by Steve Patrick
– Senior Columnist —
June 20, 2015 at The Rose Music Center in Huber Heights, OH. —
The career of Sammy Hagar is a rarity in the music world, not only because of the longevity but also for its consistency. The Red Rocker, whether it be with Montrose, Van Halen, Chickenfoot, or as a solo artist, has always delivered vocal performances that will make any listener compare women to confections, finish what they started, drink more tequila, and exceed the designated speed limit. This storied career has now led Hagar to form another supergroup alongside longtime Waboritas guitarist Vic Johnson, drummer Jason Bonham, and his good friend and musical lifemate Michael Anthony. This new group is called The Circle and focuses not only on Hagar’s solo work, but also the plentiful catalogs of Van Halen, Montrose, and Led Zeppelin.
Hagar and The Circle recently paid visit to The Rose Music Center at the Heights just outside of Dayton, OH as part of their current tour. The show fell the day after Hagar released a passionate video rebuttal to Eddie Van Halen’s controversial claims about Anthony, so the audience was abuzz over what might transpire on stage. Before the band took the stage, a timeline video outlining the different eras of Hagar’s music amped the crowd up. Hagar and company introduced themselves with “There’s Only One Way to Rock” and then Hagar explained that they’d be touching on all periods of Hagar’s output. Proving this point, The Circle then launched into the Montrose classic “Rock Candy.” The band was visibly having a great time and that always translates well to the crowd.
The crowd exploded at the first notes of “Good Times Bad Times,” “Whole Lotta Love” and “When the Levee Breaks,” singing along throughout each of them. The Van Halen material was met with the same level of enthusiasm as the band gave faithful renditions of “Poundcake,” “Why Can’t This Be Love,” “Right Now” and “Runaround”. The Circle’s version of Hagar’s “Little White Lie” was among the best musicianship of the night. What might have been a “time to grab a beer or take a piss song” for some was a real treat for the plugged-in among crowd.
Vic Johnson was able to masterfully weave in and out of the varied song selection and always hold his own playing the guitar parts that Ronnie Montrose, Eddie Van Halen, and Jimmy Page made famous. Johnson’s chemistry with Hagar can’t be replicated and is something that only years of recording/touring together can produce. The same can be said of Hagar’s relationship with Anthony. The two would often pair up to attack the vocals from the same mic and just genuinely gave out a vibe of friendship and mutual appreciation for each other.
It’s no shock that Bonham was solid as a rock. The son of John Bonham has held his own and provided the backbeat for bands like UFO, Foreigner, Bonham, Black Country Communion, California Breed, and of course, his dad’s old gig. What I enjoyed most at the show was watching Bonham interact with Hagar. At one point Bonham had the mic and joked that Hagar was compensating for something by owning his own plane. The crowd ate this up and everyone had a good laugh.
It is worth noting that at no point in the show did I see anyone teaching Michael Anthony the bass parts to the songs he’s been playing for decades. Also, Anthony’s inhumanely high-pitched background vocals were a highlight of the concert and added a whole new dynamic to some of Sammy’s solo hits and the Zeppelin material. It was Anthony’s 61st birthday that night and he was enjoying every minute of it. Hagar kept supplying his buddy with booze throughout the show so there was an air of celebration that spilled out into the audience.
As if to address the recent feud between himself and the Van Halen camp, late in the set Hagar introduced a beautiful acoustic arrangement of the 1986 Van Halen hit “Dreams” by saying that it was dedicated to a couple of old bandmates who “seem to be going through a rough time right now.” Hagar also added a sentiment that together with the Van Halens they had all achieved their dreams and that it was important to not to forget about them or let them go. Also following the crowd-pleasing closer “Rock and Roll,” Hagar earnestly said to the crowd, “Thanks for supporting the good guys.” I think the audience picked up that the “bad guys” just might be named Alex and Eddie.
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