27 Years Ago: Van Halen Perform First Show With Sammy Hagar
On March 27, 1986, the city of Shreveport, Louisiana bore witness to the very first public performance of Van Halen MKII – otherwise nicknamed “Van Hagar,” in reference to the band’s new front man, Sammy Hagar, who had controversially replaced former loudmouth, David Lee Roth, a few months prior.
And while the media machine had been steamrolling ever since, seemingly filling every available column inch with screaming headlines and bold type seeking to capitalize on the very public sparring between both parties, the biggest rock and roll feud since McCartney vs. the remaining Beatles truly arrived in the court of public opinion on that particular Thursday night.
And, perhaps not surprisingly, the ten-odd-thousand ticket-buyers in attendance at Shreveport’s Hirsch Memorial Coliseum proved to be heavily partisan towards the ‘home’ team, with many fans donning t-shirts or hoisting banners depicting Roth’s name or photo circled and crossed out like a 55 mph speed limit sign, in honor of Hagar’s recent solo hit.
For their part, the band seemed no more inclined to take the high road, clearly basking in the audience’s show of unwavering support while Hagar proved so bold as to sport a “Dave Who?” shirt at one point – even though he would later admit to being ‘a wreck’ before the show, in his 2011 autobiography, ‘Red.’
In light of this revelation, one can retroactively view the evening’s set-list as something of a carefully planned confidence-building exercise for the singer; one that saw the band immediately following show-opener, ‘You Really Got Me,’ with Hagar solo hit, ‘There’s Only One Way to Rock,’ before diving headlong into new material from the ‘5150’ LP, only rarely to dip into the Roth catalog for must-play selections like ‘Panama,’ ‘ Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love’ and ‘Jump’ (the singer’s best-known hit, ‘I Can’t Drive 55’ duly cropped up, as well).
By the time the quartet took their bows and exited stage left that night, the revamped Van Halen was on its way to achieving the impossible: shutting up David Lee Roth…or at least making him scramble for colorful jabs and excuses to deflect his former band’s superior record sales and tour receipts, despite his own solo band’s considerable success on both fronts.
Of course, years down the line, all of that shameless public acrimony and unchecked backbiting (not to mention bad karma accumulated on an epic scale!) would result in all involved eating heaps of crow, at one point or another, as the proud Van Halen legacy was repeatedly tarnished by a succession of break-ups and make-ups with both Hagar and Roth.
But for one hot night in Louisiana, all those years ago, America’s greatest hard rock band enjoyed the first evidence of a second lease on life, after months of self-doubt and public second-guessing, so it’s hard to blame them for blowing off a little bit of mean-spirited steam in the process.
Watch Van Halen Perform Live in 1986