The pervading feeling between dueling former Van Halen frontmen David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar may never be love, but fans showed a lot of it Wednesday at Blossom Music Center.
Vintage Van Halen T-shirts peppered the fiery crowd. Fortysomething women fashioned the Van Halen symbol with their hands as they shook their shoulders to songs such as “5150” and “Panama.” A group of teenage boys wrote with marker “f– Eddie” on their arms, referring, of course, to VH guitarist Eddie Van Halen.
The admiration was mutual between the crowd and Roth and Hagar. Mop-haired Hagar opened the show at 7:15 p.m. – the singers are alternating set order during the tour – with a video retrospective that included interviews, clips of magazine stories and Van Halen photos. It hit a snag midway through, and kicked back to the beginning of the film. When it finished, a curtain was drawn to allow a select number of fans to stand on risers behind the band in an effort to maintain Hagar’s tradition of creating a club atmosphere onstage.
Bathed in red lights, Hagar kicked off his set with the apropos “Red.”
“We’re gonna turn this whole f–ing place red,” screamed Hagar, who was wearing a yellow T-shirt from his Cabo Wabo club that said, “Got Tequila” across his chest. He quickly went into the Van Halen hit “Runaround,” which prompted the sea of fans to collectively mimic Hagar, who was whipping his arm around in a circular motion.
At times, Hagar was a little too chatty between songs, often using long stories to segue into the next tune.
“It’s still daylight and I’m going to get drunk,” Hagar said. He yelled “Waitress!” and in response, a scantily clad woman arrived onstage to pour him a margarita. “It’s my first of the day, so make it a double,” he instructed.
He coaxed the woman, a “calendar girl” from a local radio station, to imbibe with him momentarily. “It’s OK to drink on the job. As a matter of fact, it’s mandatory.”
After wrapping up “Top of the World,” Hagar admitted that he was somewhat nervous.
“I didn’t know what to expect today because, well, you know why,” he said, referring to his tempestuous relationship with Roth. “All I got to say is this is: f–ing killer. This is the sh-. That’s what I’m talkin’ about. Waitress!”
Hagar took a potshot at Eddie Van Halen, who is now reportedly healthy after receiving treatment for cancer. Among the groups of fans onstage was a cardboard cut-out of the axeman, whose head the red rocker smacked after saying, “You don’t have nothin’ to say? Didn’t think so.”
He further revved up the crowd by hitting a Cabo Wabo Tequila bottle piÃ±ata with his guitar after singing “Mas Tequila.” When the bottle opened, a mop-haired green worm popped out.
Vocally, Hagar rose above a hoarse-sounding Diamond Dave, who needed a bit of polishing. Hagar’s voice soared to impressive heights during songs such as “Eagles Fly,” “Dreams” and the closer, “Right Now.”
Roth was the antithesis of Hagar, who used videotapes of topless women at one point as a backdrop for his show. The flamboyant original VH frontman opted for a more “artsy” approach with his videos, repeatedly showing different variations of cat-suit-wearing women and an armed Roth searching the halls for those unknown. Interspersed with those scenes were shots of Roth doing martial arts.
He couldn’t measure up to Hagar’s charisma, however. Aside from a few kicks, Roth exchanged personality for shaking his spandex-covered lower body toward the audience. His stage banter was minimal; he let his body and lyrics do the talking for him. Roth, who botched the words to “(Oh) Pretty Woman,” used a bottle of Jack Daniel’s to mimic a sex act and, upon “completion,” splashed the liquor on fans sitting close to the stage.
Using suspenders to keep up his spandex pants, Dave ended his set with a martial-arts-style, baton-twirling number during an instrumental part of Van Halen’s hit “Jump.” He bowed with the stick tucked under his arm, looking like a majorette in a high school band.
Van Halen fans’ “Sammy vs. Dave” battle clearly had a winner Wednesday night: Right here, right now, Hagar was on “Top of the World.”