How Van Halen Tightened Up Their Act for ‘Live Without a Net’
Van Halen's 5150 tour, their first with Sammy Hagar as lead vocalist, was captured on the band's first-ever long form concert video, Live Without a Net.
Released Nov. 24, 1987, the 92-minute video was filmed at Van Halen's Aug. 27, 1986 show at the New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum in New Haven, Conn, about two-thirds of the way through the 5150 tour. But before they could even go on the road, Hagar had to help his new band change their performance and production methods.
On the previous tour, the last with David Lee Roth fronting the group, too much of the time was taken up with Roth's stage banter, and it became a point of contention for Eddie Van Halen. "All my solos end with a nod to Al [Van Halen], so I just keep going until I turn around," Eddie said. "I have no idea what's the longest I've gone – about 20 minutes, probably. That's when I started getting ragged on by a certain person: 'Your solo's gettin' too long!' I'd say, 'Fuck you. Your raps are getting longer!' It used to be nothing but talk, man. It was three-fourths talk. But as soon as I got up there to do my solo… he couldn't stop me anyway."
In his book Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock, Hagar wrote that between the instrumentalist's solos and Roth's raps, Alex Van Halen told him they were only performing eight songs a night on the 1984 tour. (According to Setlist.fm, this is a bit of an exaggeration, as they performed 17 songs a night.)
Although the solos remained -- the Van Halen brothers and bassist Michael Anthony all had their turn in the spotlight on the tour and on Live Without a Net -- there was, to borrow the phrase from the radio stations, less talk, more rock on the 5150 tour. In addition, Hagar got them to work out some new ways to finish songs, instead of what he called "the classic heavy-metal ending -- four crashes, a crescendo ... one, two three."
Hagar also realized that Van Halen were leaving money on the table by not selling the seats behind the stage. He and manager Ed Leffler designed a cleaner production, with a raised stage and PA system, monitors hidden under the grates and walkways -- all of which allowed them to be seen from everywhere in the arena. The band could sell an extra 2,000 tickets a night and come away with a lot more money.
The biggest change from previous Van Halen tours came in terms of the set list. Hagar had no interest in singing the band's recent crossover smash "Jump." "I couldn't sing the song with any heart and soul," he wrote. "I've got to sing something that I mean." On nights when it was performed, he pulled out a fan to handle the lead vocals.
On Live Without a Net, the only concessions to the Roth era came in the form of "Panama" and "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love." (Their cover of the Kinks' "You Really Got Me" from their debut was performed but not included on the video.) Instead, fans got live versions of two of Hagar's solo hits, "There's Only One Way to Rock" -- which featured a guitar duel between Hagar and Eddie -- and "I Can't Drive 55."
Four other songs Van Halen played in New Haven -- which Hagar said that night was being renamed "New Halen" -- were left off. Two of them, "Dreams" and "Good Enough," were from 5150, and the others were covers that made their way into the encores, Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" and the Troggs' "Wild Thing." In addition, a bit of Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" that found its way into "Best of Both Worlds" was edited out. The only cover to make it into the final product was the closer, Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll."
Van Halen didn't issue a proper concert record until 1993's Live: Right Here, Right Now, which also featured Hagar. Their only live album with Roth on lead vocals was 2015's Tokyo Dome Live in Concert.
Watch Van Halen's 'Live Without a Net'