35 Years Ago: Van Halen and Rush Begin Beer-Fueled Backstage Beef
The guys in Rush have always seemed like such pleasant, down-to-earth fellows that it seems difficult to believe they've ever feuded with anyone. But in the summer of 1980, their calm Canadian hackles were raised by some spilled beer and those rowdy ruffians in Van Halen.
Singer David Lee Roth shared the story of the bands' unlikely-seeming beef during a 1981 interview with Creem, revealing that it all started the night of June 20, 1980, after Van Halen's show in Leicester and Rush's concert at the Birmingham Odeon. "We'd come back to the bar and Rush was staying at the same hotel. And as it turns out later - they'd rented the bar with all the booze in it," recalled Roth, pointing out that the band was extra keyed up because they were celebrating bassist Michael Anthony's birthday.
According to Roth, the VH crew didn't know Rush had dibs on the bar — and when they arrived, things went down pretty much the way you'd expect: "Our guys ... came in and said, 'What, free booze?! Whoa!!' And they cleaned the place out, which put [Rush's] guys on edge a little bit."
Things were eventually smoothed over enough for Eddie Van Halen and Geddy Lee to end up drinking together at the same table; unfortunately, that's when the evening went from bad to worse. "They'd both been drinking a little bit, and Geddy was playing some Rush tapes on a tape recorder. He said something to Ed and Ed's beer got into the tape recorder," Roth alleged. "Well, that caused a little friction."
That friction played into an incident that took place roughly a year later, when both bands ended up playing in Nevada on June 16, 1981 — Van Halen in Las Vegas, Rush in Reno. According to Roth, everyone in Van Halen's crew was banned from the Rush show, but friendships among crew members allowed for a few loopholes — although what went down afterwards was far from friendly.
"After the show, we're sitting in this casino. There's tables filled with Van Halen people — there's 47 or 50 of us on the road now," continued Roth. "And Geddy feels one way or another and comes up to say something to Ed, and he puts up his hand to shake hands. Now, one of our security guards didn't have the vaguest idea in hell who he was and he came up and body-tackled him."
Roth laughed it off during the interview, adding that was the last time he'd seen Lee, and when the subject came up during a Rolling Stone Q&A in 2014, Lee downplayed any lingering bad vibes between the bands. "Oh, that's an interesting memory," he mused. "We were at a hotel bar in Leicester and one of the guys in our road crew had his beat box playing. And the guys in Van Halen were a little inebriated and we were on our way to getting inebriated. So I think some beer was spilt, yes."
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