DECATUR — St. Louis resident Dave Boser has been playing bass guitar professionally since 1986, and for just as long he’s played the music of Van Halen. The hard rock icons represented a major part of the guitarist’s musical upbringing, so a desire to emulate their songs was only natural.
It wasn’t until 2007, however, that Boser actually found himself as part of a group where Van Halen’s music wasn’t just part of the set list — it was the main course. His all Van Halen tribute, Mean Street, makes its way to Decatur’s AIW Hall on Saturday night.
“I was all about it as soon as they asked me,” Boser said. “I do audio-visual work and I remember I was sitting in my office when I got the phone call. And there’s one poster in my office, Van Halen’s first album cover, and I took that as a sign.”
Of course, wanting to actually play like the musicians in Van Halen was nothing new for Boser. He described the groups as adolescent heroes, the kind of players after whom entire generations of singers and guitarists imitated and molded themselves.
“For us, it’s the soundtrack to our high school years,” he said. “It’s awesome party music but also complex and satisfying to play on a musical level. We all wanted to be them, growing up. We would always say ‘If I could learn how to play like Eddie Van Halen, that would be incredible.’ ”
Ultimately, Boser had to settle for playing more like Michael Anthony, Van Halen’s bassist, but the idea holds true. The musician said Mean Street mostly focuses on playing material from the David Lee Roth era of Van Halen’s discography, eschewing the songs of the band’s second main singer, Sammy Hagar. The two singers have remained notorious rivals and have a tendency to inspire contentious fandom on both sides of the debate.
“We’re pretty much all David Lee Roth guys,” Boser said. “Everybody respects the Sammy Hagar stuff, but it’s like two different bands. I remember when I was hearing the first Sammy single for the first time, and it was like nothing they’d ever done before. There was a lot of division about that, and a lot of people dig one or the other.”
Likewise, Mean Street chooses to focus on classic Van Halen hits rather than new material off the band’s 2012 album “A Different Kind of Truth,” its first in over 14 years to be recorded with Roth as the lead singer.
“It’s a pretty darn cool album I think,” Boser said. “According to our guitar player it’s very inspired by some of their oldest material. He says it does hold up to their standards. But it doesn’t really go over great when you play it live. It doesn’t generate the same emotion as those classic songs, so we don’t really perform it.”
Ultimately, Boser said the gig is all about capturing the energy of figures like Roth and Eddie Van Halen. More than anything else, those are the aspects of the show that have to be on point.
“It’s all about the guitar and singer 100 percent,” he said. “Like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards or John Lennon and Paul McCartney, they’re the stars of the show. The singer has to be the most extroverted person to ever pick up a microphone and the guitar player has to live up to one of the greatest guitarists of all time. It’s not easy.”
And yet, despite having to think of this music as a job for the past five years, Boser says he now appreciates Van Halen more than ever.
“When you get older you learn to appreciate new things about old favorites,” he said. “When it comes on the radio, it still makes me drive faster, and that’s all you can hope for from a good rock song.”