Contact Us

The Story of Van Halen’s First Show With Gary Cherone

Tim Mosenfelder, Getty Images
Tim Mosenfelder, Getty Images

The first time Van Halen changed singers — swapping David Lee Roth for Sammy Hagar — their debut concert with the Red Rocker on March 27, 1986, couldn’t have been more triumphant.

But when they tried the same thing a second time – almost 12 years to the day at Wellington, New Zealand’s Queens Wharf Event Centre – with former Extreme frontman Gary Cherone at the mic, the party sure seemed lively onstage. But behind the scenes, it was an entirely different story.

Fans didn’t ask for refunds or set fire to their seats when Van Halen Mach III took the stage (this was their first public appearance, after all), but Cherone’s carefully orchestrated soft-launch, far away from the U.S. media’s glaring headlights, would stall the trouble brewing back home for only a short time.

For the New Zealand audience gathered to see Van Halen that night, Cherone’s rookie nerves and unfamiliar visual presence proved to be a minor distraction from the jukebox show performed by the band, which wisely sprinkled just a handful of new songs among a few select Hagar-era favorites (“When It’s Love,” “Dreams,” “Right Now”) and a generous helping of Roth-period classics (“Unchained,” “Panama,” “Jump”), plus resurrected album tracks like “Mean Street,” “Romeo Delight’ and “Somebody Get Me a Doctor.”

It was as varied and as crowd-pleasing a set list as any open-minded Van Halen fan could ask for. Problem was, open-minded Van Halen fans were in short supply once Van Halen III, Cherone’s debut album with the band, hit record stores and radio stations. It simply didn’t meet expectations.

Whether it was because the new music replaced the party-all-the-time attitude with more serious topics, fallout from the Van Halen brothers’ ugly spats with two former singers or other reasons, Van Halen III was their first album to not go platinum. It stalled at No. 4 on the chart, instead of reaching No. 1 like its four predecessors.

Once the tour hit the U.S. and was met with similar disappointment, Cherone’s fate was sealed: Within a year, he was scapegoated as “just the wrong choice” and handed his walking papers. Years of chaos would follow for Van Halen. But for one promising night in New Zealand, things didn’t look all that hopeless.

The Top 100 Rock Albums of the ’70s

Next: Van Halen Albums Ranked Worst to Best

Best of 103.7 The Hawk

Recommended For You

Best of the Web

Leave a Comment

It appears that you already have an account created within our VIP network of sites on . To keep your personal information safe, we need to verify that it's really you. To activate your account, please confirm your password. When you have confirmed your password, you will be able to log in through Facebook on both sites.

Forgot your password?

*Please note that your prizes and activities will not be shared between programs within our VIP network.

It appears that you already have an account on this site associated with . To connect your existing account just click on the account activation button below. You will maintain your existing VIP profile. After you do this, you will be able to always log in to using your original account information.

*Please note that your prizes and activities will not be shared between programs within our VIP network.

Please fill out the information below to help us provide you a better experience.

(Forgot your password?)

Not a member? Sign up here

Sign up for Rockaholics quickly by connecting your Facebook account. It's just as secure and no password to remember!

Sign up to have exclusive Rockaholics contests, events, coupons, presales, and much more delivered to you for FREE.