“We’re gonna turn this into Saturday night,” Sammy Hagar promised the crowd during his Thursday night concert in Hollywood. In that regard he dusted off four decades of hit songs ranging from his time in Van Halen and Montrose to his solo career, and also trotted out a couple of rather noteworthy guest musicians who have helped him along the way. But his stated theme for the evening was that of a party, and in that regard he delivered.
Hagar began his set by name-checking 1973 and launching into a classic Montrose hit from that year, then working his way forward chronologically. That included his 1984 solo hit I Can’t Drive 55 among others, and half an hour into the set he was still exploring his own pre-Van Halen history. Some in the audience ate it up, as he poured alcohol into the mouths of front row patrons while donning a Dr. Seuss style hat which had been passed up to him. But still some in the crowd appeared to be confused as to why he wasn’t simply performing his numerous Van Halen hits all night.
But after the Van Halen portion of the evening finally began with an unusually reworked partial version of Right Now, the night took a turn for the surreal and the crowd uniformly became enthralled. Michael Anthony, the founding bassist for Van Halen, took the stage to help Hagar perform Why Can’t This Be Love? Anthony then declared “I’m here to play” and stuck around for several other hits. But then Hagar dropped the other shoe by bringing Jason Bonham, son of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham onto the stage. Bonham, Hagar, and Anthony performed Van Halen’s Poundcake and then Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll.
The appearance of Anthony was not totally unexpected, as he and Hagar have continued to collaborate in the band Chickenfoot since they both departed Van Halen. But the pairing of Anthony and Bonham on stage simultaneously was unique, and served as a reminder that this was indeed all about the music regardless of how party-influenced the night may have been.
But the biggest surprise of the evening may have been the guitar prowess of Vic Johnson, who at various points served as a stand-in for Ronnie Montrose, Eddie Van Halen, and Jimmy Page, and pulled off each flawlessly. Hagar’s backup band The Wabos were obscured for much of the evening by the two famous guest stars, but it’s worth noting that they each held their own. If the greatest liability in seeing a rock frontman performing solo lies in how well the backing performers can replicate the original studio work, then Hagar is smart to have put together a troupe who can roll with the hits.
After the audience had been treated to a parade of hits from Van Halen and otherwise, and a pair of guest stars unlikely to have been seen on stage together, Hagar returned to the stage for an encore which took a turn for the bizarre. For all the various songs which Hagar and his large vocal range might excel in covering, Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus isn’t among them. He appeared to be aware of it, prefacing the song by asking the audience to bear with him, and even Anthony gave him a glance beforehand that appeared to say “Are you sure about this?” Perhaps he should have listened to Anthony.
But despite the subpar Personal Jesus rendition and Hagar’s subsequent decision to immediately wrap up the show without buttressing it with another safe Van Halen hit, the evening had already reached the point where the closing faux pas could be forgiven. He didn’t try too hard to plug his own brand of Cabo Wabo Tequila, nor did he spend too much time performing tracks from his new solo record, as he knew why the crowd was there.
Sammy Hagar’s voice sounds as strong as ever, and perhaps more importantly, it felt like he wanted to be performing these songs. He made a point of remaining the audience that he was in fact a notable rock star before the Van Halen brothers ever hired him, but once he’d done so, he delivered on the Van Halen songs as well. If there’s nothing worse in the world of rock concerts than seeing an aging rocker half heartedly performing his old hits strictly out of obligation, then there’s no more pleasant surprise than seeing a rock veteran like the sixty-six year old Hagar going out of his way to prove he’s still got it.