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Two interminable and unresolvable debates eternally follow Van Halen: 1) Were they a hair band?; and 2) Which version was better, the one with David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar?
The guys from Completely Unchained, a Van Halen tribute band playing the Martin Centre Saturday, quickly answer the first one with a resounding “No.” The second questions is equally easy: It’s the David Lee Roth version, no doubt about it. The quartet — made up of lead singer Gene Henriksen, guitarist Jake Miller, bassist Clint Ettore, and drummer Zoltan Chaney — firmly believe that Van Halen’s best years were 1978-1984.
And the songs from those years are what you’re going to hear on Saturday night. “We’re going to create that vibe from 1978-1984. We’re going to look like Van Halen. We’re going to sound like Van Halen. We’re going to act like Van Halen. Those guys were straight up rock n’ rollers. You’re going to see a kick-ass rock n’ roll show,” says Henriksen, a New Yorker with a heavy accent and a passion for the music he and his bandmates play.
Henriksen has always played in tribute bands. Originally a drummer, he has moved from behind the drum kit and embraced the high-octane, physically demanding role that impersonating the hyperactive David Lee Roth requires. The early 80s were a fun time and the subject matter of Van Halen’s songs reflect the excesses of the era. But for Completely Unchained, their work is anything but a party. “We do this full time. It’s a job. I take care of myself. I ride a bike every day. I’m in the gym. This is a business and we treat it as such,” says Henriksen.
But that doesn’t mean the audience doesn’t have a good time. For just a few hours each night, Henriksen and crew take everyone back about 40 years. The songs were carefree, the clothes were loud, guitars were even louder, and everyone had a good time. “We want to keep that legacy alive, especially now since Eddie has passed,” says Henriksen.
The first six years of Van Halen’s existence is often overshadowed by the tremendous personality that was David Lee Roth and Eddie’s guitar heroics. What many people fail to realize is that Alex Van Halen, Eddie’s brother, is one of the best drummers in the world. Bassist Michael Anthony laid down the rhythm and provided unmatched vocal harmonies. His strength on the bass especially came out during live shows when he and Alex did the grunt work to keep the songs moving while Eddie and David enjoyed the spotlight. “The songs are pretty intricate but they’re second nature to us now. It’s so much fun. Mike and Alex didn’t get the recognition they deserve. They were overshadowed by Eddie. Mike’s harmonies were incredible and Alex is right up there with best drummers of all time,” says Henricksen.
When watching the show, it’s easy to forget just how difficult and complex those songs are. Now 12 year olds are playing “Eruption” and finger-tapping their way through videos on YouTube. But 40 years ago, nobody was doing it. Eddie’s style changed the direction of rock n’ roll for a decade and helped create a whole new genre of music.
The guys in Completely Unchained are excellent musicians in their own right. Henricksen is an accomplished drummer as well as vocalist. Chaney has played with hair metal legends Slaughter and Vince Neil. When Neil is on hiatus from Motley Crue and plays solo gigs, Chaney still joins his band. Miller and Ettore are also world class musicians.
They bring that energy and virtuosity to the stage each night. And Saturday in Douglas will be no different. You won’t have to worry about poor vocal performances, backing tracks, lip synching, technology tricks, or the other issues related to 40 years of rock n’ roll that follow aging bands.
Completely Unchained is at the top of their game and they’re at the top of the tribute band heap. Visit The Martin Centre Preservation Company’s Facebook page for ticket information. Doors open at 7. The show begins at 8.
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