The Story of Van Halen’s Injury-Plagued ‘Balance’ Tour
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Early 1995 found Van Halen heading back out on the road with a No. 1 album on the chart — a position that had become fairly common for the band over the previous decade. But as they started the tour in support of their Balance LP on March 11, it wasn’t exactly business as usual.
For starters, neither Alex nor Eddie Van Halen were in peak physical condition when the band played the first date in Pensacola, Fla. Over the course of what they’d jokingly refer to as the “Ambulance” tour, Eddie coped with growing pain in his hip — the result of soon-to-be-diagnosed avascular necrosis, which would result in replacement surgery in 1999 — while Alex had to wear a neck brace in order to play through three ruptured vertebrae.
And physical problems weren’t the only ones brewing for the band behind the scenes: Relations between Eddie and singer Sammy Hagar were strained during the making of Balance, and they didn’t get any better on the road, partly due to what Hagar later described as an increasingly fraught conflict between himself and new manager Ray Danniels, who took over Van Halen’s affairs after the death of Ed Leffler, their manager since 1985.
According to Hagar, one difference of opinion with Danniels stemmed from the manager’s eagerness to arrange for a Van Halen greatest-hits record — a suggestion Hagar initially laughed off, saying best-of compilations were for acts whose careers had dried up. Although Hagar didn’t realize it at the time, this would prove to be a major sticking point, as would his recent decision to contribute some new recordings to his own solo greatest-hits compilation, Unboxed; in fact, the Balance tour would be his last with the band until an ill-fated reunion attempt in 2004.
But in the meantime, the band soldiered on, and even though some major changes loomed for Van Halen, they delivered on the Balance tour in every way that mattered, carrying on through an itinerary of more than 130 shows that kept them moving around the globe until early November. And the dates definitely had their share of memorable highlights, including a Sept. 20, 1995, stop in Denver that coincided with a freak snowstorm and left the band slipping around onstage while engaging in playful snowball fights with the fans.
And while Danniels would later be accused of looking to make an easy buck out of the band’s back catalog, he also had an eye toward expanding their global fan base, arranging for Van Halen to open for Bon Jovi during the European leg of the tour in a successful effort to take advantage of that band’s massive overseas popularity. (In the States, Van Halen remained the headliners, topping an evolving bill that included openers Skid Row, Our Lady Peace and Collective Soul.)
In the end, if the tumult waiting for the band added more than a bit of sad irony to the title of the album they were promoting, the Balance tour also delivered more than a few reminders of why they were one of the biggest rock bands on the planet — including the final grosses, which came in at more than $30 million. At the end of an era, with doctors and lawyers waiting in the wings, Van Halen still brought the house down.
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