A version of my review originally appeared in the OC Register and can be viewed here:
Sammy Hagar and the Wabos
Where: Pacific Amphitheatre, Costa Mesa, Calif.
When: Aug. 4
“We’re gonna break all the rules if we haven’t already,” said Sammy Hagar, toward the start of his exuberant Wednesday night show. It wasn’t an empty boast.
With a career that spans nearly 40 years through stints in Montrose, Van Halen and more recently, Chickenfoot (the hard rock supergroup comprising Hagar, fellow former VH member Michael Anthony, Joe Satriani and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith), the man still knows how to party down.
Since the mid-1990s, when Hagar left Van Halen (and later returned for a 2004 reunion tour), the singer/guitarist has released six albums. None matched the success of 2009’s “Chickenfoot,” which went gold.
During Hagar’s 2010 Pacific Amphitheatre Concert Series stop, his Cabo Wabo premium tequila and cantinas (the newest location opened at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas last year) were ubiquitous. The brand logo could be seen on longtime drummer David Lauser’s kit, a large backdrop and an umbrella that covered a bartender positioned stage right. Two young scantily clad ladies sported cowboy hats and stood nearby, ready to serve Hagar glasses of the blue liquor on request. Keeping with the alcohol theme, a male and female worm and limes adorned the amps and speakers.
An introductory video montage projected on two screens featured archival performance clips and footage from the flagship Cabo San Lucas cantina where visiting rock and country musicians routinely join Hagar for his annual October birthday bash festivities.
In Costa Mesa, the band opened its rambunctious 95-minute, 16-song set with - appropriately enough - a supercharged “There’s Only One Way to Rock.” Lead guitarist Vic Johnson played some impressive lightning speed licks, while Hagar paid close attention to dozens of his fan club members perched on a platform behind the drums. Grinning from ear to ear, he continually worked both sides of the stage and made sure everyone was having a good time.
Signature song “I Can’t Drive 55,” driven by Hagar and Johnson’s squealing guitars, was dispatched early and had enthusiasts singing along loudly. The frontman handled a fair share of guitar solos, like the lengthy shredding on “Three Lock Box.” A sizzling medley of Montrose tunes found Hagar, 62, seated on the drum riser for a bluesy metal lap steel guitar solo during “Rock Candy.” (One woman in front of me got carried away by the sexual lyrics and lifted off her top so her male escort could snap photos. This prompted an admonishment, but not an ejection, from Pac Amp security.)
Alongside Johnson and bassist Mona, the three band mates huddled together for a vigorous jam at the end of “Bad Motor Scooter.” Each time they’d do a VH tune (“Why Can’t This Be Love,” “Best of Both Worlds”), the crowd's energy level increased.
Hagar told a humorous story before searing rocker “I’ve Done Everything For You” about initially putting out the single and watching it flop. Then Rick Springfield did a version and reached the top 10 in 1981. “I asked why his was so successful and he (joked), ‘dude, it’s because I’m better looking than you.’ Well, I’m aging better than him now.” That's debatable, but...
Nobody could deny Hagar’s guitar chops, which were on full display amid a Led Zeppelin medley which included bits of “Whole Lotta Love,” “Kashmir” and blues standard “Back Door Man.” It went on a little too long, especially the Robert Plant-styled howls. Some ‘80s pop metal radio hits dependent on high flying harmonies (“The Girl Gets Around,” “Your Love is Driving Me Crazy”) came off raggedly as Hagar mixed it up with the audience.
Best buddy Anthony joined in on bass and all the musicians traded vocals on fist pumping anthem “Heavy Metal.” Gary Glitter-inspired stomp “Mas Tequila” also had many people in the venue chanting along.
That was followed by an extended, laid back take on VH’s “Right Now.” Anthony did a bass solo and Johnson added hypnotic guitar sounds. Hagar likes to chat and the slinky “Finish What Ya Started” had a lengthy explanation about the lyrics’ real sexual connotations. Listening to Anthony’s great harmonies here made me wish he could’ve done the entire show. Finally, the evening concluded with Chickenfoot’s feisty “Sexy Little Thing.” The Red Rocker definitely didn't disappoint in OC.