Chicago Theatre Review
The Red Rocker Rocks Ravinia
Sammy Hagar – Ravinia
What else is there to do on a beautiful Monday evening than go to Ravinia and enjoy another great concert while having dinner in the open air. This Monday we were treated, in my opinion, to true rock and roll royalty, the Red Rocker himself, Sammy Hagar and The Circle. His resume of successful bands is hard to beat. I was a huge fan of Sammy’s first band Montrose. As a freshman in high school, I remember going to Goldblatts’ and buying two albums: Aerosmith Get Your Wings and Montrose Montrose. I played both albums at extremely loud volumes, pretending to be Steven Tyler and Sammy Hagar. To this day I still play both albums back to back—never one without the other. I have the same memories of rock n roll bliss for both of these great albums. Sammy left Montrose but not before singing on part of their second album, Paper Money. I consider myself lucky to have seen Sammy, with Montrose bassist Bill Church after he left Montrose on his first solo tour. He was a wild man. Great memories.
While enjoying a solo career Sammy got a phone call in 1985 from Eddie Van Halen to audition for his band due to the exiting David Lee Roth. Sammy was hired on the spot. While in Van Halen, commonly referred to by fans as Van Hagar, they produced four multi-platinum albums and nine number one singles. Eleven years and many tours later Sammy left Van Halen. Since then he has been in one successful band after another. Los Tres Gusanos, Sammy Hagar & the Waboritas, Planet Us, Chickenfoot, to name a few. His current tour is titled Sammy Hagar and The Circle. The Circle is a super group featuring more rock n roll greats which include ex-Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony, Jason Bonham, son of Led Zeppelin’s drummer John Bonham and Waboritas’ guitarist Vic Johnson who’s been with Sammy since 1997.
The show opened with Sammy’s son Aaron Hagar nursing a leg injury. He had to remain on a stool while he strummed his acoustic guitar and played a harmonica strapped around his neck. He had a great voice like his dad finishing the set with the Bob Dylan song “Don’t Think Twice, it’s Alright”.
Now it was time for the Red Rocker himself to hit the stage.
We were shown a short “in your face” video spanning Hagar’s star studded 4 decade career. Then out they came and with a vengeance. Opening the show with “There’s Only One Way to Rock” straight into the hard rocking “Poundcake”. Sammy and the Circle continued their hard onslaught with “Good Times, Bad Times,” one of three Led Zeppelin covers they performed, and Montrose’s hard edged “Rock Candy”. Sammy jumped and pranced around the stage with old school swagger along with his bandmates. The band and the audience both seemed to be in great spirits, smiling, dancing and enjoying every minute of the show. A loud and rowdy version of “I Can’t Drive Fifty Five” came next which was hammered out like a rock anthem. Sammy and the Circle relied heavily on his time in Van Halen performing six songs including “Right Now”, “Why Can’t This be Love” and “Heavy Metal”. It’s no surprise considering half of Van Halen was onstage.
Jason Bonham was center stage playing his dad’s drum licks on the guitar drenched version of Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” which was a personal highlight for me. Vic Johnson stepped up to the plate and showed his talents throughout the show, accepting the challenge and showing he was more than adequate to fill the shoes of Eddie Van Halen or Jimmy Page respectably. Michael Anthony, the ever smiling solid rock god of thunder needed to hold the bottom end together. He sang backup harmony and shared lead vocals for a few songs. The onstage banter between Sammy and Michael reminded me of the long gone Van Halen music videos. Sammy enjoyed telling stories and interacting with his fans while promoting his Tequila, even sharing a taste with Michael. Vic blew up his amp on the last song of the show, “Cabo Wabo”.
The band came back for a two song encore. Sammy explained this was his dream: to play on stage for people; “and I’ve accomplished my dream, “here I am on stage playing for you.” Vic played an electric-acoustic guitar while Sammy sang to this stripped down version of “Dreams.” The new arrangement was more emotional than the original. The fans loved it and screamed for more. Suddenly we heard the famous pounding drum intro to the classic Led Zeppelin song “Rock n Roll”. Played with passion and intensity but staying true to the original. With Jason pounding the way and Vic and Michael hammering out the licks, Sammy strutted all over the stage doing his best Robert Plant. The song ended with a short blistering of drums from Jason. The band met at center stage bowed then waved goodbye as they exited.
During the show Sammy pointed out that his martial arts son was limping around due to a torn muscle while his 70 year old father could do backflips on the stage. And that he could. The crowd remained on their feet the entire show, and the energy was electrifying.
Several times during the show Sammy repeated the phrase “we are the Circle and we do what we do.” Response: We are your fans and we are grateful for what you do. Those of us who were there under the stars at Ravinia were treated to a hard to beat true rock n roll show.
Reviewed by Terry Giardina