Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sammy Hagar & the Waboritas - September 17, 2011 - Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio

the contest what got me there.
saved myself from a lot of miller
lite with this tweet
So, a couple weeks ago I just happened to be on Twitter when a tweet from @sammyhagar came across with a contest promotion for free tickets to a Columbus show. Provide a clever caption for a photo on his site and a pair were yours. A couple song titles and a few minutes later and I was all set to check out Sammy and the Waboritas in Columbus on Saturday, September 17th.

The show's openers were contemporary country artist Phil Vassar and 3 Doors Down. To be 100% honest, neither act is my flavor and while both offered sets that were very well received by the crowd, I'll forgo any review of their performances as it simply doesn't seem fair for me to try to comment on music in which I am simply not interested. It was apparent very early on that this was a production sponsored by Miller Lite as each artist mentioned the brand by name repeatedly and were sure to hold the cups and bottles just so for big screen monitor shots. I did not know until after the show but it turns out one could not even purchase tickets for this concert. Apparently the only way to get in was via local radio and bar contests or collection of Miller Lite "Taste Points." Who the hell saves points from their beers? And who the hell drinks enough Miller Lite to save enough points for concert tickets? Apparently about 12,000 people. That would explain why so many in attendance were pretty shitfaced from the get-go. 

I've never seen Sammy Hagar live before. I've been vocal in the past regarding my preference for his work with Van Halen over David Lee Roth's and I have never hidden my admiration for his records with Montrose and Chickenfoot and his solo outings, several of which I would rank as superb. So, basically, I was more than happy at the prospect of checking Sammy out at no cost. After endless shills for Miller Lite the set opened with...a seemingly endless (and, really, poorly edited) shill for Cabo Wabo. Finally, the curtain fell and Sammy and his Waboritas (Vic Johnson on guitar, Mona on bass and David Lauser on drums) roared out with "I Can't Drive 55." The sound was initially muddy and the band and Sammy seemingly on different pages, tunewise. The stage was appropriately gaudy for the Cabo Wabo party experience with a multi-bikini-clad-blonde-tended bar to the side and a "dawg pound" bleacher section of superfans standing at the rear behind the amplifier stacks.

The band tore without pause through another Hagar and Van Halen hit and seemed to work out the audio kinks during a nice, although too brief, medley of Montrose highlights and by "Rock Candy" they were truly stomping. Sammy's famous lap steel intro to "Bad Motor Scooter," while I have seen countless times on video, was nonetheless enthralling and he and the Waboritas really hit their stride during this number.

"Best of Both Worlds" took everyone back to '86 and, while Vic Johnson is no Eddie Van Halen, he effectively conveys a unique voice and musical message that exceeds simple cover artistry (and let's not forget Sammy himself is no slouch on the axe - it was a genuine pleasure to watch him occasionally shred). Sammy broke frequently for Miller Lite and Cabo Wabo margaritas and stage banter that, in my opinion, dragged the proceedings way down. I get the "concert as intimate, off-color beach party" theme and, hell, this isn't Brian Eno, this is dumb, fun rock but over the course of the night we heard way too much about this man's 63-year-old genitals and spent way too much time watching him leer over the local honeys who would traipse out to refill his drinks.

Thankfully, the music did most of the talking and a roaring "Three Lock Box" brought down the house. This was followed up with a truly original, slower tempo take on For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge's mega-hit "Right Now," featuring a nice bass solo from Mona who also engaged in some great guitar interplay with Johnson. More Van Halen and solo highlights followed and, despite no deep cuts from either catalogue, the flow was well-sequenced and closed with the Red Voodoo party anthem (and Cabo Wabo commercial) "Mas Tequila." After a very brief break the band returned for an encore number, arguably the best performance of the night, an emotional and spot-on "Why Can't This Be Love."

I am not generally a fan of the tendency for live performers to turn the vocals over to the audience. It's lazy, self-congratulatory and, dude, I paid to hear you sing (though, again, I didn't pay for this show so I guess I can't complain) This happened a lot during Hagar's performance - and he handed many vocals to the Waboritas as well. All that said, the audience was so emotionally invested in "Why Can't This Be Love" that they achieved that rare, real moment where everyone connects, sweating Miller Lite or not, and the music somehow becomes more than just a song and the concert more than just a show.

September 17, 2011 Setlist:
  1. I Can't Drive 55 
  2. There's Only One Way to Rock 
  3. Top of the World 
  4. Montrose Medley
    1. Space Station #5
    2. Rock Candy
    3. Bad Motor Scooter 
  5. Best of Both Worlds 
  6. Three Lock Box 
  7. Right Now
  8. I've Done Everything for You 
  9. I'll Fall in Love Again 
  10. Finish What Ya Started 
  11. Heavy Metal
  12. Mas Tequila
  13. Encore - Why Can't This Be Love

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