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Concert Reviews and Interviews:  Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth

Polaris Amphitheater
Columbus, Ohio
Tuesday, June 11, 2002

It has been billed as "The Heavyweight Champs of Rock and Roll," a title fight of epic proportion or a double-bill rock concert for the ages. However, as I arrived in the parking lot outside of Polaris Amphitheater, I quickly became concerned that either the show had been cancelled and nobody told me, or this title "fight" was all promotional bark and no bite. The place was practically empty 45 minutes prior to Sammy Hagar taking the stage.

Apparently most fans didn't think Sammy would be starting as early as 7:30 pm, but with both acts getting equal stage time and alternating opening slots every other night, three plus hours of rock and roll had to begin while the sun was still up in order to accommodate most local curfews. Too bad, because Sammy would wallow in self-pity most of his set, constantly reminding the sparse crowd how he and his band hated playing in the daylight.

After a short biographical video of Hagar's entire career was shown on the giant video screens, the original Red Rocker and his band strolled out and flew right into "Red," an old solo favorite from the late 1970s. "We're not gonna waste much time tonight," Sammy declared, as they continued straight through "Runaround," a mild Van Halen hit, and onto "Three Lock Box" and "There's Only One Way To Rock." By now the pavilion seats and lawn area were half full, which seemed packed compared to a half hour earlier! However, the sun was still in the sky and although he has been in the opening spot every other night during this tour, Hagar insisted on reminding us again and again how he'd rather be playing at night. The only aspect of his set that grew more tiresome this night was his infatuation with mixing and sipping his signature blue margaritas between songs and toasting the crowd, "I'm just gonna have to get fucked up tonight!" This routine was perpetuated with two gorgeous models in t-back bikinis serving as waitresses.

The Hagar set rolled on through his most popular Van Halen songs, as well as equal servings of his solo material. Crowd favorites included "Why Can't This Be Love," "Finish What Ya' Started" (which opened with a tale of how he and Eddie Van Halen wrote this song), "I Can't Drive 55," and the raucous "Poundcake," accompanied by the soft porn "Girls Gone Wild" video collection. They encored with "Heavy Metal" and a well-received version of "Dreams" before bowing and walking off to the promise (one more time) from Sammy, "You should see us play at night!"

The sky did turn to night before the Cabo Wabo Cantina was cleared off and the way was made for David Lee Roth and his band of renegade rockers. A no-frills stage was the setting, loaded with amplifiers and simple lighting, as Diamond Dave trotted out to probably 10,000-12,000 screaming fans. The thundering drums of "Hot For Teacher" began to rumble and we were off to a 90-minute stroll down rock and roll memory lane! Favoring the early Van Halen material and plugging only a single solo hit ("Yankee Rose"), Dave relied on what this middle-aged crowd knew by heart and didn't feel the need to try and fix what was never broken. "Panama" then "And The Cradle Will Rock" supported the feverish opening pace, and gave way to a killer version of "Mean Street." It was at this point that Dave greeted the Columbus mass with a full pint of Jack Daniels in hand. "It's happy hour at Diamond Dave's," as he scanned the front row for women. "Hey darlin', are you old enough to drink with the Big Daddy?" He then performed masturbation on the whiskey bottle and tossed the bottle's liquor load all across the front row.

Dave's setlist was impossible to second-guess. It was 20 of the most-recognizable Van Halen songs ever written, including forgotten gems like "I'm The One," "So This Is Love?", and "Everybody Wants Some." What I did feel was lacking, however, was the demeanor of Roth. He was somewhat animated at times, but for the most part his smiles were at half-mast and those famous varsity kicks seemed tired. He looked great, playing most of the show shirtless, and sporting a pretty taught frame for his age. The band was impressive, especially drummer Ray Luzier, and remained as close to dead-on the vintage VH material as you could have hoped. I was most surprised when Dave strapped on an acoustic guitar to open "Ice Cream Man," one of the evening's finest moments!

From there, he plowed headlong through "Everybody Wants Some," "Unchained" and a stellar "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love." Unfortunately, the crowd seemed tired and unimpressed by the end of the set, so the one-song encore of "Jump" saw the show close on a very flat note. All things being equal, I feel this much-anticipated summer tour package extraordinaire delivered essentially what I expected: great, familiar material performed marginally, but with every decent intention. Somehow, it just felt as though both Sammy and Dave had both traveled this road too many times prior to really maintain an excitable head of steam throughout.

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