center
May 5, 2012 – Tacoma, WA, Tacoma Dome
May 7, 2012 – Vancouver, BC, Rogers Arena
May 9, 2012 – Calgary, AB, Scotiabank Saddledome
May 11, 2012 – Edmonton, AB, Rexall Place
May 13, 2012 – Winnipeg, MB, MTS Centre (changed from May 17)
May 19, 2012 – Saint Paul, MN, Xcel Energy Center
May 22, 2012 – Kansas City, MO, Sprint Center
May 24, 2012 – Denver, CO, Pepsi Center
May 27, 2012 – Las Vegas, NV, MGM Grand Garden Arena
June 1, 2012 – Los Angeles, CA, Staples Center
June 3, 2012 – Oakland, CA, Oracle Arena
June 5, 2012 – San Jose, CA, HP Pavilion At San Jose
June 12, 2012 – Anaheim, CA, Honda Center
June 14, 2012 – San Diego, CA, Viejas Arena
June 16, 2012 – Phoenix, AZ, US Airways Center
June 20, 2012 – Dallas, TX, American Airlines Center
June 22, 2012 – San Antonio, TX, AT&T Center
June 24, 2012 – Houston, TX, Toyota Center
June 26, 2012 – New Orleans, LA, New Orleans Arena
For more, go to: http://www.van-halen.com/tour.html

Something Else!

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