33 Years ago: Van Halen performed their very first concert with Sammy Hagar as frontman. Here’s the little-known story about that concert and the days that led up to it. (Including some exclusive quotes from Sammy Hagar).
All photos are from the opening night, March 27th, 1986.
As the first scheduled concert with their new frontman drew near, Van Halen’s new album wasn’t even finished yet. The band was so late delivering the 5150 master tapes that the album was delayed and it’s release date pushed back. Two warm-up shows in Anchorage, AK, and a third in Hawaii were all cancelled because the album was still being mixed by Eddie, Donn Landee, and Mick Jones in-between rehearsals. (They were later rescheduled for the end of the tour, but for unknown reasons were again cancelled).
Then finally, when the new album was completed and the tour ready to start, the Hagar/Van Halen union was about to face the ultimate test – the fans. 5150 was released March 24, 1986. Three days later in Shreveport, Louisiana, Sammy Hagar was formally introduced to the standing room only crowd at the Hirsch Memorial Coliseum as Van Halen’s new lead singer. The media was there in droves to witness the event, piqued by a keen interest to see how Hagar would be accepted. That night, a packed house of 10,000 people shouted their approval.
A reformed Bachman Turner Overdrive opened the much-anticipated tour. In the weeks to come, the Van Halen road show was enthusiastically greeted by energetic, sold-out audiences around the country. A month after 5150 was released, it started a four-week run at the top of the Billboard charts. It was the first Van Halen album ever to attain No. 1 status. In May, “Why Can’t This Be Love” peaked at No. 3, and by July the record had sold 3 million copies. Millions of fans loved the union between Hagar and Van Halen. But not everyone was buying it – no matter how many albums were sold, many fans still preferred the original Van Halen lineup. There were basically three camps of fans – those who preferred Dave, those who preferred Sammy, and those who loved the band with either frontman. As far as the media went, some journalists that applauded the group’s new direction, while others believed the band would soon run its course with Sammy Hagar.
“I liked the controversy,” claimed Sammy. “If you want to get down to it, I thrived on it. I liked the fact that I had given up a successful solo career in order to join a band, rather than quit the group to have a solo career like everyone else does. We got a lot of album reviews on that record – some good, several bad. For example, lyrics were printed on a Van Halen album for the first time. This guy in Playboy accused me of being on an ego trip because of it. There were some great lyrics on 5150 that I was extremely proud of, especially in songs like ‘Best of Both Worlds’, ‘Good Enough’ and ‘Love Walks In’.
Sammy later admitted in his autobiography to being extremely nervous about the first gig with Van Halen. “We went to Shreveport, Louisiana, to do that show on March 26, 1987. I was a wreck. I don’t think I’ve ever been more nervous before a show. We came out and open with “One Way To Rock,” one of my songs. The barricade went down. The audience went crazy. It happened in an instant, a flash. It was killer. We were on top of the world at that moment.” [VHND notes two errors in his recollection: the year was 1986, and the song they opened with was “You Really Got Me”].
“I refused to sing ‘Jump‘. It was just hard for me. I write my own songs. ‘Jump’ was tough for me lyrically – ‘Can’t you see me standing here, I’ve got my back against the record machine, you know what I mean, you know what I mean? I might as well jump’. That was hard for me. I couldn’t sing the song with any heart and soul. I’ve got to sing something that I mean.
“‘Hey, hey, hey you, who was that? Hey, baby, how you been?’ I just couldn’t sing that shit, great as it was. The first night, in a moment of panic, I pulled a guy out of the crowd to sing it. The audience went nuts. The band thought it was great. When the guy got to “I might as well…”, I’d spring in the air like a maniac. It worked. We kept it. I’m the entire tour, I sang ‘Jump’ maybe twice.”
As far as the set list for the tour, Sammy told Ed, Al, and Michael that he didn’t want to play too much of the old stuff. They were totally down with that. They decided to go out and make a stand with mostly new material. The tour was documented in the concert DVD Live Without A Net.
Typical 5150 set list:
- You Really Got Me
- There’s Only One Way to Rock
- Summer Nights
- Get Up
- Drum Solo
- Why Can’t This Be Love?
- Bass Solo
- Best of Both Worlds
- Love Walks In
- Good Enough
- Guitar Solo
- I Can’t Drive 55
- Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love
- Rock and Roll
Watch the full “Live Without A Net” concert, recorded live from New Haven, Connecticut USA 1986, here.
Thanks to Scott McNeill for this newspaper article