From June 11-13th, 1981, Van Halen performed three shows in front of sold out crowds of 11,300 people each night at California’s Oakland Coliseum.
The Oakland ’81 shows have become legendary, thanks to the band deciding to preserve some of their performance to film. The footage was edited into three videos which aired on MTV as promos for the Fair Warning album. These videos have been floating around on the internet and bootleg tapes and DVDs for ages, and are some of the most cherished footage that collectors have.
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Before you watch the videos, we want to share this recollection by one of our readers who was there. Great stuff!
On June 11th, 1981, I was at the Oakland Coliseum and saw the greatest rock concert of my life. I was 18 at the time, and though I saw Van Halen live in ’79, ’80, ’81, ’82, and ’84, this was the band at their pinnacle. Had great seats on stage right, a few rows up from the floor.
From the opening notes of “On Fire,” my jaw hit the floor and my ass was off my chair. The entire production of stage, lights, and sound was a sonic boom to the senses.
The last song of the night was “Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love.” When they reached the part of the song with the “HEY, HEY, HEYs,” the sight throughout the coliseum was mind blowing. As I pumped both fists high in the air to each “HEY!,” I glanced to my left and saw over 11,000 people pumping their fists in unison. The energy level in that building was tremendous. The band was at their absolute peak.
When the show ended and the house lights came on, we made our way up the stairs in our section to leave. I remember stopping halfway up the stairs, turning around, and just staring at the stage, now blanketed by the giant “VH” light truss that had just lowered over the stage for the final encore. I didn’t want to leave. Stood there for a few minutes more, not wanting this moment in my life to end. It was that good.
I cherish these three videos we have, but they don’t do justice of actually being there. I just turned 50, and sometimes like everyone else, we all wish we were 21 again. But when I think of how lucky I am to be able to have attended these shows, 50 years old isn’t so bad! If an entire show of any of the Oakland shows is released, I will surely die a happy man. I can still close my eyes and transform myself to such a great evening of kick ass rock and roll!
A special thanks to my parents for conceiving me in the early ’60s so I would be old enough to attend these early VH concerts as a teenager.
— Guy, VHND reader
Embedded below is the highest quality footage that has ever surfaced from Oakland. Enjoy Van Halen performing “Hear About It Later,” “So This Is Love?” and “Unchained” from their 1981 Fair Warning tour.
(When viewing, be sure to change the quality setting to 480p for maximum quality)