4:30 Leave work early to ensure plenty of time to make the planned list gathering at 6:15
4:57 Hit unexpected traffic on Highway 34
5:09 Miss turn in Berkeley
5:30 Take wrong exit
5:53 Take wrong exit
6:20 Pull into parking lot
6:21 Frantically crutch my way to Will Call praying that they don't lead the people with passes backstage before I get there
6:26 Acquire ticket from WIll Call and learn that MnG passes are not yet available
6:28 Find Brad Starks, Dianne Mappes, Scott Cook, and Dave Snider and utilize their powerful influence to cut up to the front of the line
6:29-46 Spend some "quality time" with VHML Listies (Dianne is having much fun visiting California; Scott Cook is convinced that the CIA, FBI, and/or Big Bad Bill are conspiring against him; Brad recently hired a man to inject millions of tiny droplets of a blue, synthetic liquid beneath his epidermis leaving a large, permanent mark; and cool Dave was just glad to be there)
6:47 Passes arrive at window
6:48 Hobble up to kindest looking security woman to be frisked. She took pity on my injured condition and only subjected me to a cursory inspection
6:49 Attempt to look cool while maneuvering on crutches through turnstile
6:52 Sit down behind garbage can and retrieve tiny Fuji Quicksnap single-use camera from under bandaged foot. (A thread about smuggling materials into shows a while back included a suggestion to put a camera in your shoe. I couldn't figure out how in the world you could hide a camera in your shoe and still use your foot. As fortune would have it, I haven't been using that foot for a couple of weeks anyway.)
6:53-7:03 Run, limp, hobble, skip, and jump as rapidly as possible toward mythical "backstage area"
7:04 Wonder which tent is which
7:05 Hear a great cheer pour from farthest tent
7:05:30 Bust a move (albeit a crippled move) to aforementioned tent
7:07 Find end of line of 40-50 people lining 2 walls of 3 sided tent
7:08 Greet RUINXMAS and a couple whose names I immediately, thoughtlessly lost
7:09-12 Wonder if I'll lose my camera if they see me pull it out
7:13 Throw caution to the wind, pull out camera and wait for my turn
7:14 Sammy idles up to our little group near the end of the line and begins to ask if we're a group when he notices that our passes read "Liza" and treats us like he was expecting us all along
7:14:30 Sammy shakes/slaps hands all around (I got 2 shakes and 1 slap!)
7:15 Chris Pollan hurriedly gathers us up and snaps a couple of frames with my camera
7:17 Sam moves on to the last group. This group includes Craig Heck, his wife, and Rob Heuser (who happens to wear a buzz cut, a broad under the chin goatee, mustache, loose shirt, and sunglasses that make him look EXACTLY like Edward on the back cover of Balance)
7:18 Sam reaches out to shake Rob's hand, playfully calling out "You look familiar!" The resulting picture could make headlines
7:21 Sammy signs the only autograph of the MnG for the PROFOUNDLY pregnant Mrs. Heck
7:23 Chris hustles Sammy out of the tent and most of the people head to the land of the common fans to find their seats
7:26 While organizing My ticket, camera, crutches, materials brought to be autographed, and other assorted paraphernalia, Scott Cook quips "Hey doesn't that guy look kinda like David Lee Roth?" A quick glance notes an average looking guy in a baseball hat, probably a member of the crew who happens to posses some facial lines reminiscent of DLR's well tanned, mid-40's perma-grin
7:27 Further investigation by this keen observer reveals that standing near the unimportant member of the road crew is none other than Victor Johnson!
7:28-40 Learn that VJ is an extremely intelligent, kind, cool individual that originated from Colorado and then spent 9 years in The Bus Boys. (Anybody know anything about them?) He also relayed that he was about to join Fishbone (the funkier forerunners of Living Colour) when he got the opportunity to join up with Sammy. Cleared up the rumor regarding a black eye and autographed my MTM and LWL Japanese imports. Pictures ensue
7:41 Limp out to my seat to wait for the show
7:42 Note killer painting of the famous Cabo arch/lighthouse on curtain occluding stage. Warm breezy Northern California weather completes the mood
8:04 KSJO's Tim Jeffries launches wadded T-shirts into audience with three-man slingshot
8:10-14 Roadies feign indifference while they soak up the only applause they will ever receive while checking mics and tuning guitars
Showtime, Concord CA:
8:19 Show opens with players silhouetted behind Cabo curtain playing MARCHING TO MARS. Victor Johnson on a gold Fender Telecaster and Sammy on a gold semi-hollow body Washburn. Sammy is raging already in red velvet pants.
ONE WAY TO ROCK follows immediately. Sammy wears a giant, green, floppy hat thrown to him for half a song and then puts it on Victor for the remainder of the number. Band is very tight and Victor seems to be fully capable of the task at hand.
Between songs, Sammy stops to swill a Corona handed from the crowd, "Cheers." SH points out that the last time he played the Concord Pavilion was in 1979. (The venue has been greatly expanded since.) "I really took the long way around, eh?"
Sammy trades his guitar for a red tambourine for ONCE UPON RETURNING HOME. Backing vox finally presented live the way they were meant to be heard.
If I'LL FALL IN LOVE AGAIN isn't as fresh as it once was, the crowd certainly doesn't notice. Sammy accepts roses from audience.
After song, Sammy flies first banner "The Red Rocker is still kickin A." Sam's rap is overrun by crowd chanting "Sammy, Sammy, Sammy...." SH drops mic and gives the audience his best double-biceps pose and his broadest smile (clearly visible even without binoculars). Sam picks up another banner reading "Hanging on Mr. Johnson's Back Porch." Cryptic, if not downright confusing, but VJ is flattered to see it and Sam makes a cape of it for him.
Victor opens up SALVATION ON SAND HILL with a minor change to the recorded slide intro, and later adds some extra inflections in the solo. This song by itself convinces me that Victor Johnson is capable of whatever he sets his mind to on the guitar.
Mona's bass playing has no trouble keeping up with the changes either, but she resides a little lower in the mix. Her most prominent contribution may be her BGV's. She can sound just like Michael Anthony when she wants to.
I am not sure if it is experience, confidence, the strength of the material, or the unusually eager reception from the crowd, but for whatever reason, David Lauser plays with more authority than in previous outings. Bluntly, my expectations for him were merely average, but he proves to be a more significant player than I had anticipated.
A beach ball makes it's way on stage during WHY CAN'T THIS BE LOVE, which Sam uses to bridge the gap to the audience. Opens up a banner. Ball back on stage. Another banner. Ball back on stage. Stuffs beach ball under shirt pregnancy style.
After the song, Sam borrows binoculars from someone in front row (?!) to look out at the crowd. The crowd seems particularly eager to see the goofy stuff tonight.
Swigs a bottle of Gatorade announcing that he plans to Play "extra long tonight." Concord voices it's approval.
Roadie brings red Semi-hollow body Washburn to Sam who teases "For me???"
Sam gives us his best 30 second noodle.
It should be noted that this guitar features a couple of the large-eyed, gray-skinned, alien head stickers of the type seen in car windows of late.
Sam asks if anyone in attendance was at his show in Sacramento, but doesn't really wait for an answer. He just wanted to set up an opportunity to say "I don't care if even just one person saw that show, I won't do the same show twice!" Concord again voices it's approval, but I am left wondering why this principle wasn't applied more uniformly when he was in Van Halen.
They then play a more arpegiated, fingerpicked WHO HAS THE RIGHT. Victor Johnson seems most comfortable working with the newest material. Perhaps he senses an opportunity to put his mark on the pieces that have not become milestones on the great rock and roll highway yet.
Playing the hometown trump card, Sam muses on how much he has enjoyed being home the previous week and asserts that no matter what season it is, the weather in the West beats the East. Concord would elect this man to be president of the universe tonight.
Sammy then performs the song that makes the single greatest impression on me of the evening. I should preface this comment that while I understand that BAD MOTOR SCOOTER is the first song he ever composed, and that it holds great significance to his musical history, I have never been that taken with it. I was just too young when it came out the first time, and it always just sort of blended in with the rest of his pre-VH rockers to me, but tonight it is inspired. The lap-steel intro is more melodic and cohesive than I have ever heard or seen.
This tune also affords a primo view of his lap-steel on the jumbo video monitors. The first thing that jumps out at me is the wear apparent in the weather-beaten finish. This piece of gear has seen a lot of miles. The next thing that catches my attention is that it now features a plastic, spring loaded dispenser for his red guitar picks. It would appear that he has adopted this technology on all his guitars, eschewing the double-sided foam tape method employed by everyone needing picks in Van Halen.
The rest of the tune is more animated as well. Particularly the extra breakdown featuring Sammy bellowing "I hear ya knockin, but ya can't come in...." Sam also finds time and anatomy to cover himself with donated clothes. Ladies underclothing finds a place to rest on his red, boom mic stand.
The next piece is equally ambitious, yet relaxed and groovy when SH and VJ play tasty dual slide on GOOD ROCKIN' TONIGHT.
More banners, and a trade to a SF 49ers shirt precede a full intro of the members of the band and an obligatory reference to the aroma emanating from the crowd.
Sam then straps on a red Washburn electric/acoustic (curiously, it is not the "Red Rocker" sig model) and settles in to tell a story that I have never heard before. He begins by describing a time in 1987 when things were still good in his old band and he had a house in L.A. next to Edward's. This reference draws a light ripple of Boo's, but Sam quickly decides to disregard them and pushes the pace of his story slightly to close the issue. It would seem that late one warm evening, Eddie came knocking on Sammy's door at a most inopportune moment, and interrupted the sequence of domestic events that Sam had planned.
Sammy went downstairs to greet Ed and found him with a guitar, a beer, and a smoke, looking pretty "relaxed." Sammy then ad libs "That's Eddie right there......" taking an imaginary drag, a swallow, and reaching out to fingertap the neck of his guitar. "One, Two, Three." Sammy then took the time to share one with Ed and then headed back upstairs only to find that the chain of events had been irreparably broken blessing him with the inspiration and the opportunity to write FINISH WHAT YA STARTED over a bottle of tequila on his front porch.
The original recording of this tune featured two prominent guitar parts. A strummed, rhythm side, and the more intricate fingerpicked lead riffs. Sammy's rendition of the strummed portion recalls the published version relatively accurately, but Victor does not recite Ed's lead part as precisely as he had for the other VH songs. He makes the changes and follows the progression just fine, but he doesn't follow the lead melodies. It was a half strummed, half finger arpegiated approximation of what I imagine it sounded like when Eddie was first roughing out the chords. Victor can certainly play these parts verbatim if he wished, it is not the most difficult piece Ed ever wrote. I can only wonder if he is looking for a way to recolor it a little, or if he has feelings about playing the parts exactly as written, or if he just isn't that interested in the song, or if Sam just told him not to. The Tele country guitar solo he plays fits the tune, but is not terribly similar to the recorded version either.
The show rolls on:
Between songs Sammy took another minute to check out some banners and pick up a little gift wrapped box. The box contained a silver guitar pick and a note to call Jane & Mike. "Who am I supposed to call, Jane or Mike?" He quipped. Wondering aloud "What am I supposed to do with the pick?"
"I'll put it right here in my pocket." He said with a smile. "I keep everything you guys give me. Man, I've got a garage full of stuff, banners, guitars, and even little silver picks. You guys are too good to me."
More banners ensue. Mostly variations of "The Red Rocker Lives/Loves/Kicks. . ." whatever you happen to have, but a banner that reads "Take us with you Sammy," catches his attention, and he responds "You're all coming with me!"
Sammy has always reveled in the audience participation/interaction of the live show, but tonight is special. Sam always gives it his all, but somehow this show is THE show. Not a thing could have been done to raise the energy level or strengthen the connection to the crowd tonight.
The Cabo curtain is then pulled and only Victor and Jesse remain with him on stage. "16 months ago, April Fools Day 1996. I was given a miracle." The audience sits down for the only time of the evening through KAMA.
After the song, he takes his familiar "break" to mix up a Waborita. Not much new info to share here, but he mentions that there is an alternative to Triple Sec in the ingredients. Sounds something like "Contraire," but I don't have any experience with that sort of thing, and haven't been paying much attention to the posts on the topic.
It's kinda cute to see him sing a little Jerry Lee Lewis while shaking the tumbler, "Shake it, baby, shake it..."
Passes it to the audience with an admonition not to "bogart" it. I'm not really sure what that means either, but somehow I really hope that no one does.
When he gets back to the business of making music, we were treated to what I believe is a completely unique event on the tour so far: Mickey Hart! The former Grateful Dead drummer joined the whole band for what Sammy tells us MCA wants to be the next single from his album. An excellent acoustic rendition of BOTH SIDES NOW ensues.
I must confess that I have always detested the music of the Grateful Dead, so I was not particularly enthused to see Mickey on stage, but I cannot deny the fact that he made an impression on me with no more than a wooden mallet and a tambourine.
The next notes audible are the opening piano strains of RIGHT NOW. Surprisingly, the simple piano tones are clearly distorting somewhere in the PA system, dulling the clarity that usually makes the intro so honest. Sam blows through the tune like it is his own. Rightfully so.
The next surprise in the show is a man with an electric guitar strapped to his back and a silver dobro in his hands catching a spotlight stage left. Sammy welcomes him and dissembles confusion about the "cowboy" that has wandered on stage, but it doesn't take long to see that this is none other than the slide man on the current album, Roy Rodgers!
Sammy officially closes the break with a little rap of intentionally contradictory verse and the band slips into LITTLE WHITE LIE. David Lauser has the misfortune of having to begin the song with the Cabo curtain still pulled and has some difficulty locking into the rhythm out of sight of his band mates, but all is well in a few bars. After SH calls out the three "yea's" Roy loses the dobro and draws the electric strapped to his back like a "loaded six string." Jesse plays an effective representation of the recorded harp lines, a significant accomplishment considering who originally played them.
I spend the next several minutes kicking myself when I realize that the "unimportant member of the road crew" who "looked a little like David Lee Roth" is the man playing the harmonica. I met Jesse Harms and didn't even know it.........
The home stretch:
The curtain is pulled, revealing David on the drums and Mickey behind a full percussion kit! The band tears the song apart and immediately kicks into I CAN'T DRIVE 55. The song no longer carries the angst that it once did. I don't think that Sam plays this out of frustration anymore, but rather enjoys it. He's not mad, just havin' a little fun.
Surprisingly, Victor's playing is not as stellar on this piece as on some others. Perhaps he doesn't relate, or maybe his interest is just not piqued by the lyrical or musical material. He just isn't flooring it.
THREE LOCK BOX receives similar attention by all concerned.
Then the live version of a song from Marching to Mars etches itself in my memory indelibly. THE YOGI'S SO HIGH is vague enough, lyrically, to be interpreted in a variety of ways contingent upon the mindset of the listener. Something of a sonic Rorschach test. This evening's performance brings no further illumination regarding the intent of the composer, but whatever your interpretation is, Sammy is about to prove you right.
In the same way that Van Halen took "Feelin'" from a presentable album cut to a heart wrenching, emotionally exhausting musical event, Sammy pushes "YOGI" beyond everything that it is on the album and makes it more. It is no coincidence that this piece also yields the most inspired solo from Victor Johnson of the evening.
When the Yogi comes down he stops to visit with the common man, flying a few more banners and then launching into RED. The guitars are as loud as they've been all night and the brief, nearly unaccompanied drum solo is a welcome respite when the band breaks down for a minute for a little free-form improv. Mickey Hart is still playing perc along side David and the two track surprisingly well together. I know that Mickey is accustomed to playing along with another drummer, but I am surprised to find that Mr. Lauser seems equally comfortable with the arrangement. A little call and response session between the two really caps the deal. When they finish ducking and dodging each other and finally join up to pound the common beat, Sammy takes the reins back and lays the intro to Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" down in the grove before cutting a hard left into HEAVY METAL.
By the time Sam acknowledges the "up front fanatics" many of us have abandoned our seats (and crutches) to rush the barrier, yielding an unexpected opportunity to burn the last few exposures on the roll. Sam identifies Mona as the subject material of the "tight pants and lipstick" line. She seems to enjoy the attention, her thick, black hair reaching a full six feet of travel from well below her waistline to the sky. When the song concludes, the band takes their bows as Sam introduces them by name one last time and they leave the stage.
We spend the next few minutes waiting out the compulsory pause before the planned encore. When the players retake the stage, Sammy chats for a few minutes taking the time to point out that Mona is from a tiny town on the Northern California coast called Willits. The mention of this rural town and her beautiful, straight, black hair and dark complexion leave me wondering if she may be of native American descent (my family heritage.)
Sam also mentions that he tried to get Huey Lewis to come in for his harmonica parts, but was unable to, as he is in Oklahoma City this evening.
All night Sam's vocals have been right on the money. never taking the low road, never missing a scream. No effort was spared.
The encore selections: EAGLES FLY, DREAMS, and MARCHING TO MARS are the perfect end to the show. They each capture the essence of the sincerest part of each phase of his career. Sammy has always had a rebellious/fun-loving side, but this time out it is his sincerity that leaves the greatest impression on us.
Thanks to Timothy Brown for this AWESOME review!
Thanks to Timothy Brown for the set list.