Van Halen 3
Sunrise Musical Theatre, Sunrise, FL • September 17, 1998
I was heartbroken the day I found out Extreme had called it quits. Growing up in Massachusetts, I’ve been a huge Extreme fan for many years. I swear I’ve worn out my cassette of Pornograffitti, and I still listen to Extreme’s first album every day. I’ve probably seen them play 30 times, and each time, I was always amazed by lead singer Gary Cherone. Amazed by his truly wonderful voice, his dynamic stage presence, his make-your-mouth-fall-open-in-awe dancing and his ability to write thought-provoking and creative lyrics (I’d always loved how he would juxtapose and intertwine words. Having worked in the music industry and having mutual friends, I’d see them in various places or at backstages over the years, and each time they were always so friendly. I’d get so mad when people referred to them as an “80s hair band,” because anyone who has ever seen Extreme perform knows just how truly talented they were. So when I heard that Gary was the new singer for Van Halen, it was bittersweet — that clinched it, Extreme really had broken up, but I was happy because I knew I’d be able to hear and see him perform again. Granted, I was never a huge Van Halen fan, but I was pretty sure Gary would be able to change that.
So, on a rainy Thursday night I was at Sunrise Musical Theatre for the sold-out Van Halen concert. They did the meet and greet before the show, and in my eagerness to say hi to Gary again, I pretty much ignored Eddie, Michael, or Alex until they said hello to me. Not that there was much time. It was the fastest meet and greet I’ve ever been to; they herded us in warning, “Don’t squeeze Ed’s hand,” lined us up, allowed us to snap the obligatory photo with the band and herded us back out. The rest of the band was extremely (pardon the pun) friendly in the 5 seconds I saw them. After that we waited for the show. And waited. The show that was scheduled for 7:30 PM was pushed back. In the meantime, I observed the mixed crowd. There were a whole group of people decked out in their finest ’80s clothes, (one woman was wearing head-to-toe red and white Diver Down regalia), the die-hard Van Halen fans wearing T- shirts so old and thin they were practically see-through, guys wearing Celtics and Bruins T-shirts (in homage to Gary, I’m sure) and a whole mess of little kids, who I’m guessing were seeing Van Halen for the first time. 8:10 PM and we are still waiting; however, the crowd was cheering before the band even took the stage, and at 8:15 when the lights went out, the crowd erupted.
They opened with “Change,” Gary looking dapper in a black suit and light beige shirt that soon turned dark beige from sweat. Eddie was making his open- mouthed faces, smiling while playing his guitar. After current radio hit “Without You” (with a funky Beatles ending), they went into “Mean Streets,” “When It’s Love,” and “Fire in the Hole.” Gary was dancing and running around the stage, being his theatrical self, bowing and saluting the crowd, goofing around with the others. This is a very flexible man. He could have been a professional dancer. He’s a regular pipe cleaner. All the while I was wondering, “Where did he learn to dance like that?” (I had asked him that very question years ago and his reply was “Bozo the Clown.”) The man truly is an amazing performer. After “Why Can’t This Be Love” came the too-long drum solo. Just about this time my friend, a security guard, pulled me up to the front row. Eddie was about 5 feet away from me now. He was wearing red sneakers and no shirt, looking like he was having a great time. I stood there touching the stage; fully realizing how many people would love to trade places with me. Other songs included “Jamie’s Crying” and “Somebody get me a Doctor.” After a quick outfit change (was that a belly button ring I saw?) Gary and Eddie played an unplugged set. It’s official. I’m now a Van Halen fan.