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Written by  Brandon McCarthy

By Brandon “B-Mac” McCarthy, Photos by Matt “Rabit” Martinez

As long as I have been a fan of rock ‘n’ roll, my favorite frontman has been Sammy Hagar. Better known as the Red Rocker, Hagar blew people’s minds with his high energy, incredible stage presence, and his tenor voice that was, nay “is,” the stuff of legends. His first taste of success came from fronting Montrose, and then he embarked on a successful career as a solo artist in the early 80s, establishing his reputation as the Red Rocker. Then in 1985, his life was catapulted to a new atmosphere, as he became the new frontman for Van Halen, in which they created four albums that were both multi-platinum and #1 on the charts. He departed from in Van Halen in 1996 due to infighting, and he continued his solo career as well as creating various supergroups (the Waboritas, Chickenfoot, and the Circle) as well as his own brands of tequila and rum. To commemorate nearly 50 years in the music scene as well as promote the new upcoming Circle album, Crazy Times, Sammy and the Circle embarked on a huge summer tour with boogie-blues rocker George Thorogood & the Destroyers. One of their stops included Irvine at the FivePoint Amphitheater, where Rabit & I attended. Having experienced a weeklong heat wave, Sammy looked to rise the temperature even more.

First up for the night was George Thorogood & the Destroyers. Rabit and I first saw him at the OC Fair back in 2019, and it was great to see these boogie rogues at it again. Thorogood is such an underrated guitarist. They give him credit, just not enough. The man relies on his thumb and fingers to strum, and when he does, rock ‘n’ roll magic comes out of his signature White Fang ES-125 TDC. His voice is still as rough and tough as it was back in the 70s and 80s. Along with longtime Destroyers in drummer Jeff Simon, bassist Billy Blough, rhythm guitarist Jim Suhler, and saxophonist Buddy Leach, Thorogood came to Irvine to rock hard and party harder. Hearing his classics (both originals and covers) like “Rock Party,” Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?,” the Sonics “Shot Down,” the Strangelovers’ “Night Time,” “I Drink Alone,” Amos Milburn’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” “Gear Jammer,” and “Get a Haircut” sounded so sweet. The venue really came to life when finished up with his signature bad boy tune, “Bad to the Bone.” Just as bad as ever, Thorogood is a boogie-jiving devil with a guitar.

After a 30 minute intermission where I grabbed myself a Strawberry Rum Lemonade (made with Sammy Hagar’s Beach Bar Rum), we were ready for “Crazy Times” with Sammy Hagar and the Circle. Donning his dark shades, white jeans, and black t-shirt, the Red Rocker became a party machine equipped with tequila. The man is 74 years old, but damn does he still like a man in late 20s. Longtime amigo and former Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony was keeping the groove as smooth as he could, showing the world why he is still one of the best hard rock bassists around. On guitar is another Hagar compadre, Vic Johnson of the BusBoys and Waboritas. This man is truly gifted on the axe, adding some soul and funk to the hard rock riffs & solos. Rounding out the Circle is drumming legacy and legend in his own right, Jason Bonham (son of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham). I have seen Jason many times, and his consistency & power on the kit is impeccable. Together, the Circle are whole and full of rock energy.

What was amazing about the evening was the set list that was put together. Not only did they play a bunch of Sammy’s classics like “There’s Only One Way to Rock,” “Three Lock Box,” “Mas Tequila,” “Your Love is Driving Me Crazy,” and “Eagles Fly,” they even played a bunch of Van Halen tunes that Sammy is known for, and it is songs I have been wanting to hear live for a long time. From “Poundcake” to “Top of the World,” “Finish What Ya Started,” “Right Now,” and “Why Can’t This Be Loved,” it sounded so glorious. I am sure Eddie Van Halen was smiling from heaven, especially at how well Johnson nailed the famed solos. The Circle even performed “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love,” with Anthony handling the lead vocals and crushing it. To pay homage to Jason’s dad, we got Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.” The Red Rocker was on fire, particularly when he performed his all-time classics, “I Can’t Drive 55” and “Heavy Metal.” To cool things off, Sammy ended the night with “Cabo Wabo.”

Despite sweating in my jeans because it was so damn hot, it was totally worth it to see Sammy Hagar again. First time was the last Chickenfoot show at the Greek Theater 10 years ago. The long gap between now and today did not slow the Red Rocker down. Thorogood will always be bad to the bone, refusing to get a real job. Summer may be ending, but for Sammy, it is always summer, especially if you have mas tequila! To Sammy Hagar & the Circle and George Thorogood & the Destroyers, I salute you. Horns up!!! And MAS TEQUILA!!!


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