The Night Van Halen Sent Monks Scrambling for Cover
Van Halen developed a reputation as one of rock's wildest bands thanks to backstage antics and on-stage exuberance. On one particular night in Minnesota, they reportedly left a group of Buddhist monks flabbergasted.
Emotions were running high within the band in 1995. Infighting between Sammy Hagar and Alex and Eddie Van Halen was fraying relationships. Eddie’s newfound sobriety, and continuing efforts to stay on the straight-and-narrow, added further tension to the situation. Despite these mounting issues, the group recorded a new album titled Balance, their fourth (and ultimately final) LP with Hagar on vocals.
The first track was “The Seventh Seal,” which opened with approximately 20 seconds of chanting before Van Halen’s recognizable rock sound kicked in. These “mystical overtones” were inspired by relaxation techniques Eddie adopted while working on his sobriety, according to Everybody Wants Some: The Van Halen Saga.
The chanting was provided by the Monks of Gyuto Tantric University. These Tibetan holy men had experienced a rise in notoriety after Mickey Hart sponsored several of their U.S. tours. The Grateful Dead drummer also produced two albums for the monks, released in the late '80s.
As Van Halen began shows in support of Balance, they decided to make “The Seventh Seal” one of their regular setlist openers. In most live performances, they would use a recording of the monks' chant to start the concert. However, fates aligned for a live rendition on July 30, 1995.
That's when the tour schedules of Van Halen and the Gyuto monks coincidentally put both acts in Minneapolis on the same day. When Hagar got wind of this, he invited the Tibetan group to open the stadium rock show.
A capacity crowd must have been surprised when a gathering of men in orange robes began chanting from the stage. By one fan's estimate, the chanting lasted “at least 10 minutes.” The trance of their ethereal vocals was finally broken when members of Van Halen emerged on stage and launched into “The Seventh Seal.”
Watch Van Halen Perform With the Monks of Gyuto Tantric University
“The monks were taken by surprise once the band kicked into the song,” CJ Chilvers said in his book The Van Halen Encyclopedia. Apparently, the chanting Tibetans weren't quite ready for Van Halen's full force.
“Some of the unsuspecting holy men were so disoriented, they scrambled for cover, forgetting the plans made earlier at soundcheck," Chilvers added. "Led by [crew member] Kevin Dugan, the group was to exit the stage via stage right in single file, with tour manager Scotty Ross bringing up the rear. One monk jumped into the pits and another sat down on Alex’s drum riser, apparently totally unsure of where he was supposed to go.”
Though their brief encounter with the monks was memorable, they did not instill any inner peace within Van Halen. Hagar parted ways with the group not long after the Balance tour cycle concluded, citing ongoing disagreements.
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