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Being billed as the fight of the century, at least when it comes to rock frontmen from Van Halen, the double billing of Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth certainly had a lot to measure up to.
The battle pitted David Lee Roth a.k.a. Diamond Dave, the singer who brought Van Halen into the spotlight against Sammy Hagar a.k.a. The Red Rocker, who rode the momentum built by Roth with Van Halen to fill the longest and most successful tenure of the two. With his solo career, Hagar definitely has the most ammunition of the two, but neither was willing to back down.
The first surprise of the day was that David Lee Roth took the stage first. He was originally scheduled to close the show since the Roth and Hagar swap opening spots each show, but everyone was given a taste of Diamond Dave sparkling in the sun.
Roth came out with a blistering opening one-two punch with Van Halen classics, “Hot For Teacher” and “Panama.” Diamond Dave, clad in a blue vinyl suit, kicked and belted out the songs without losing much of the glimmer from his earlier days.
With this show coming mid-tour, Roth seemed to have shaken off some of the vocal rust that had been the word from his earlier shows. Diamond Dave seemed to be enjoying himself and giving the audience what they wanted: Van Halen classics, high kicks and rock star attitude. Roth had no problem supplying these.
With classics like “Running With The Devil” and “Everybody Wants Some” set the pace for Roth’s set, while technical problems with “Yankee Rose” disturbed Roth’s solo material. This did not stop Roth from taking everyone down memory lane with a partially acoustic version of “Ice Cream Man,” which saw Roth on guitar for an intro and the first verse.
Closing with a scorching rendition of “Jump,” Roth put up a great act to follow, complete with a couple of aerial splits off the drum riser.
Hagar’s set began annoyingly, as the Red Rocker cloaked the stage in a banner advertising his bar. He even has gone as far as to name his band the Waboritas, another reference to said restaurant.
Upon taking the stage, Hagar opened with “Red,” which was a solid opener for Hagar, but it definitely lacked the punch of “Hot For Teacher.” Not being one to disappoint, Hagar promptly reached into his Van Halen years for “Standing on Top of the World.”
With a bit more hoopla on the stage, Hagar had the stage show edge, but spending a great deal of time holding a guitar, standing behind a microphone, Hagar lost some of his edge.
“Runaround” was definitely one of the key moments where Hagar really pushed himself into his own and got some of the early-era Van Halen fans, who had not yet hit the exits after Roth’s set ended, into the set. Hagar brought an element of beach trash to his set that made you look around for Parrotheads at times.
The house came down with “I Can’t Drive 55,” which may have something to do with Houston dropping its speed limit down to 55 again. These high points put Hagar and Roth neck to neck when the score cards came in. Being a fan of Van Halen’s older music, my card put Roth as the champion, but Hagar worked hard enough to make it a decision instead of a knockout.