I cannot let the summer go by without relaying yet another concert experience from my ever-fading youth. It feels like I just got done taking the snow shovel out my car and suddenly, we’re almost done with July?! Whew! Of course, I had better get that shovel back in the car because here in Wisconsin: never, ever rule out July blizzards. Oh, and as long as there are still a bevy of state and county fairs to be had, there will always be concerts to see and cows to judge, so let’s dive in!
Existing as a grunge/rock-lovin’ veteran in September 1998, the landscape could not have been bleaker for me. Cobain was gone for four years at that point. Pearl Jam started dipping their toe into the pool of mediocrity with Yield. Soundgarden had broken up. Alice In Chains for all intents and purposes was gone. If all that wasn’t depressing enough, Aerosmith was topping the Billboard Hot 100 chart with the incessant and omnipresent “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing”. Savage Garden existed, and I truly, madly, deeply wished I didn’t. Cher believed in life after love and let us all hear about it again. And again. And yet again. Argh.
Yet a band came along during that 9th month of ’98 and I just had to see them. Was this going to be rock’s savior? Would they show the way, light the light, and lead us out of the darkness? Well, I can honestly say…nope!
Van Halen (Saw 1 time live)
Aha! That’s right. The legendary Van-Damme-Halen! Whoooo!!! All right, all right, I’ll settle down because I might throw my back out giving such fraudulent overblown enthusiasm. Because remember that by 1998, Diamond Dave was long gone from the band. Mr. Lee Roth was pushing his own current DLR Band album at the time. His single “Slam Dunk!” was so legendary that even today, people sort of remember never hearing it at all even if they think long and hard about it.
That must mean we’re in the warm glow of the Sammy Hagar years then, right? Again, no. Sammy was pushed out the door by the Van Halen brothers about two years prior. Van Hagar was no more because having a greatest hits album that included two new not-that-great-songs with Dave was far more important than continuing as a multi-platinum album-selling band. Yeah, it does seem stupid that Van Halen booted Sammy in retrospect, doesn’t it?
But if it wasn’t Dave and it wasn’t Sammy, then who was singing? Why, none other than former Extreme frontman, Gary Cherone! Because when I think of possible candidates that could crank through “Panama”, the guy that gently sang “More Than Words” is near the top of my list. (But I kid Cherone. He was actually a good choice, was a fan of both the Dave and Sammy eras, and was able to sing songs from both timeframes quite well. I think Van Cherone should have done another album, but as the Germans hear the French say, “C’est la vie!”)
Come what may, Van Halen had a new album out then (Van Halen III), and they at least still had Eddie (R.I.P.) wailing away on the geetar, Alex trying to keep time on the drums, and Mike Anthony running around on bass. Well, kinda. I found out later that the Van Halens decided to screw Mike out of being a full-time member, paid him at a lower rate, and didn’t allow him any opportunities to solo. That he just didn’t say, “Uh, no. I’m going over by Sammy because he has better tequila” is a testament to his professionalism.
Mike Anthony was going to be similarly shafted in 2004 when the band reteamed with Sammy for a tour. The Van Halens were going to leave Mike behind, but Sammy said he wasn’t going to tour without Mike. The Van Halens relented, Mike Anthony toured, and he became Sammy’s bassist of choice on future projects. (Each and every day, I find reasons to enjoy Sammy Hagar more and the Van Halens less. God bless you, Sammy and mas tequila indeed, Red Rocker!)
Anyway, the new album was out, the tour was announced, and it was easy to get tickets because no one really knew what to expect with Cherone in the lead spot. The concert would be at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, WI. It is a lovely outdoor venue, just remember to never leave it in a helicopter. (What? Too soon?) Also, as this was a show in September, it wouldn’t necessarily be a humidity endurance test like most summer concerts are in Wisconsin. So together with my brother and a friend of mine, we were all at Alpine Valley, obviously ready to rock out.
We were quite early at the venue, which was fine. This meant we had our pick of the merchandise table, where I purchased a t-shirt and a keychain, which promptly broke when I recklessly dared to put keys on it later at home. (This was admittedly a fault of my youthful naiveté, because I had assumed the keychains could be used for keys. I can laugh now at how ridiculous that concept seems.)
Meanwhile, my brother snagged a shirt and a tour program (!?) and then said he had to hit the bathroom. I can’t blame him. He was probably so excited when he got his tour program, he didn’t want to wet his pants. (A tour program? For Van Halen? Seriously?)
As I was standing there with my friend, talking about how she really wasn’t a Van Halen fan, a fellow concert attendee who a bit worse for wear for drink, came up and tapped me on the shoulder.
And this was our exchange:
“Hey man, you got any bud?”
“No, I’m underage so I can’t buy any.”
“I’m not 21 yet so I can’t get a Bud.”
“Nooooo! Not Budweiser, I mean bud. You know…? Bud…?” (drunken winking is attempted, but is not successful)
“Uh, no…what bud?”
(motions like he is smoking) “You know…bud…buuuuud? Get it?”
“Ohhhhhh, right! Yeah, I get it, but I don’t got it.”
“I don’t have any bud, man.”
“C’mon…you gotta have some…”
“Nope, sorry dude. (seeing my brother walking away from the restroom a fair distance away) But I think that guy (pointing at my brother) has some bud.”
“Yeah, I thought that I heard that guy talking about it before.”
“Awesome! Thanks buddy!” (offers his hand to shake)
(accepts DG’s hand to shake) “No problem, man! Take care!” (DG staggers over to my brother)
Okay, just to be clear, at that time my brother certainly looked like a guy who would have had some weed on his person. He had thick, long curly brown hair that descended to the small of his back. His jean shorts were torn, his Chuck Taylors were beaten up, and his total disaffected youth vibe screamed out to the stars above. However, all appearances aside, my brother is rather straight-laced and has never indulged in the marijuanas, which makes my little joke at his expense even more funner!
Besides, if Drunk Guy had been more discerning, he would have wondered what pothead would ever wander around with a tour shirt carefully tucked into his belt and a crisp tour program under his arm?! But as discernment historically is not a strength that comes from drink, Drunk Guy most assuredly glossed over these telltale points during his elaborate quest for weed in East Troy, WI.
The next thing my friend and I see is Drunk Guy staggering as he approaches my brother. Drunk Guy is being rather insistent about this longhaired weed resource. My brother is furiously shaking his head, denying having pot as vehemently as Peter denied Christ. Drunk Guy finally gave up, wandering off to continue his pursuit for bud. In the end, he was even too blotto to come back my way, so he could rightfully complain about my leading him on a wild goose chase.
My brother, clearly rattled, then came right over by us and said:
“You won’t believe what that guy was talking about!”
“Did he ask you about pot?”
“Wait. How’d you guess that?”
“Before I sent him over to you, he had asked me for weed.”
“Oh, I see that…wait, why did you send him to me?!”
“What? You didn’t have any weed? You look like you would have some. Get a haircut, punk!”
(employs a dual barrage of various profanities and arm punches on me)
Oh, the good-natured ribbing between brothers, eh? Now that I think about it, this whole exchange brings up a salient point: Who in the hell smokes pot at a Van Halen show? This is not Pink Floyd or Zeppelin or even Fleetwood Mac, this is Van Halen. Now if someone wanted to get their drunk on for this show, I get that. But getting high? That I don’t get. Does partaking of a blunt during “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” or “Jump” really enhance the overall experience? I will take a bold stance right here, right now and say, “No. No, it doesn’t, you whackjob.”
Hm, seems like I’m forgetting to mention something… Oh yeah, the show! Eh, it was fine. Heard some deeper older cuts that Sammy didn’t sing during his tenure, Gary was quite good, Eddie was in fine form, Alex was there, and Mike showed no sign then that one day he would be replaced by Eddie’s son. The weather was nice, my friend still didn’t really care for Van Halen even after the show so yadda yadda yadda she later married someone else who probably didn’t like Van Halen either, and my tour shirt never saw the new millennium because it was ruined in a later washload.
But just imagine the memories I could cherish today if I had only grabbed a tour program!