Saturday, May 23, 2009

Van Halen - June 23, 2004

Back in 2004, Van Halen reunited with Sammy Hagar for a North American tour. Rumor has it they tried David Lee Roth first, but couldn’t agree on a dollar amount, so they went to Sammy, and never mentioned that they spoke to Dave. Van Halen/Hagar recorded three new songs and released a greatest hits package that they would tour behind, Best of Both Worlds. The tour began before the double disc set was even released.

Growing up, I was a huge fan of Van Halen. They a favorite band in high school and I never had the opportunity to experience them live, so this was a real treat for me. I was excited. I took my wife (who at the time was my fiancé) with me, as she liked Van Halen, but only the older version. I wasn’t sure how much she would like Van Hagar, but I knew that she would know a lot of songs.

And while I would have liked to see an original, full-on reunion, I was happy to see a Sammy-led reunion. Michael Anthony almost didn’t make the tour, but at the insistence of Sammy, and due to the fact that Eddie probably needed the money, the band came around and invited Michael to tour with them for a salary. Michael agreed for the opportunity to play with Sammy again and that was the only reason. The politics of rock and roll are always so childish.

We got to the venue (Continental Airlines Arena) in the afternoon and started our tailgating fun. It was late June, the weather was warm and the sun was out, a picture perfect day. With every minute that passed, my anticipation level rose. I kept talking about how Van Halen was one of my favorite bands when I was a teen, I kept speculating on what song they would open with, what song they would close with, and how they would sound overall. I couldn’t wait. We were sure to go in early enough to catch the opening act, because I couldn’t be outside any longer. I wanted this concert to start!

Shinedown was the opening act for the tour and although I am well versed in the band now, back in 2004 I did not have a clue who they were. I listened with an open mind, which is more than I can say for the people sitting behind us. They just kept shouting “Get off the stage! We want Van Halen!” Comments like those always bothered me. If you don’t want to see the opening act, then why are you in the building that early?

I ignored the tools behind us and did my best to concentrate on this unknown band. By the end of their set, I was impressed, and even made a mental note to pick up their CD. Of course, I never did and basically forgot all about them until recently, when they released The Sound Of Madness.

After Shinedown left the stage, my heart was racing. I was going to witness four of my youthful heroes in a rock concert. I had read the reviews and all signs pointed to the band getting along, so I was hopeful for a great performance. Sammy even mentioned in an interview that he was enjoying singing the old Dave songs, where in the past, he did not.

After a few moments of chatting with my fiancé about which songs they would perform (she wanted all older Dave tunes), what she thought of the opening act (she didn’t really care for them), and what songs they would close with (no idea), the house lights went down and Van Halen took the stage.

The first thing I noticed, before I even observed the band, was how empty the arena was. This was truly disappointing. This was the first time the band had toured together since 1995 and no one was coming to see them. The half-empty arena appeared morgue-esque.

The opening notes of You Really Got Me hit the air, and I quickly forgot about the lack of people so I could focus on the music. Sammy singing this Dave-era classic did not come off as well as it could have. There’s just something about Sammy singing Dave songs. They don’t go over well and this opener was no exception.

From there, the band launched into the classic Runaround and the show was off and running. A lot of Sammy-era VH songs were played, and rightfully so. This was the Sammy fronted version of the band and they had enough hits of their own to keep the crowd happy.

Human Being was next, and regardless of what previous reviews have said, I loved hearing this song live. It was a favorite of mine and to hear it in a live setting was music to my ears. Sammy’s vocal range may not have been in top form, as he did have some trouble hitting the higher notes for this one, but I was singing so loud that it didn’t matter. Truly a great moment of the night for me.

The band was in good shape and appeared to get along fairly well. There were a few jabs here and there during the course of the night, especially when Sammy mentioned that the band had been out drinking the night before. Eddie immediately corrected him to say that “He (Sammy) had been out drinking.” Eddie was still trying to prove to the world that he was clean and sober, but as the night wore on, the crowd would be able to see through that false sense of purity.

Michael Anthony took the lead vocals for Somebody Get Me A Doctor, as he did during the 1997 tour with Gary Cherone at the mic, and I thought this was a nice touch. Somebody Get Me A Doctor is one of those lost classics that I never thought I would hear live. A nice treat for the die-hard fans.

The surprise of the evening was The Seventh Seal from Balance. I always thought this was a great song that never got its due, so to hear it live during the reunion paid the justice it was deserved. A loud, screechy rocker, with typical Sammy vocals, this song cooked that night.

Top of the World, Best of Both Worlds, and Dreams were true highlights for me. Each song sounded as great as it did the day it was released, and helped to re-cement my love for Hagar-era VH.

The best part of the night came during Eddie’s guitar solo. He took the stage by himself and launched into a long, 20 minute jam, just him and his guitar. He played Cathedral, mixed in some new riffs, and just let himself go wild, playing what he wanted. I was mesmerized by his ability and stood there with my jaw slightly ajar. Seeing this guitar God man that axe the way he did was an experience that may never be matched.

At the end of his solo, Eddie lay on his back claiming he was spent. That was when the opening notes of 316 filled the arena, only it wasn’t Eddie playing the guitar anymore. Low and behold, walking out onstage was what Eddie claimed to be “the future.” Eddie’s son, Wolfgang Van Halen, stood front and center next to his old man, and together they finished 316. Needless to say, the crowd roared their approval and it was the loudest they had been all night. Two generations of Van Halen on one stage. Priceless.

For the encore, Eddie walked out with a Devils jersey in his hands and held it out to the crowd. They, of course, went ballistic for this, and Eddie, with a mile wide grin, slipped the Jersey on top of Sammy and they played the next song. Jump was the first encore song and it was well received. Again, I didn’t particularly care to hear Sammy sing this song, but the crowd certainly enjoyed it as did my fiancé.

Panama followed next and I thought that this was performed real well, even with Sammy at the mic. The pounding drums of Alex and Eddie’s excellent riffs helped build the song up and Sammy sang it as best he could, which was quite good.

When It’s Love was the last song of the evening, and it made me smile with nostalgia. In high school, this was a song that my girlfriend and I dubbed “our song.” It brought back some good memories and had me singing at the top of my lungs.

The night came to an end after this and I went home truly satisfied. It would be the only time I saw Van Halen live, but it was a great time. There will most likely never be another chance to see Van Hagar, and there may never be another chance to see Michael Anthony play bass in Van Halen. I was glad to see them when I could, and to have been a part of that magical night.

You Really Got Me
Human Being
Up For Breakfast
Bass Solo
Somebody Get Me A Doctor
It's About Time
Drum Solo
Top of the World
Why Can't This be Love?
Eagles Fly
Seventh Seal
Best of Both Worlds
Guitar Solo
Ain't Talkin' bout Love
Right Now
When It's Love

No comments: