Van Halen
October 22, 2004 - Key Arena - Seattle, WA
review by Ashley Graham
Have you ever felt lost in a sea of unfamiliar styles? Ever felt like you'd stepped into a time warp? Ever felt out of place because you weren't wearing stone-washed denim and sporting ratted hair?

I don't know the words to every Van Halen song, and I wasn't born in the nineteen fifties or sixties, but I have loved Sammy Hagar for the last five years of my life and I couldn't miss the opportunity of seeing him perform with his former band mates.

And so I found myself at the Key Arena in downtown Seattle on October 22nd, surrounded by the craziest of music fans and enjoying the classiest of the the classic in classic rock.

* * *

Ever wondered how classic rock would translate into 2004? Look no further than the depressing sounds of openers Rose Hill Drive.  From my 200-level seat, the members of this band looked no older than fifteen, seemed to be sporting past-the-shoulder length blonde hair, ala those classics of the eighties like our friends in Poison and Cinderella, and their songs sounded like horrible copies of the worst of classic rock.  However, opening for one of the most highly-anticipated classic rock tours of the past few years can't be an easy gig, and Rose Hill Drive did their best to get the night started, even if that best was no more than what could be heard from countless garages back in the early eighties.

Needless to say, after a half hour of Rose Hill Drive, it was more than time to hear what we'd all paid a minimum of fifty-five dollars to hear.

I spent the first part of Van Halen's set desperately trying to ignore the nudges of my fellow fan next door, who wanted to ask me every random question that popped into his head and keep me informed of his buddy's every drunken dance move.  Once the classics started to kick into the set, and my friend had taken a break to go grab another beer, I started to thoroughly enjoy myself.

Sammy Hagar's stage presence is inspiring.  He jumps, he runs, he hugs fans, he signs autographs, and he sings his little heart out.  More than anything, Hagar is having fun and his excitement transfers to the most hesitant of crowd members.  I love Sammy Hagar because he transforms me into something I rarely am; a dancing fool.  I've embarrassed myself and my sister dancing to Sammy Hagar, I've been mocked by countless peers for listening to him, and I've been embraced by his fans, the wonderful Redheads, for being, at the time, one of few sixteen year old fans.  I have been hooked on this man from the fateful day that I first saw him grace the stage in Riverfront Park in downtown Spokane, Washington, and every time I hear his music or see him live, all of the excitement of that first day comes back to me.  I have my fair share of classic rock weaknesses, but Sammy takes the cake.  He's aged his way to a lifestyle that seems to suit him perfectly.  The man exudes a happiness that is enviable.

It is a shame that not all the boys of Van Halen have aged as gracefully as Mr. Hagar.  Michael Anthony is still sporting his mullet from the eighties, now balding a little on the top.  Eddie himself still maintains that cute personality he used to have but years of health issues have left their mark.

The important thing though is that they can all still play, and they definitely can and do.  And best of all, they play to a crowd that loves them.

Midway through their set, I started to wonder what my dear Sammy thinks when he looks out into that crowd of beer-bellied men and perm-headed women.  But the crowd is dedicated, and you can't fault their devotion.  Even in the 200-level of seats they are rocking out.  There is the incoherent drunk pumping his fist to "Jump," the overzealous classic rocker father who has brought his two teenage sons whom he has raised on his vinyl collection, and the sons who can hardly believe what they are seeing before them.  There is the small group of teenagers who are mocked relentlessly, behind their backs, in their high school for not listening to the latest Jay-Z album and there is the family who decided to scrape together the required two hundred dollars to give their pre-teen daughters a night that has turned into them continually plugging their ears to block out the squealing guitar.  These people don't seem to give a damn that the lyrics are a little on the cheesy side, or that the haircuts went out of style over ten years ago, or that the boys don't look as good as they once did.  They are seeing their idols.  They sing along, they dance, and they love it.

And I love that they love it.  This is their Nirvana, this is their Eminem, this is their Strokes.  I can understand their devotion and, though I don't exactly share it, I can appreciate it.  Van Halen is from a time when music didn't seem quite as disposable.  Will I still be rocking out to The Strokes when I'm in my forties? I'd hazard to say no.  Longevity is something to admire.  And Van Halen, after all this time, is still to be admired.

They rock their way through their best-of and Sammy even gets his moment in the spotlight, singing "Eagles Fly" and "I Can't Drive 55" with nothing but his guitar to accompany him.  It's not exactly the best of the night's moments, but Sammy seems to know it and he laughs his way through it charmingly.

They finish the night with the one Van Halen song that I was raised to love, my mom's personal favorite, "When It's Love," and hearing it live, amidst all of those great Van Halen fans, nearly brought a tear to my jaded little alternative music-loving eye.
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