Photos and Story by Scott Smith
Van Halen seemingly are stuck in a ditch with their recent tour derailment, but Chickenfoot is strutting and kicking.
Former Van Halen members Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony couldn’t have looked happier – or healthier – than they did during Chickenfoot’s headlining, unbelievably great set on May 27th at the Rocklahoma music festival, near Pryor, Okla. Hagar’s voice was exceptional, while Anthony provided the best back-up singing in all of rock-and-roll land and put down rich, impressive bass lines.
Chickenfoot guitarist Joe Satriani’s guitar playing and tone were every bit as fantastic as they are on his studio work. Sporting a shaved head and black sunglasses, Satriani pulled an endless stream of notes, sounds and aural emotions from his guitars while the group pounded out peppy takes of “Lighten Up,” “Last Temptation,” “Sexy Little Thing,” “Soap on a Rope,” “Down the Drain” and Montrose’s “Rock Candy.”
Anyone who previously predicted that Chickenfoot would tumble without original drummer Chad Smith found the opposite true via the presence of skin-hitter Kenny Aronoff (John Cougar, Smashing Pumpkins). With Smith back with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Aronoff backed Chickenfoot with the same intense firepower of a young Keith Moon while retaining the otherworldly precision of drum masters Bill Bruford and Neil Peart. The grinning Aronoff just didn’t hit his drum heads and cymbals; he playfully grimaced, striking his set ferociously as if Rocklahoma were his last-ever gig.
Chickenfoot’s on-stage chemistry was as terrific as their chops. I can’t remember ever seeing a concert where every single member laughed, joked with each other and tried to make each other giggle during instrumental passages. The quartet’s inner-group warmth was contagious.
“When I was a 4-year-old boy, I knew I wanted to make music,” said Hagar near the end of the group’s set. “That’s the reason to make music. I want to still feel like that 4-year-old boy, loving music. I have that same passion now, and that’s what Chickenfoot is all about. We’re about making music for fun – playing with that passion.”
Other acts at Rocklahoma also making big, positive noise where Slash, Megadeth, Rob Zombie, Queensryche and Christian rockers Red and P.O.D., as well as the original lineup of Creed. Slash and Alter Bridge singer Myles Kennedy fronted Slash’s band, whipping out tasteful takes of Slash’s solo material and Guns ‘N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Paradise City” on May 25th. Slash ignored the evening’s unforgiving heat and humidity – sweat was dripping from his wrists and elbows by the end of his second song – and played flawlessly on his Les Pauls.
Queensryche also took to the stage with fire and professionalism, infusing new grit and purpose into “Jet City Woman” and “Eyes of a Stranger.” When “Silent Lucidity” arrived, the 20,000-plus crowd cheered before singing along with vocalist Geoff Tate in massive, echoey unison.
One of Rocklahoma’s biggest surprises were Creed, who wisely kept their set in heavy-rock mode while following Slash’s hard-hitting session. Creed’s instrumental play was fast and punchy, with singer Scott Stapp barking and hissing many of their lyrics in an appealing voice. Creed’s effort, like Rocklahoma itself, was a winner.