35 Years Ago: Van Halen Shoot Their ‘Live Without a Net’ Video
When Van Halen rolled into New Haven, Conn., in August 1986, they arrived with a purpose. The pair of dates on Aug. 26 and 27 at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum were being filmed for a planned live concert release. Live Without a Net was released just few months later, in November 1986.
There was a lot riding on the shows. For one, the video would be the band’s first-ever official live recording to be released. It also offered a chance for fans who weren't able to attend a Van Halen show to see what all the excitement was about.
More than that, it was an opportunity for everyone - from casual fans to devotees to budding guitar players - to get a closer look at Eddie Van Halen. Finally, there'd be a way to analyze just how he managed to get those sounds out of his instrument.
The band also had a new singer to show off. Sammy Hagar had stepped into the frontman role formerly held with great flair by David Lee Roth. The colorful showman parted ways with Van Halen the previous year, and the group was in the midst of a successful rebound with Hagar at the helm.
Their debut album with the former Montrose singer, 5150, arrived on March 24, 1986. A few days later, they were already on the road, playing their first show in Shreveport, La.
As Hagar recalled during a 2014 interview with UCR, nerves were running high as Van Halen took the new lineup on tour for the first time: “It was really scary to say, ‘Wow, we’re going to walk out there and play the 5150 record,' and this is sold out.”
He was aware that ticket sales for the gigs were trading heavily on their past, and fans would be expecting older material from the band's catalog as well as Hagar's solo work. “Because that’s who sold it out,” he explained. “But it worked, and I just remember opening up with ‘You Really Got Me,’ and it was like the frickin’ barricade went down and it was like, 'Okay, the nerves are gone.'”
Five months into the trek, Van Halen arrived in New Haven. 5150 went to No. 1 and was already platinum, so the album's songs - including the singles “Why Can’t This Be Love,” “Dreams” and “Love Walks In” - were pretty well-known.
Ray Tripp, a longtime fan, was in attendance with his older brother and a group of friends both nights in New Haven. They had prime seats - front-row center for the first night and three rows from the stage, right in front of Eddie Van Halen, for the second.
Although both performance were filmed, footage from the first concert was unusable because of technical difficulties. “There were so many problems going on," Tripp tells UCR. "In particular, the problems were with Eddie. His wireless [unit] was cutting out as the songs were progressing on that first night. They literally came out and hooked [his guitar] up via a cord and plugged him in.”
Van Halen had no such problems the second night. “We are renaming this town - this town is now New Halen. New Halen,” Hagar proclaimed, following a high-energy performance of “There’s Only One Way to Rock,” a favorite from his 1982 solo album Standing Hampton.
Watch Van Halen Perform 'There's Only One Way to Rock' in New Haven
The members of Van Halen bounded onstage, with bassist Michael Anthony sprinting to his position and digging out the initial notes with visible enthusiasm and a big grin on his face. Hagar and Van Halen, both with guitars, went back and forth across the stage, eventually ending up shoulder-to-shoulder as they wrapped up a dueling solo.
“We were flying all over the place, and we were running from one end of the stage to the other, jumping off of shit,” Hagar recalled. “Man, I’m surprised we could even play our instruments, doing what we were doing.”
They were so enthusiastic that even Tripp, who went into the gigs a bit skeptical, was converted. Hagar's stage presence was a major contributing factor in winning him over. "Seeing him with the band, I thought they were great together,” he says. “I thought he was great as a frontman for the band. He had great chemistry with Eddie and the band.”
The set list went heavy on material from the new album, mostly staying away from songs recorded during the band's Roth era. They democratically landed on a pair of songs from each of their respective pasts. “During the last week of rehearsal, we decided to do ‘You Really Got Me,’ ‘I Can’t Drive 55,’ ‘One Way to Rock’ and ‘Jump,’” Hagar said during the 2014 conversation with UCR. “Two of mine and two of theirs, and ‘Jump’ was going to be the encore,. I was going to bring a guy up to sing it. I wasn’t going to sing it myself. ... It was stupid that we rebelled against our pasts.”
Watch Van Halen Perform 'Best of Both Worlds' in New Haven
Live Without a Net is filled with stage banter; the individual solos are even better. Eddie Van Halen’s guitar solo is classic, and reason one to see this video. But Alex Van Halen’s drum solo is also notable, as he makes his kit sound like some sort of engine.
And even though Anthony's bass solo is a polarizing topic among fans, it's entertaining and original when compared to the typical bass solo, and far from the waste of time some claim.
Watch Michael Anthony's Bass Solo From 'Live Without a Net'
Van Halen have released only three live sets. The first two, this one and 1993’s Live: Right Here, Right Now, both come from the Hagar era; 2015’s Tokyo Dome Live in Concert collected a Roth show, though it's one from 2013 during the midway point of the band’s reunion with its original singer
Live Without a Net presents the most pure and unvarnished look at Van Halen as a performing unit. Roth isn't in the best vocal shape on the Tokyo Dome album, and the 1993 release, according to Hagar’s memoir, was heavily doctored in post-production, and its video companion features many jarring edits that make it a tough watch at times.
But Live Without a Net captured Van Halen in their prime with Hagar. No better visual document exists of the band from this era and none delivers better proof of the band's lasting power.
Watch Van Halen's 'Live Without a Net'