CHARLOTTE - There they were, David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen, on stage together after two decades, grinning like madmen as the band ripped through a blistering "Somebody Get Me a Doctor."

Early into their first concert together in more than 23 years - the show no one thought they'd see - Van Halen was doing its best to erase years of soap opera feuding, false starts and long-fading hopes for a reunion. And if there was any doubt they could live up to the band's considerable legend or the unbelievable hype - and there was plenty of that - they were viciously putting those concerns to rest. And they seemed to know it.

After an enthusiastic high-five and knowing smile shared with Van Halen, Roth turned to the crowd, said, "Are you guys having a good time, too?"

Oh, yeah.

On Thursday night, Van Halen opened its first tour with Roth at the microphone since 1984 here at the Charlotte Bobcats Arena, and took a good first step toward re-establishing their dominance in the nearly lost art of arena rock. For a little more than two hours, no one in the sellout crowd of more than 18,000 sat down as the band ripped through a 26-song set that included songs the band had not played since the early days "And the Cradle Will Rock:," "So This Is Love?" and "Beautiful Girls." It was a set list that any old-school Van Halen fan would have had a hard time arguing with, and it was tight.

But this was not the party band of Roth's heyday with the Van Halen brothers. The shows of the early 1980s were loose, a lot of fun, but sometimes plagued by Roth forgetting the lyrics and other on-stage antics.

This Van Halen is all business. There was little banter, almost no joking, and the feeling of controlled chaos from those early tours was missing as the band tore through one hard rock anthem after another with little pause in between. They played, rightfully so, as if they had something to prove.

And founding bassist Michael Anthony - an old crowd favorite and talented musician - was missed by the diehards, although Eddie's son, Wolfgang Van Halen, proved himself a very good bass player. Wolfgang was endearing to the crowd - enthusiastic, hard-working and even charming with a little adolescent awkwardness. But who wouldn't be in this situation?

Roth, though, as he's always been, was the show. Not because of his antics and acrobatics, which were seriously muted from the old days, but because he couldn't wipe that smile off his face. Sometime after leaving the band in early 1985, Roth apparently realized he'd made a mistake. It took years to reconcile with the brothers Van Halen, something his smile - and the singer himself - alluded to early in the show.

"It only took 20 years to get this ... far," he said.

This was not a show for fans of the Sammy Hagar era of Van Halen, as the band played nothing newer than 1984, except for the hint of some second-generation riffs in Eddie Van Halen's guitar solo.

After a stint in rehab this year derailed earlier plans for a reunion, Eddie Van Halen manhandled his guitar as well as he has in years, filling his solo with some of his best-known licks (from "Cathedral" to Eruption") and his brother and drummer, Alex Van Halen, hit the skins like a man 30 years younger. During "So This Is Love?" you could feel the drums snap from halfway across the arena. One of Eddie Van Halen's few comments on-stage came after his brother's solo, when he noted, "Nobody does it better."

Maybe a variation of the old song was the theme for the evening: So this is redemption?

A half hour into the show, the band cranked up "Dance the Night Away," a hit song from 1979 that still doesn't feel old. During the final chorus, the house lights went up and the crowd proudly sang it for the band. It must have sounded as sweet to them as all those classic songs did to the crowd.

Van Halen set list, Charlotte Bobcats Arena, Sept. 27: