By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Of all the infernal questions to have wormed their way into rock's subconscious, the merits of David Lee Roth versus Sammy Hagar as front men for Van Halen has to be one of the most dim-witted debates still circulating in frat houses and gentlemen's clubs across this great land. Let the debate rage on as Hagar brings his current touring band of winos to Smirnoff on Sunday.
Such lip service is especially insipid considering that Hagar has always been such a mundane, middle-of-the-road hack. Say what you will about Diamond Dave's (extremely) failed bid to replace Howard Stern, but at least the man had flair--an obnoxious, over-the-top, distinctive flamboyance that matched Eddie Van Halen's obsessive pyrotechnics tit for tat.
Once egos clashed and Roth got the boot, Eddie went looking for an unthreatening presence to (not) share the stage with. Hagar, whose career in 1985 was in steep decline, was the catastrophically boring choice, a perfectly faceless foil. If not for Van Halen's fateful call (the suggestion came from Eddie's mechanic), Hagar's Red Rocker nickname might well have evolved into Red Roofer.
Upon Hagar's entry into the band, Van Halen descended into an MOR morass from whence they never recovered. What was once campy fun and an honest and horny homage to the Kinks and Roy Orbison became an adult contemporary nightmare. Childishly titled efforts such as OU812 and For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge remain depressing reminders of just how soft the band (and hard rock in general) had become.
Hagar's always been a well-tanned dumbass, a party-till-you-drop "dude" of the highest order, a guy whose ridiculously hormonal ode to speeding, "I Can't Drive 55," would have to be considered his "best" song. Look for it to appear early in the first set, along with enough Van Halen "chestnuts" to send the bleary-eyed crowd back to the '80s, back to a time of mullets, tight pants and other bad decisions.