Editor’s note: The Current page will occasionally publish a look back at some of the most memorable concerts in tri-state history. This performance was suggested by reader Bill Hendricks, of Dubuque. If you recall one that especially stood out, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. This is part four of our series. Look for the next installment on Wednesday, July 8.
Several buddies and myself headed downtown to see the rock band Van Halen on Thursday, July 26, 1979, when I was 20 and a sophomore at Loras College.
Among the guys who accompanied me to the Five Flags Center were Mike “Lats” Lattner, Steve “Howie” Nigg and Mike “Porch” Gruber.
I had heard Van Halen’s debut album the year before at a kegger and was thoroughly impressed. I had bought the debut album and their followup, “Van Halen II.”
The band was on its first headlining tour called, Van Halen’s World Vacation Tour. The lines to get inside were very long.
Once the Five Flags Center personnel opened the doors, my friends and I decided to rush the line. We bypassed the turnstiles and jumped over a short railing to the left.
We all had tickets but never showed them to anyone. In those days, the ticket taker would tear your ticket in half and give you back the other half. Since we bypassed the ticket taker, I still have the entire ticket. It cost $7.50.
We ran up and got in the first row behind the barricade. I knew Eddie Van Halen played on the left side of the stage. So, we positioned ourselves to be in front of the guitar maestro.
Eddie was the up-and-coming brilliant guitarist whom the whole rock ’n’ roll world was talking about. His brother, Alex Van Halen, played the drums. The band was named for those two. Rounding out the group was the outlandish and flamboyant lead vocalist David Lee Roth and bassist Michael Anthony.
The opening band named Screams hit the stage at 8 p.m. They were OK, but we could not wait for Van Halen.
At 9, they emerged and opened with a blistering song called, “Light Up the Sky.” Eddie was right in front of us, and he was amazing.
They continued to rock and after about the third song, I motioned to Lats that there weren’t any security personnel on the other side of the chest-high barricade.
Thus, the barricade was the only thing separating up from getting even closer and leaning on the stage. I climbed over, and so did Lats. Now, we literally had to pull our arms back so that Eddie and Roth did not step on them when the band members came to the front of the stage.
This was the way to see a concert.
A song or two later, Howie climbed over and was to my right. Now, Van Halen’s crew was not too keen on us leaning on the stage. A couple of them crawled up underneath the stage and were trying to punch us in the groin to move back. We would move back, but as soon as they left, we would go right back to lean on the stage.
As the show went on, Howie drifted to the center and then more to the left. As I looked over during one song, Anthony had turned his guitar around and set it right in front of Steve. As Anthony held it, Steve tried to play it, but he was so beside himself, he was basically slapping the strings.
Van Halen played 15 songs during the two-hour-and-15-minute concert.
The encore started off with Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption,” which is considered one of the best guitar solos in rock history.
The concert was sold out. A local radio station said 5,200 tickets had been sold. It was extremely hot in the arena that night, and we were soaking wet from our perspiration. The band members, as well, were dripping wet.
Afterward, we went to one of my friend’s house. His mother, upon seeing us, wanted to know why we went swimming in our clothes. That’s how soaking wet we were.
It was one of the best concerts I have ever seen, and I gave it an A+. I saw Van Halen four more times, but this was the best show of theirs that I witnessed. And, of course, I never again got so close to them as I was at Five Flags Center.