Feature images courtesy of Getty Images
By Andrew Daly
We’ve all heard the rumors regarding the initial conversations between Van Halen’s longtime mouthpiece David Lee Roth, drummer Alex Van Halen, and virtuosi guitarist Joe Satriani.
What started out as the misunderstood, out-of-nowhere ramblings of former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted, turned into a full-frontal assault on the rock ‘n’ roll world when the bassist’s story was corroborated by Roth immediately, and then later on by Satriani.
For those in the dark, things kicked off when Newsted mentioned live on the radio that he had been contacted by Roth, Van Halen, and Satriani regarding the possibility of the tour:
“How could you do it justice? There’s nobody that can top it, so how do you show it honor? I didn’t want it to be viewed as a money grab. And then it kind of just all fizzled.”
Early on, Roth, in typical fashion, was quoted as saying:
“In my mind, Van Halen 4k, in the age of COVID, is going to require two of us for every position. Satriani and Lukather, Anthony and Newsted, Al and Tommy Lee.” Roth went on to subtly diss and/or Sammy Hagar by saying, “Probably, the only one who could do my job today would be Pink.”
On the subject of the discussed tour, in an interview with VWMusic, Satriani would comment:
“Yeah, it is true. I was contacted by Alex Van Halen, and Dave [Lee Roth] and had some conversations a little less than a year ago about putting together a full tour to celebrate Eddie and the Van Halen legacy. And yeah, it’s terrifying. I mean, I literally heard myself saying, “Yes,” and then the other part of my brain said, “Did you just say yes? Are you nuts?” I think I remember telling them that any sane guitar player would just turn around and start running away as fast as possible because you can’t measure up to Eddie. It’s like one of those jobs where you just try because you know it’s important to you, and a labor of love, but still, people are always going say, ‘It doesn’t sound like Eddie,’ no matter what you do.”
Many fans were left wondering if original bassist Michael Anthony and beloved Van Hagar-era vocalist Sammy Hagar were contacted. To that end, Satriani went on to say:
“We were not supposed to talk about it, because it may never happen, and obviously, you know, Sammy [Hagar] and Mike [Anthony] were contacted, but I don’t really know what’s going on behind the scenes there. I can’t say I know exactly what’s going on. I do know that Jason [Newsted] was called at one point, and he was told – like I was – to not talk about it, because it may never happen. And so we were all shocked when he went public because he certainly wasn’t supposed to. And it’s only caused grief in the family, which is not nice, you know?”
And so, with the circus in full swing, and fans buzzing, beyond if this tour will ever actually happen, longtime lovers of Van Halen are left to wonder what this thing might actually look like. So, today, I am here to present a hypothetical scenario in which David Lee Roth, Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony, Alex Van Halen, and Joe Satriani could co-exist for at least one evening together.
The hypothetical makes a couple of assumptions, the first of which is that Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang will not participate. My reasoning is that at least early on, Wolfie has shown shall we say…ambivalence to the entire debacle. Also important to remember is that Wolfie is tending to his own burgeoning solo career, as such, I’ve gone ahead and omitted him from my fantasy show.
To the rumors, Wolfgang simply and pointedly had this to say:
“Well, when the world is breaking down my door for a week talking about some dumbass reunion that isn’t happening, and insulting me in the process, I felt the need to clear things up: Just let me suck with my own band and fuck off.”
The next assumption is that the remaining cast of characters will be fit enough to make it through a full show encompassing twenty-five Van Halen/Van Hagar classics. I assume Satriani would be ready and raring to go, as well as Roth, but I am at this time unsure of Alex Van Halen’s and Sammy Hagar’s fitness level, but we will go ahead and assume that Alex is fighting fit, and that split duty will enable the nearly seventy-five years old Hagar to make it to the finish line.
What’s that? Split duties? I’ll explain.
In my mind, given the fact that Roth and Hagar seem to share a rather intense dislike of one another, the only way to make this happen is if the two singers split time, each performing mini sets, before giving way to the other, and so on until the show’s completion. With all of that being said, let’s break down what I feel would be a rather enjoyable, and very Hypothetical Evening with Van Halen, Van Hagar & Joe Satriani.
The set kicks off with the first three songs of what will amount to be an intense, nostalgic, and weird rock ‘n’ roll spectacle. Going in, it’s easy to see that the fans in the audience are relatively silent compared to Van Halen shows of the past, with spectators silently wondering if Satriani, as great as he is, can really, truly measure up to the late, great Eddie Van Halen.
Satriani’s recent words with VWMusic come to mind:
“I just looked at the whole catalog at the time where we had started these conversations, and I knew right away, ‘Okay, I can nail 90% of this stuff because it’s almost the way I play.’ But then there are these other things that he did that I thought, ‘That is so awkward. How do I even approach it?'”
Before fans have much more time to think, Roth bounds onto the stage. At sixty-seven years of age, the effervescent singer hasn’t lost a step, and without a moment’s notice, Roth tears into three classic tracks:
Satriani expressed enthusiasm at the idea of playing this track, so, it’s no surprise that it appears here as the concert’s opening. While not a radio staple, the song is a fan favorite, and it gives Satriani a chance to get his feet wet and perhaps curry favor with a still indecisive audience.
Another hard-edged Van Halen staple, and the first of the radio-friendly tracks, but certainly not the last. It’s hard to imagine a Van Halen set without this song, and luckily for fans – they won’t have to. It’s a bit weird not seeing Eddie up there, but so far so good for Satriani, but twenty-three songs still loom.
It seems the boys in Van Halen are keen on coming out hard and fast, with the unexpected inclusion of Fair Warning’s nastiest track. The riff bellows across the arena, and while Satriani, and Anthony seem to be experiencing some nice interplay, for the first time during the show, the riff sounds just a bit off. The track is known for Eddie’s classic “brown sound,” and while Satriani is close, it’s certainly not exact.
Roth exits the stage, with smiles from Alex Van Halen, whose stamina seems strong, and as Dave exits stage left, Sammy Hagar emerges from the right, and the guitar gymnastics begin with:
I’d venture to say right off the bat that this is a bold and boarding-on stupid inclusion to the setlist. At first glance, I’d never imagined that Satriani could duplicate Eddie’s quasi-chainsaw sound effects which open the track, and that’s no knock – I don’t believe anyone could. As it turns out – I was right. Satriani, as good as he is, does summon some noises which do sound chain saw-like, but they do not sound like Eddie’s do. The rest of the song goes off without a hitch, but the wrong-sounding opener kinda, sorta ruined the song.
Another deep cut and former 80s concert staple from the 5150 album sets off next, and to the band’s credit, it goes down perfectly. Anthony’s background vocals are much appreciated here, and Sammy’s voice is in fine form. While he may not be in the best shape of his life physically, the Red Rocker’s voice continues to defy father time.
We hear the first of the keyboard-era tracks here, and while it’s unclear where the synth sounds are coming from (probably pre-recorded), what is clear is that Sammy and the rest of the band were amped up here. Six songs in, and I can without a doubt say that this is the best song of the night thus far. There is still a long way to go though.
With that, Hagar moves toward backstage, and a new keys-driven riff begins to echo across the arena, and as Alex Van Halen lays down the memorable opening drum fill, Roth hits the stage with vigor:
A perfect song to follow up “Dreams,” showing that Diamond Dave hasn’t lost his flair for the dramatic. On the downside, even with rest, Dave’s voice is sounding tired, and while this is a fun rendition of “Jump,” Roth certainly doesn’t sound as he did in the 80s, and sadly, Satriani mistimed the more-difficult-than-you-might think solo. While the intent was fun, and they have to play it, I have to give this one a thumbs down. I guess I like the idea of it better than the reality of it here.
If the band is aware of the issues it faced during “Jump,” they aren’t showing it, as Satriani rips into the opening chords of “Panama.” While this track actually goes down okay, once again, Eddie’s infamous and distinctive tone is lacking. It’s in this moment that many fans probably understand that while so many Van Halen tracks sound simple, Eddie’s unique guitar mastery was the special sauce.
Another fan favorite here, and sadly, Roth is off-key for the entire song. It’s hard to know if it’s a lack of preparation, or if the singer is feeling the pressure coming off an uber-judging audience, but Roth, for the first time all night, seems rattled. An uncomfortable aura is tangibly present on stage at this time, but the band continues onward.
“Hot For Teacher”
One of Van Halen’s most notable and radio-friendly songs will surely do the trick here, right? If you were thinking yes, you were so very wrong. “Hot For Teacher” goes down like an unmitigated disaster, with the seasoned, and virtuoso Satriani completely unable to harness the energy of the song’s unique guitar wizardry. The entire band falls off tempo to the point where not even the able rhythm section of Anthony and Van Halen can salvage this. The song ends, and the lights dim with Roth leaving the stage as energetic as he can, be a deeper look shows the generally confident singer beginning to wonder if he’s made a massive mistake.
After a few moments, Hagar does not emerge, and without notice, the band makes the bold, sadly ill-timed, and probably rehearsed move into what appears to be Joe Satriani’s guitar solo:
Many fans were wondering if this version of Van Halen would have the balls to attempt this track, seeing as it was Eddies signature track, and served as his proverbial entry into our hearts and minds. Given Satriani’s stature, they had to give him his time in the limelight, right? Well, somehow, someway, even though this is Eddie’s track – it works. It works, and I still don’t really understand how, but it works. Satriani, being the savvy, and professional player that he is, does not try and imitate the fallen guitar hero. No, instead, he keeps the bones, and general structure of it, but allows himself to make it his own, and add to it, and for this reason, Satriani’s version of “Eruption” goes down well, and the fans are actually on their feet watching one of the best guitarists of a generation do his thing.
Soon, Hagar emerges, and more familiar piano-driven riffs begin to echo over the speakers. Van Hagar now has an opportunity to swing this thing in the other direction, and with fervor, the band settles in:
Unlike Roth, Hagar is unafraid, and it shows. His confidence in his voice to deliver the goods is apparent, and it seems to have settled down the band and in turn, riled up the crowd. Alex Van Halen’s drums are pounding, and Anthony’s bass lines are pulsing. It seems that Satriani had a moment of clarity during “Eruption,” and instead of trying to duplicate the song at face value, once again, he’s retained the soul of the song, but injected his own style into “Right Now” at full force. Trying to imitate Eddie sounds wrong, but ably covering the track to the best of his ability makes for a fun moment. Let’s see if it continues.
A completely unexpected track, and one of my favorites. Hagar, Anthony, and Satriani’s chemistry from their Chickenfoot days is readily apparent, and the band is truly grooving here. The song’s hard edge, and extremely unique guitar gymnastics are completely and totally in hand here. Satriani absolutely slays the track, and while it may be sacrilegious to say so, it’s hard to imagine Eddie doing any better.
The party continues with “Runaround,” and the crowd is going absolutely nuts. Hagar is all smiles, and one can only imagine the light radiating from his eyes behind his classic red sunglasses. The same can be said for Satriani, and with the band playing with vigor akin to its heyday, it seems that these four musicians are truly having a wonderful time. Perhaps forgetting the grandeur of the moment, or the expectations mounted, instead, this version of Van Hagar is simply having fun.
“Why Can’t This Be Love”
Sammy’s second set comes to an epic close with a bombastic rendition of “Why Can’t This Be Love,” one of the band’s biggest 1980s hits. If this was to be thought of as a battle of the bands between Van Halen and Van Hagar – Sammy is taking it home lock, stock, and barrel. But things can change, as we know, Dave is full of surprises, and is never one to be upstaged.
Satriani, Hagar, and Anthony leave the stage all smiles, and with renewed energy, leaving Alex Van Halen to remind the band’s fans just what they’ve been missing in the years since Van Halen was last on the road. Van Halen’s drum solo is a thing of primal and technical beauty. Oftentimes, fans focus on Eddie’s wizardry, Roth’s antics, Hagar’s vibe, and Anthony’s understated yet integral nature, but one cannot forget that in Alex Van Halen, we see one of rock music’s most distinctive drummers.
At this point, as you might imagine, Roth appears to be feelings upstaged by the elder Hagar, and it shows. Never one to be minimized, let alone discounted, Roth has four songs left to show his meddle. Let’s see what he’s got in store:
A relatively popular late-stage Van Halen track from the band’s last studio album, A Different Kind of Truth. I wasn’t expecting this to be included, but Roth’s late-in-life love for tattoo culture makes this cut an essential inclusion…for Roth at least. Anyway, ever the showman, Roth rips off his vest and shirt, throws them into the crowd, and spreads his arms wide like a proud eagle at the stage’s edge, revealing his nearly full torso of tattoos. As for the track, it goes down solid. Roth seems to have regained his composure, and the song suits his current vocal range well.
“And The Cradle Will Rock…”
Another stone-cold classic from Van Halen’s early 80s era, “And The Cradle Will Rock” is one of the tracks the audience has been waiting for. The ever-familiar, grinding, and gliding opening riff erupts, and Satriani calmly guides the song along. Roth, to his credit, is bringing the heat here, and he somehow has managed to turn the clock back and sing this one in a way that fans lovingly remember. One must wonder where this version of Diamond Dave was earlier in the night.
The good vibes and fun times continue with fan favorite off of the mega-hit 1984 album, “Top Jimmy.” Anthony’s harmonies are in fine form, and prove essential, as Roth is slightly off-key, but doesn’t hurt the song. It’s more of a raw, sloppy rock ‘n’ roll vibe, and it works. Roth always was a showman first, and a singer second anyway.
“Runnin’ With The Devil”
The final Roth-led Van Halen set of the evening closes out with debut album concert staple, “Runnin’ With The Devil.” No matter how this show went down, I don’t believe any fan could imagine things without this track. In retrospect, the first Van Halen album plays like a greatest hits in a way, and I’d venture to guess that this track is one of the ones that people think of when they think of Van Halen. As for the band, Satriani nails it. Sure, the “brown sound” is once again a bit off, but the rest of the band drives this home, and Roth seemed to be especially into it, probably feeling the finality of a job done, combined with the nostalgia of the moment..
It’s time for Sammy’s final set, and he eases onto the stage, chill vibes apparent, and all smiles. If Roth’s success set is bothering him, it’s certainly not showing. With that, another slew of ever-familiar keyboard chords kick in:
“When It’s Love”
I’ve personally never been a huge fan of the OU812 record, and I feel it’s one of Van Halen’s weaker efforts, but this was, and still is a damn good song. Not shockingly, Hagar owns this track, and for its entirety, the stage and the crowd are purely his. Satriani does his job, Michael Anthony is vibing, and Alex Van Halen thrashes away on drums. A stout opening to Sammy’s ending set indeed.
“Can’t Stop Lovin’ You”
I guess the Van Hagar clan was feeling especially mellow in closing things out, as “Can’t Stop Loving You” is up next. While I personally don’t love OU812, I do think that on the other end of the spectrum, Balance is one of the most under-loved records in the Van Halen discography. While the band didn’t really dig deep here, it’s still very cool to see this track featured. Not too many guitar gymnastics, but Eddie is still painfully missed on this cut.
Now, here is a track I never in a million years thought would be included. To my knowledge, “Human’s Being” was recorded during the Balance sessions, but was left off the album, subsequently included on the Twister Soundtrack, and later added to the band’s Greatest Hits Volume One package. I personally love this song, and I’ve always especially loved Eddie’s fierce guitar work. Overall, I do not feel Satriani captured this one, as it’s just too distinct of a track that relies much too heavily on Eddie Van Halen to drive it home. This said, the fact that we get to hear it in the live setting still makes for a wonderful, if not rare moment, and Sammy absolutely nailed it.
“Top of the World”
What I assume will be the last one turned out to be one of the show’s best moments. While this song has never been one of my personal favorites, it’s still a quality track, and a fitting closer. Watching this whole thing unfold, and seeing what appears to be the end, I’ve got so many questions in my mind, and I have to wonder, “Will this happen again?” I am finding myself feeling a certain nostalgia for a band that I’ve spent my whole life loving, and with Eddie’s passing, assumed I’d never see again, let alone with both Hagar and Roth, and Michael Anthony. While I feel the show was an overall success, it had its choppy moments, and I am unsure if liking it means I am being disloyal to Eddie.
While in my haze, the song apparently ended, and before I can collect my thoughts, I suddenly noticed that the band is not taking its final bows. More so, it’s not even left the stage. Coming out of it now, I hear Sammy utter something about “a surprise,” and with that Dave emerges, and the band rips into one last sing with both singers in tow:
“Best of Both Worlds”
Well, if there was ever a fitting end…I have to be honest, I never imagined I’d see the day when “Diamond” David Lee Roth and Sammy “The Red Rocker” Hagar willingly shared the stage together, with Roth singing a Van Hagar song to boot. But, I suppose the legacy and memory of their fallen brother brought on some make-nice vibes, and for that I am thankful. As for the song, well…it’s weird. I can’t call it anything else. The band is in fine form, and they generally nail it, but Dave’s voice isn’t really built to take on Sammy’s songs, and it shows. That aside, this was a special moment, and for that, I’ll always be grateful. Putting aside year’s worth of differences to accomplish the previously unfathomable is a sight to see. It’s a memory that the fans who attended the evening will always have, and while we are left wondering what’s next, at least we can say that the unthinkable, on many levels, at least for one night, became a reality.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this fun, and very hypothetical look into what a potential Van Halen meets Van Hagar show with Joe Satriani might look like. In reality, I am just a writer, who happens to be a huge fan of the band. I can’t honestly say what a show – if it ever happened – would begin to encompass.
Furthermore, if this thing ever does happen down the road, I am not even sure I’d want it to, or if I’d attend. While on the surface, on a case-by-case basis, I like all of the players mentioned, I don’t know how I feel about it actually becoming a reality. I could see it ranging from fun, to weird, to awful all during the course of one show.
I suppose it all depends on the perspective you take. If you take it for what it’s purported to be – a celebration of Eddie and Van Halen’s legacy – it could be fun. On the other hand, if you take it for what it may well be – an obvious cash-grab, and complete bastardization of a once-great band, by a group of players who together have no business calling themselves “Van Halen,” or “Van Hagar” – you might have different feelings on the matter entirely.
At the end of the day, none of us have any idea if this will happen or not. None of us have any control over it either. All we can do as fans, critics, and the like is wait and see, try to remain open-minded, and not judge the book by its cover, and maybe, just maybe we will indeed have the best of both worlds.
Interested in taking the journey through an evening with Van Halen/Van Hagar? Hit the link below:
Be sure to dive into the full archives of Idle Chatter, by Andrew Daly, here: https://vwmusicrocks.com/idle-chatter-archives/