Chickenfoot isn't reinventing the wheel but boy are they fun live.
Friday night, Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony and Joe Satriani were joined by drummer Kenny Aronoff (filling in for Chad Smith who's currently on tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers) for just under two hours of live music onstage at a sold out Metro.
The band is in the process of drumming up support for the September release of their new album Chickenfoot III with this rare, five date, small venue tour.
As the band sets out to establish an identity (as opposed to that of a "supergroup" better know for its members' respective pasts), gone from Friday's setlist were any markings of the band members' other projects (Hagar and Anthony make up the friendlier half of Van Halen, Satriani is obviously well known for his solo guitar work, while Smith pounds the skins for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. All of that was absent from the set.). So far, this tour has consisted entirely of Chickenfoot songs and the occasional cover. Having performed Van Halen songs in the past, the bar is set pretty high for the band as audience members likely have some lofty expectations. Despite that, Chickenfoot more than rose to the occasion at Metro.
What struck me most is that this does indeed look and sound like an actual band as opposed to just the typical "supergroup" collection of already famous musicians.
The history Hagar and Anthony had in Van Halen is well documented (for that matter, it's one of the reasons Anthony was replaced in Van Halen). But on Friday, their frequent embraces and onstage joking made it appear their bromance is stronger than ever.
Entering the show, I was skeptical of how a technically proficient, guitar God like Satriani could fit in a band setting. He more than answered my doubts. While the show was by no means short of speedy Satriani solos, it was also clear that he is not only able but seemingly content to take it down a notch when necessary to fit within the confines of a Chickenfoot rock song. The band's only other guitarist is Sammy Hagar and Sammy played guitar on only one song Friday night. So Satriani IS the Chickenfoot sound.
It was also amazing just how natural a fit Kenny Aronoff seemed for the band as he filled in for regular member Chad Smith. I've seen Aronoff in the past drumming for John Mellencamp, John Fogerty and the Smashing Pumpkins so I was aware how good he is. What I wasn't prepared for was how easy he'd fit with the band. He's already developed an easy repoire with his bandmates that appeared effortless.
Hagar, as frontman, was his always affable self which went a long way toward establishing the fun vibe that permeated the evening despite the fact that a lot of people in attendance weren't necessarily familiar with every single song quite the way they would be at say, a Van Halen show. Clad in an "MTV Cabo Wabo Cantina - Van Halen" t-shirt, Hagar and company started the evening with "Lighten Up." While Hagar may not be able to hit all of the notes that he used to (he sings in a slightly lower register on the Chickenfoot records so there are no surprises live which is refreshing), he nevertheless sounds great and looks/moves nowhere near his 64 years of age.
In addition to repeatedly proclaiming their love of Old Style beer, Hagar and Anthony blended their trademark vocal stylings on "My Kind of Girl," a song that found Satriani right at home down in the "brown sound" Eddie Van Halen long ago made famous. As a longtime Van Halen fan, it was an immediate thrill to see Michael Anthony provide backing vocals onstage with Sammy Hagar. Make no mistake, this song would be right at home not only at Metro but an arena as well and it might fit even better yet on Van Halen's 1991 effort For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. The song (powered equally by Satriani's low riff/searing solo and Michael Anthony's chugging bass) was my favorite of the evening (though it really was impossible to listen to it without wanting to make a "Van Hagar" comparison... Not that that's a bad thing).
"Future in the Past" may have seen Hagar botch the lyrics (maybe busting out the guitar for the first and only time all night threw him off. Regardless, he responded in comedic fashion as he quipped "You watch, I'll get fired from this band too!") but it also saw some of Aronoff's finest drumming of the evening. "We're gonna have to take Kenny to the Weiner's Circle!" joked Hagar.
Promising to return to a bigger venue next year, Chickenfoot finished the show in arena-ready fashion pairing their most anthemic rock song "Oh Yeah" with one of Hendrix's ("Foxey Lady") to close out the evening. Like the record or not, in the live setting it was pretty difficult not to pump your fist in the air accordingly as the band screamed out the simple but effective refrain of "Oh! Yeah! Come on baby, tell me whatcha want." Not unlike one of Sammy's patented "waboritas," this preview show went down smooth but a bit too quick and kept you wanting more.
Succeeding as a "supergroup" isn't easy. Despite the generally overwhelming talent, most fail. That said, in assembling Chickenfoot, I think Van Halen purists would agree that Sammy has succeeded in building a solid band around vocals and Satriani's guitar virtuosity where fellow ex-Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth failed with Steve Vai.