It is difficult not to draw comparisons between Van Halen’s Live at Tokyo Dome and Van Halen alum Sammy Hager’s new live release, The Circle. Sammy Hagar pulled no punches and “talked the talk” when asked about Van Halen’s new offering by the Las Vegas Review Journal. “They’ve got some pretty rough vocals.” He then added, “I’m trying to tread lightly on the whole thing. Every time they do something, I’m like, ‘Oh my God, can these guys do anything worse to their reputation and to the level of the music of the band?”
Sammy then “walked the walk” by releasing his live album this week, ”The Circle – At Your Service”. Sammy’s new band The Circle consists of long time sideman and Van Halen alum Michael Anthony on bass, Bus Boys bad-ass Vic Johnson on guitar and the amazing Jason Bonham, son of the Led Zeppelin’s John Henry Bonham on drums. Talk about a supergroup. This is not Chickenfoot, this is the whole freaking chicken.
The Circle rips through Sammy’s 40 year catalog, a healthy dose of VanHagar and some of Jason’s daddy’s classics like a freight train. There are notable high notes that are to be expected. “There’s Only One Way to Rock”, “I Can’t Drive 55” and “Finish What You Started” all sound amazing as they should. Unlike David Lee Roth on Live at Tokyo Dome, Hager remembers all of the lyrics and his vocals are at the top of his game.
Where this disc goes from good-to-great is around the third track. The Circle bang out Led Zeppelin classic “Good Times Bad Times” with fury and precision that must have John Henry smiling down from heaven. Everything on the track is clicking. Even more impressive is not only does Vic Johnson nail the guitar work but also Jimmy Page’s haunting guitar tone from the track.
Vic Johnson does some heavy lifting during the set. The guitarist is ripping through the work of Ronnie Montrose, Jimmy Page and Eddie VanHalen all through the disk. Vic even gives the audience a little taste of himself with a quick tasty solo that leads into VanHalen anthem “Best of Both Worlds”.
The disc holds many more treats for Hagar, VanHalen or Led Zeppelin fans. “Whole Lotta Love”, “When the Levee Breaks” and “Rock and Roll” are all liberated from the Led Zep catalog. There is plenty of VanHagar era VanHalen and a smattering of Sammy’s solo classics.
I will dare say the production and editing of this disk is superb. Unlike Live at Tokyo Dome every vocal is clear and audible. The guitar is in your face, Jason’s drums will rattle your house and the bass is clean and distinct.
While we are on the subject of the bass, this disk highlights some of Michael Anthony’s best bass playing EVER. Anthony and Bonham make and amazing rhythm section, complimenting each other’s playing fantastically.
If you put ”The Circle – At Your Service” and “VanHalen – Live at Tokyo Dome” in a cage match, Tokyo Dome would be left bloody on the mat unable to leave the cage under its own power. Sammy once again delivers – blowing away anything VanHalen has done since he left the band.