Pulling into the AT&T Center’s grounds of the annual San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo on Thursday night yielded a moment that could only make one chuckle. Shuffling at random among 16,000-plus songs on an iPod was “Right Now” by Van Halen.
It was a sign of things to come.
Half of the quartet responsible for that 1991 MTV hit were about to share the premises with livestock, cowboys, mutton bustin’ children and a carnival. And although you can barely drive 5, let alone 55, in a rodeo parking lot, the knowledge that Sammy Hagar & The Circle were about to take the rotating stage was enough to make even the most ornery of bulls extra hyped.
Hagar and bassist Michael Anthony were making their first Alamo City visit in nearly a decade after playing Sunset Station on Sept. 20, 2009, with Chickenfoot. This time in tow with guitarist Vic Johnson and drummer Jason Bonham, the son of the late Led Zeppelin drumming legend John Bonham, The Circle were primed to take the crowd on what Hagar called “a history lesson.”
The foursome opened with a tune unrecognizable to many although “Trust Fund Baby” is a rocking new single that will be on the May 10 release of Space Between, which marks The Circle’s debut of all-original material. What followed was a slew of influential music paying homage to the careers of Hagar, Anthony and Bonham’s father.
The more familiar strains of Hagar’s solo career took flight on second song “There’s Only One Way to Rock.” Over the 70-minute set, The Circle delighted an audience mostly comprised of the generation that grew up with classics such as 1973’s ode to Hagar’s time in Montrose, “Rock Candy,” and the 1986-95 Van Hagar era including “Poundcake,” “Why Can’t This Be Love” and “Right Now” (the latter two complete with backing tracks of Eddie Van Halen’s original keyboard and piano work, respectively). Johnson has the thankless task of following in the footsteps of Van Halen and Joe Satriani as legendary guitarists in two bands Hagar has fronted but unassumingly more than held his own on the six-string.
The Red Rocker, who has played Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and celebrated many a birthday over his nearly 50-year career with gigs at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, also entertained on the mic as only he can. He introduced one of Van Halen’s 1988 hits by telling the audience, “This is my first rodeo. . . I’ve been to a rodeo now, and I’m alright with it” (watch his complete speech via ATM Facebook Live footage of “Finish What Ya Started”).
The highlight arguably was The Circle’s jamming of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock N’ Roll” segueing into “Heavy Metal,” another 1981 standout from Hagar’s Standing Hampton album. Wearing a black cowboy hat, Bonham undeniably expressed pride in carrying on his father’s legacy on some of rock’s most timeless tracks. With the large 360 stage giving all corners of the AT&T Center similar views of the band aided by scoreboard-sized TVs, fans were able to catch rarely seen vantage points of a drummer’s point of view (see 25-photo slideshow below).
San Antonians could thank their lucky stars Sammy Hagar & The Circle were in town exclusively for the rodeo given that the group’s tour doesn’t start till April 19. For those who missed it, The Circle will return to South Texas on Tuesday, April 30, at ACL Live at The Moody Theater in Austin. Each ticket purchased includes a free CD of the forthcoming album (tickets here). Hagar may or may not don a Spurs hat at that show as he did Thursday, but he’ll likely unfurl another Texas flag and autograph that and, uh-hem, any other item thrown his way on stage.
The rare appearance in San Antonio by Hagar and Anthony also resulted in two endings. One official and one impromptu. The former saw Hagar take charge on his most popular Sammy Hagar & The Waboritas song “Mas Tequila,” arguably the most fun tune of the evening. After all, what’s a Red Rocker and Michael Anthony concert without some sort of mention of tequila or Jack Daniels?
Alas, a venue official informed the frontman he had three minutes with which to end the evening. Hagar looked at Anthony and said, “Mikey, do we have a three-minute song?” With that, Hagar launched into an awkward a cappella version of Van Halen’s “Cabo Wabo” — a 7 1/2-minute track — by working in “I’ve been to San Antonio” in place of the original version’s “Dallas, Texas” before concluding matters to plenty of applause.
The 71-year-old Hagar may not jump around on stage much anymore, but that doesn’t mean his energy and enthusiasm have waned. Hagar is nearly two months older than Ozzy Osbourne, who has canceled 2018-19 tours of Europe, New Zealand, Japan and Australia due to pneumonia having landed him in the hospital. Yet another reason the Alamo City could consider itself fortunate to have had the opportunity to see Hagar in action again.
What’s the Red Rocker’s secret? It’s gotta be mas tequila, right?