Singer, guitarist and tequila purveyor Sammy Hagar, consummate party guy, radiates with a magnetic casual jubilance. He may store positive energy from the sun when he’s not doing his nighttime gig as frontman for one of earth’s best rock bands under the light of the moon.
Hagar and bandmates presented his ultra-subjective history of rock ’n’ roll at Artpark on Tuesday night. Magnificently titled, “A Journey Through the History of Rock” is Hagar’s take on all things wonderful in his world. Songs on the action-packed set list represent his various stints and phases, as well as those of a band he, like any other good rock fan, reveres – Led Zeppelin. “We’ve got a few folks here tonight, and I need to party. I want to take you on a little trip, my trip, of songs that I wrote or that I grew up listening to,” Hagar said.
The band features bassist Michael Anthony, formerly of Van Halen and currently of Hagar supergroup Chickenfoot; Vic Johnson, who works with Hagar in The Wabos, is the band’s funk-dappled guitarist and occasional backup vocalist; and drummer Jason Bonham.
The set began with a video intro, a CliffsNotes-style version of Hagar’s career, a solid five minutes of sound bites and clips from his four decades of entertaining and merrymaking. Big blonde hair, flashes of white teeth and black shades were the video’s recurrent theme – as was the stentorian voice.
“Lewiston, you ready?” asked Hagar, before bursting into sonic flames with “There’s Only One Way to Rock,” a 1981 Hagar tune performed with Van Halen. Van Halen had three frontmen: Hagar, founder David Lee Roth, and the very short-term and lanky Gary Cherone. Fans usually fall within camps, with one of the first two singers. Some fans describe themselves as “tweens,” able to love both Hagar and Lee Roth.
“Let’s go back to 1973,” Hagar said before “Rock Candy,” one of rock’s sexiest songs, performed by Montrose, Hagar’s early-career band, on its debut recording. It was on to “Good Times, Bad Times,” Led Zeppelin’s opening track on its debut. It was time for Johnson to shine in the white hot spotlight.
Fans lobbed gifts and other items for autographing onto the stage. During “I Can’t Drive 55,” Hagar picked up a jersey from the stage. A Hockey Night in Canada jersey, red and white (appropriate for the “The Red Rocker”), had “Can’t Drive 55” on the back. Hagar wore it for several songs before tossing it back into the crowd.
The set was peppered with solos for each band member. “We asked everyone in the band ‘what do you want to play?’ so then we asked Jason and I knew what he was gonna say,” said Hagar. “Whole Lotta Love,” next up in the set, was his showcase, as was “Moby Dick” a little later.
“We servin’ it baby, we servin’ it up,” said Hagar. At set’s end, during “Best of Both Worlds,” with the band not only layering riffs, but draping themselves onto each other as if this party was the only one on their summer schedule, six four-foot confetti cannons burst bright red streamers over the crowd. The encore of three songs wrapped a perfect set after Bonham said (lest anyone forgot concert etiquette): “the more noise you make, the longer we play!”
Opening was the Maria Aurigema Band, a four-piece blues group from Western New York. Performing all originals, save for a few covers (including a Clapton tune off “Pilgrim”), the band lingers in the grittier edges of the blues. Jim Ehinger kept honky-tonk in the mix, and the rhythm section of bassist Sal Ianello and drummer Marty Raymondo kept the eight-song set driving.
Aurigema, a lean guitarist, played infectious blues hooks in gold lame and black stilettos, a smooth alto. A few times she shouted praise to blues-rock forebears, including recently-departed Johnny Winter. “He died with his boots on in his hotel room,” Aurigema said, adding “I got to open for him at The Tralf.”