Following a fun soundcheck that featured Anthony singing lead on “Why Can’t This Be Love?” and — maybe — joking that he would bring back his iconic Jack Daniel’s bass “next year,” Sammy and Company took the stage shortly after 8 p.m. for a hyped crowd that sang along with every song from a fan-pleasing setlist.
The band opened with “Good Enough,” the first track from 5150, Hagar’s recorded debut with Van Halen. Indeed, as soon as Hagar walked out and said “Hello, baby!” everyone knew what was coming. The band built on the energy of the opener with a follow up of Montrose’s “Rock Candy,” a song whose sneering innuendo made a perfect fit for Van Halen’s double entendres. Next up was the Hagar solo career hit “Three Lock Box,” which featured the frontman guitar trading licks with guitarist Vic Johnson.
Hagar’s band also features Jason Bonham, the son of iconic Led Zeppelin stickman John Bonham. But the guy in The Circle with the biggest shoes to fill was undoubtedly Johnson. No one can replace Eddie Van Halen, given that his passing cemented the guitar innovator’s place in everyone’s hearts. Johnson did an admirable job, though didn’t try to bring the loose style that Eddie Van Halen brought to live gigs with his noodling, improvisational style. Instead, Johnson took a workmanlike approach, coloring inside the lines, nailing the parts — but ultimately leaving the showboating to Hagar.
And Hagar was more than up to the task, performing with an energy that belied his 74 years. The crowd reflected his age and the fact that most of the material was 30-plus years old. Noting that a few younger people dotted the crowd, a surprised Hagar quipped that the band might “have some new fans.”
Anthony was a key part of the show’s success. His Motown-inflected backing vocals were a key ingredient in VH, and he lent his pipes to invoking that sound for The Circle, particularly on “Finish What Ya Started” and “Top of The World.” Hagar recognized Anthony’s vocal chops by allowing him to take a verse on the band’s cover of Led Zep’s “Rock and Roll” and on the high-energy versions of “Heavy Metal” and “I Can’t Drive 55” that powered the show through the homestretch.
The final song of the encore-free evening was “When It’s Love,” a keyboard-driven VH number that was a surprising choice of closer since it lacks Hagar’s signature “let’s party” vibe. Perhaps it was meant to acknowledge the somber feelings around the death of Eddie Van Halen — a reminder that the ’80s party is approaching its final act.
Or maybe Hagar thought it would be a great singalong. After all, some of the crowd’s energy stemmed from the joy of being out after nearly two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And anyone in the Aztec audience ready to live it up got what they came for. When Hagar sang the “tonight means everything” line during a mid-set “Right Now,” everyone in the house knew exactly what he meant.
Be sure and check out the Current's photos from the show.