That time I took a limo from Vancouver to Seattle to see Van Halen’s Monsters of Rock Tour

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By Steve Newton

I haven’t taken many limousine rides during my lifetime.

It’s a little hoity-toity for my liking.

But there were a couple of times when I actually enjoyed that lifestyle of the rich and famous.

The first time was back in 1986, when I got flown out to Berkeley, California to review Bob Dylan with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers at the Greek Theatre.

Now, that’s not a common occurrence for me, getting flown somewhere to see a concert. In fact, that was the only time it ever happened in my four decades as a rock writer. But back in ’86 the music industry was not on its deathbed; there was money floatin’ around. And Westwood One, the promoters of the Dylan/Petty Tour, were willing to spend some in order to get advance press that might help sell tickets for the tour’s upcoming stop at Vancouver’s B.C. Place Stadium.

They flew me out to Berkeley and put me up in a fancy hotel for the night, but the coolest thing was that it included unlimited limo service. So before the show I hopped in the fancy wheels, said “Nearest liquor store please!”, and proceeded to live the high life for a few hours.

To me, that merely meant scoring a bottle of Jack Daniels and sipping it while cruising around Berkeley. And when it approached concert time, the limo got waved through the barriers and drove directly backstage. Call me a hick from Chilliwack, but I ain’t never been driven directly backstage before.

The second time was a couple of years later, when the Monsters of Rock Tour hit the Seattle Kingdome on July 27, 1988. The lineup included headliners Van Halen, Scorpions, Metallica, Dokken, and Kingdom Come, and since I was a big fan of the first three bands, I figured I should try and go. Seattle was only about a 2 1/2-hour drive from my home in Vancouver.

At the time the Georgia Straight, the newspaper I was working for–and still am, believe it or not–had a “contra” deal going with a company called Star Limousine, where they would trade display advertising for limo service. So I went and asked the publisher, “Hey Dan, any chance of getting a limo to the Monsters of Rock show?”

How was I to know that he didn’t realize the gig was in Seattle? I mean, there was a full-page ad in the paper! (which actually got printed with the wrong concert date, if I recall correctly).

Anyway, Dan gave the unexpected okay, and next thing you know me, my concert-crazy sister Marnie, and Straight photographer Kevin Statham found ourselves headed Stateside for one full day’s worth of hard rock, heavy metal, and cross-border beer guzzling in the back of a shiny black stretch limo.

Upon entering the Kingdome–which I’d only been to once before, for an Aerosmith show on the Rocks tour in ’76–it was easy to be impressed by the enormity of the stage. It was a massive structure reaching from one side of the dome to the other, with three-storey-high speaker columns as bookends. (Three such stages were leapfrogged across the country to accommodate the many back-to-back concert dates on the Monsters of Rock tour.) About 250,000 watts of sound and 850,000 watts of stage lighting were also being used, so needless to say, the concert was loud and bright.

Unfortunately for me, the working media was stuck in a press box far away from the stage, which put a real damper on things. Kevin was the only one of us to get a close-up look at the bands, which resulted in some great photos, especially of Scorpions.

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Most of the pyrotechnics were saved for headliners Van Halen, of course, including an endless array of giant sparkles that cascaded over the stage. Most of Van Halen’s set featured material from their new album OU812, but they also went back to such faves as “Panama” and “Running With the Devil”.

Only about 40,000 fans showed up in the 70,000-capacity stadium, so the electricity level wasn’t close to that of a sold-out gig. But we made the best of it. On the ride back I remember all three of us got pretty hammered, joyfully singing along to Steve Earle‘s “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied” on the limo’s sound system.

A few days after we got back I heard through the grapevine that the publisher wasn’t too thrilled that I’d used up so much “contra” just to rock out in Seattle, but I was thankful that he didn’t can me for it. Hey, I’ve given that paper the best 40 years of my life, so I reckon we’re about even.

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