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Review: Sammy Hagar’s first rodeo is a rowdy, career-spanning affair

February 22, 2019

On Thursday, Sammy Hagar & The Circle roared and rumbled atop the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo’s famous rotating stage at the AT&T Center.

The legendary Red Rocker and bandmates, former Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony, go-to drummer Jason Bonham and longtime lead guitarist Vic Johnson came to rock hard and party in a style familiar to his fans — from his stints in Montrose, Van Halen and Chickenfoot.

Throw in some Led Zeppelin and one gets the picture of the rowdy night at Hagar’s first rodeo gig. The wall of amplifiers and speakers equaled that of an arena rock setting.

The Circle play it all — spanning Hagar’s 40-year-plus career. “What we do is what we’re doing right now,” Hagar said. “It’s a little history lesson. It’s rock ‘n’ roll old-school.”

But he lives in the present, too. The supergroup’s upcoming studio album is called “Space Between,” the first single is “Trust Fund Baby” and the band heads out on its Full Circle Jam Tour in April.

“I can play from every era, from Montrose to Van Halen to solo, Chickenfoot and some Led Zeppelin,” Hagar told Rolling Stone magazine in 2014 when the supergroup formed. The attitude is still the same.

Essentially, it’s hard rock tethered to the blues. He kicked things off with the riff-laden and wailing vocals of “Trust Fund Baby.” Johnson played with the fury and precision of the young Jimmy Page. Anthony mugged for the dozens standing in the dirt close to the stage.

“There’s Only One Way to Rock” is a promise that the bearded, curly-haired Hagar has never broken, rocking out and refusing to grow up. The band powered through loudly. Hagar unleashed the first of stinging guitar solos as he kicked the air with his feet.

“I was on the beach this morning,” Hagar joked. “Now, I’m here in San Antonio eating tacos . . . and drinking tequila.”

He treated the fans to later-period Van Halen’s “Poundcake.” Bonham powered the song with the same intensity his father was famous for in Led Zeppelin, sloshing the hi-hat and walloping the snare and tom-toms..

It was the perfect segue into a cover of Zeppelin’s early hit “Good Times Bad Times.” Hagar singled out Bonham, who received a deafening applause.

“I’m happy to be here,” said Hagar, joking, “They told me this is a family affair. I’m OK with that. I’m a grandpa now.”

“I Can’t Drive 55” remains unabashedly defiant and joyful. Many screamed along to the lyrics of his signature solo hit.

Montrose’s “Rock Candy” from the early 1970s was part of Hagar’s visceral history lesson. It’s hedonism is as connected to today’s rap and hip-hop as it is disconnected from anything approaching #metoo.

“Are we having any fun yet?” he asked the cheering crowd. “This is my first rodeo.”

“Finish What Ya Started” took the party back to 1988 with its catchy vocal hook and syncopated electric guitar. Nostalgia fueled the screams during the sequenced piano intro for “Right Now.” The screams got a little louder when Hagar donned a Spurs cap. A large Texas flag made an appearance during “Why Can’t This Be Love.”

The fun meter, however, may have spiked with The Circle’s crowd-pleasing cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.” Bonham’s drumming and Johnson’s guitar playing were note-perfect.

He followed it with his own tribute to “heavy metal noise” with “Heavy Metal.” Fittingly, Hagar let it rip with a solo on his red Gibson Explorer electric guitar and with the howls afterward. Hagar turned “Mas Tequila” into a late-night, fist-pumping sing-along.

“They told me we have three minutes,” said Hagar at the end of the night, wearing a black cowboy hat before launching into a truncated “Cabo Wabo.” It was obvious he wasn’t ready to quit.

“I’ll do this every year. I’m throwing my hat into the ring.”

Hector Saldana is the curator of the Texas Music Collection at The Wittliff Collections at Texas State University.