Mystery of the Fair Warning tour footage — Does a complete Oakland concert exist on film?
Anyone even remotely familiar with the third Indiana Jones film “The Last Crusade” is aware the film dealt with Dr. Jones pursuit of the Holy Grail. Through much intrigue, action and hardship, Jones finally had the Grail in his grasp…
A similar chase has been undertaken by die-hard Van Halen fans and bootleg collectors for nearly thirty years now: the Sacred Footage of Van Halen’s three night stand at the Oakland Coliseum, June 11-13, 1981, which in and of itself constitutes the Holy Grail in Van Halen mythology.
This footage was filmed during the incredible Fair Warning tour, to be aired on MTV, as well as such television programs as Don Kirshner Rock Concert, Entertainment Tonight, and American Bandstand. The band even hoped that Solid Gold would at least air the “So This Is Love” video, but the program director refused, saying they wouldn’t air it unless the band made an in-person appearance, which never came to pass.
The only three songs from this taping that have ever aired are “Unchained,” “Hear About it Later” and “So This Is Love,” which together make up some of the most cherished footage of early Van Halen. Some fans consider the Fair Warning tour as the pinnacle of Van Halen’s powers, based on what precious little footage has circulated from the David Lee Roth era.
Since only three videos have emerged from this taping, this begs two questions from the VH faithful: Were any or all of the three Oakland concerts filmed in their entirety? And, if so, then where the hell is the footage??
As with any object bordering on myth-like status, the answer depends solely upon what the seeker wishes to believe. In interviews with The Inside magazine several years ago, Mike Anthony’s longtime bass tech, Kevin Dugan, expressed doubt that the shows were filmed in their entirety, and that only the three songs presently circulating were captured. A second former VH roadie, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Inside staff the same thing. He said that the reason the band didn’t film a whole show was simply because filming was very expensive and they felt there was no reason to film a whole concert when they just wanted to put together some videos for MTV. And then last year, when Michael Anthony told the Van Halen News Desk that, unfortunately, he, too, believes the full shows weren’t filmed, many fans considered that to be the final nail in the coffin.
Yet in a video interview coinciding with the original video release to TV in 1981, David Lee Roth confided in Los Angeles DJ, Jim Ladd. Roth implied that the complete shows were indeed filmed, yet most of the footage turned out to be unusable — a “dismal disaster” in Roth’s words. This is borne out by a careful study of the three videos, which reveal several quick cuts that appear to be from other songs or portions of the evening.
So if footage of a complete Fair Warning concert does indeed exist, who has it, and when is Van Halen finally going to release it?
This is where things get nebulously speculative. The band has never been exactly forthcoming with what resides in its vaults. And even if a member of Van Halen tells you that it does or doesn’t exist, how much trust could you put in their memory?
The VHND has recently learned that the footage was jointly financed by Warner Bros. Records and Van Halen, and that Warner Bros. may not stand in Van Halen’s way if they wanted to release the footage, as both parties would simply share the profits.
So the footage could be in a warehouse owned by Time/Warner, and/or gathering dust in some closet at 5150 studios. In a recent interview Edward Van Halen has mentioned that the band has a stockpile of footage that remains unreleased, including “things like me playing guitar at the 6th grade talent show. There’s all kinds of cool and funny shit we could put out.” If this footage does exist and happens to be in rough shape, the technology is available today to make it potentially viable for release, either as a complete show, or as the three songs used as supplementary material in a home viewing package, as in the 2003 Led Zeppelin DVD.
For the fans that have been seeking this material for nearly three decades, let’s hope the wait isn’t much longer.
You can watch upgrades of the three videos here.