Newly reunited with singer Sammy Hagar, Van Halen put on what had to be one of the most interactive arena rock shows ever held at KeyArena Friday night.
During the group’s opener, “Jump,” Hagar high-fived fans, signed autographs and wore a cloth banner with his Red Rocker moniker on it tossed to him from the crowd. Hagar swayed and shimmied on the catwalk, playing to all sides of the stage while signing autographs throughout the show. Chances are if you were able to get close enough to throw something at Hagar, he would’ve signed it.
The band — brothers Alex and Eddie Van Halen on drums and guitar, bassist Michael Anthony and Hagar — performed on a stage designed to resemble Van Halen’s swirly “VH” logo. A handful of lucky fans were put in the middle of the action with two standing-room-only pits inside of the swirl that created a highly interactive experience for a near-capacity crowd. Hagar kept things as intimate as an arena show can be by singing a song inside of one of the pits where the crowd was corralled.
The group is touring behind a two-disc best of collection that features three new songs with Hagar; the tour is the band’s first with Hagar in nearly a decade. The new songs fit well alongside the band’s classics and are much better songs that the near-forgettable ones the band recorded with its original singer, David Lee Roth, for its first greatest hits record, which was released in 1996.
Although the band has been affectionately dubbed “Van Hagar” by fans still hoping for a reunion with Roth, Hagar’s interpretations of the band’s earlier material would have pleased even the staunchest disciples of Roth.
Hagar-era songs such as “Humans Being” and “Right Now” sounded great and all the Roth songs played were given a good treatment by Hagar.
Besides Hagar’s showmanship, Eddie’s guitar playing, which is the backbone for all of Van Halen’s songs, was constantly in the spotlight. During his 15-minute guitar solo — one of the standout highlights in a spectacular show — he seemingly worked magic with his fingers. The crowd ate up every minute of his frenzy.
The set ended with two encores. The first included two Roth tunes, “You Really Got Me” and “Panama,” during which Hagar gave the mike to a fan to sing a verse. The band closed with “When It’s Love.” After the song Hagar and his bandmates shook hands, interacted with the crowd and signed autographs before taking their final bows.