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Time Share Tour

Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth are touring together, without Van Halen. 'Together' being a relative term.

June 22, 2002|GEOFF BOUCHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ST. LOUIS — You can tell a lot about a rock star by the way he serves drinks to his fans, and that is especially true of rock's strange bedfellows of the moment, David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar. The rival voices of Van Halen are touring as an uneasy alliance, and their approaches to music and life are as different as a high-priced strip club and a beach bar where the regulars get a free shot.

Roth's set is a fast, tight race through the Van Halen hits, presented with his gyrating martial arts kicks and raunchy films looping on a rear screen.

Sweating, bare-chested and wearing skin-tight cerulean pants, Roth is a rock star always at a distance from the fans--except when he feigns masturbation with a bottle of Jack Daniel's and empties the whiskey on two shocked young men in the front row. Shivering, the pair appear uncertain whether they have been christened or humiliated.

The booze in Hagar's set, on the other hand, is served with a smile. Two bleachers at the rear of the stage are filled with fans who are served margaritas throughout the show. Hagar performs barefoot, chats betweens songs and projects a "man of the people" ethos. While Roth leaves the stage nearly naked, Hagar trudges off weighted down with clothes tossed by fans--a ball cap, a hockey jersey, beads and an American flag that he wraps around himself like a sarong.

The mercurial Roth chuckles at the idea of the tour as a tale of two bars and offers another thought: "If you want to split a bottle with a friend, then Sammy is your guy. But if you want to split your friend with a bottle, then call me."

No one would be surprised if this tour also ends in broken glass and bruises, but so far, at the UMB Bank Pavilion outside St. Louis, it's been only a mildly grumpy affair with no injuries.

The Roth-Hagar tour, which begins a Southern California stint tonight at the Glen Helen Blockbuster Pavilion, seems a match made in purgatory. The two have little in common, either personally or musically, other than a grudge against their former bandmate, Eddie Van Halen, for exiling them from the group. For the guitarist, whose band is now in limbo, the Roth-Hagar teaming must be as endearing as an ex-wives club.

"Those guys are sitting there without a record deal and Dave and I out on tour," Hagar says. "It's crazy. Ridiculous."

Roth offers a different description: "The way I make decisions is based on what makes good drinking stories. This is compelling, not competitive. There's no real rivalry here."

Rivalry or not, the two can seem like bickering castaways sharing a career raft, each hoping against hope that the good ship Van Halen returns to pick him up.

"Where the hell is Dave?" The usually personable Hagar, guitar in hand, is fuming and prowling the backstage corridors in search of Roth.

Hagar wants to do a joint interview and photo session for The Times, but after a long delay, word comes back that the Roth won't emerge from his tour bus. Hagar groans, offers a few choice descriptions of Roth's personality, then shrugs and plops down on a couch. "Ah, who needs him?"

At the moment, Hagar and Roth do appear to need each other, if either wants a spotlight remotely as intense as that of their Van Halen days.

The pair have received the most press attention either has enjoyed in years, and the tour has been a strong seller. Reviewers have been generally kind, and their critiques have steadily grown more favorable as the tour has picked up some polish.

Each singer does a 90-minute set with his own band, alternating the closing spot each night. Don't expect these disparate performers to perform a duet tonight or at their Monday and Tuesday visits to the Universal Amphitheatre: They have yet to appear on stage together at any show, they travel separately and, if the St. Louis stop is any indication, they never set eyes on each other backstage.

Hagar estimates that he has been in the same room with Roth only four or five times ever, just a few hours' worth of shared time for singers whose names and fortunes have been linked for years.

Roth's history with Van Halen began in 1973, when he auditioned for a young Pasadena band called Mammoth that featured brothers Eddie and Alex Van Halen on guitar and drums, respectively. Bassist Michael Anthony joined a year later and by the end of the decade Van Halen was a monster success. Eddie's guitar style changed the template of heavy metal for a generation; Roth's playful raunch and jungle cat athleticism made him an ideal frontman; and singles such as "Runnin' With the Devil," "And the Cradle Will Rock ... " and the No. 1 hit "Jump" became defining songs.

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