I started going to rock concerts in the late 70s. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, virtually every major tour made a stop at one of several large, local venues. Many of those bands have long since disbanded and, unfortunately, many of those musicians have since passed away. However, some have proved resilient and are still performing with the same intensity and passion they did more than 30 years ago.
Two of those bands, Heart and Sammy Hagar, graced the stage at Raley Field in West Sacramento Sunday night for a benefit concert culminating Hope Productions Foundation's Walk 'n Rock event. Although both groups have undergone personnel changes throughout the years, both have maintained a presence in the industry for the long haul. Neither are resurrections from some bygone era; both are still active and judging from the near capacity crowd Sunday night, both enjoy long-term fan loyalty.
Prior to headliner Sammy Hagar, Heart, featuring sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, took the stage. The opening number, "Fire," demonstrated the Wilson sisters' versatility with lead singer Ann Wilson on the flute and younger sister Nancy on guitar. The next four songs ("Heartless," "Never," "Straight On" and "These Dreams") were an anthology of Heart hits highlighting the band's breadth and laser-like precision. From Heart's soon to be released album, "Red Velvet Car," the band debuted two tracks, including the title track, before performing a version of "Alone" featuring only Nancy Wilson on acoustic guitar, keyboardist Debbie Shair and lead vocals from Ann Wilson. The set was rounded out with the powerful 1970s classics "Magic Man," "Crazy on You," and closed with "Barracuda." A two-song encore consisted of a cover of Led Zeppelin's "What Is and What Should Never Be" followed by the band's 1985 hit, "What About Love."
Although I am a journalist and a writer and I have "reviewed" various performances in the past, I am not in even the remotest sense a music critic or reviewer. I am a fan and have been for many years. My impression of both bands' performance is from that entirely personal perspective. The music quality is derived from two distinct but intersecting points of view: That of the music itself and the performance of it live. The Wilson sisters are consummate musicians and songwriters and the performance showcased their talents as both, but it is easy to write about the instruments played, the intricacy of the music and the mixing of the sounds. More difficult to relate is the connection made with the audience. This band knows why they do what they do and their appreciation is evident in the energy they bring to the live performance – even after more than 30 years. It is a not something that can be faked and the Wilson sisters made their audience feel like their performance was a personal effort to reach each and every individual who attended.
If it was possible to duplicate or surpass that audience connection and energy, Sammy Hagar was the man to do it. His 13-song set took him and his band right up to the 11 p.m. Raley Field curfew leaving no time for an encore. A video montage preceded the band's opening song, "There's Only One Way to Rock," which went right into "I Can't Drive 55." Hagar engaged his audience at every turn, encouraging those in attendance to sing along. The band followed with "Why Can't This Be Love" and "Three Lock Box" before breaking into a Led Zeppelin medley that hinged on the hit "Whole Lotta Love." At this point Hagar took a moment to recognize the purpose of the benefit and thank those in attendance for supporting Hope Foundations Productions, then fittingly performed the Van Halen mega-hit, "Right Now," with its message, an overtone of hope. Changing gears, Hagar launched into a string of three hits ("Space Station #5," "Rock Candy" and Bad Motor Scooter") from his first band, Montrose. Rounding out the set, Hagar performed "Best of Both Worlds," "Heavy Metal," "Mas Tequila" and concluded with a soulful version of the 1988 Van Halen hit "Finish What Ya Started."
While Heart entertained with high energy and a complex musical repertoire, Sammy Hagar's ability to intimately and personally connect with thousands of fans in a single moment is unsurpassed. Although musically his set consisted of more basic, perhaps more typically album oriented rock of the 70s and 80s, Hagar's passion for performing live remains undiminished since first seeing him live almost 30 years ago. A Sammy Hagar concert is and always has been more than just about the music. It is an event, an indelible experience that one will not soon forget. I remember that first Hagar concert in 1980 like it was yesterday and his performance Sunday night proves that old rock stars need not fade away - they can shine well into the night, even if the night has an 11 p.m. curfew.