PHILADELPHIA — This summer is flush with iconic bands of the '60s and '70s touring the U.S. Not to be overlooked are the Eagles, fresh off the release of their documentary, History of the Eagles, Part I and Part II, which debuted at The Sundance Film Festival to critical acclaim, and who launched a tour earlier this month, with a two-night stop in Dallas on Oct. 11-12.
Without a Houston stop on the schedule, I figured I had better catch-as-catch-can, and when an East coast business trip coincided with the Eagles’ Philadelphia stop, I jumped at the chance.
“They are real musicians. They don’t lip sync and they write their own music.”
The crowd at the Wells Fargo Center surprisingly was a mixture of not only the expected middle-aged rockers, but also thirtysomethings who grew up hearing their parents groove to the Eagles. As one 39-year-old told me, “They are real musicians. They don’t lip sync and they write their own music.”
At 8 p.m. sharp, Glenn Frey and Don Henley entered with no fanfare to a stripped-down stage. They looked a little older than the last time I had seen them at Sundance in January, with Henley sporting a nicely-trimmed beard and Frey still weathered but handsome—after all, they are just on the left side of 70!
Frey explained that the first set would be an attempt to recreate what it was like for the Eagles in the summer of ’71. They grabbed acoustic guitars and launched into "Saturday Night," a rarely-played single from their second album, Desperado.
After rousing applause, Henley said that when he and Frey formed the band, Linda Ronstadt suggested Bernie Leadon as possible member. And with that, out strolled Leadon, who had not performed in concert with the Eagles since 1975. The three of them launched into Train Leaves Here This Morning, which Leadon wrote for the Desperado album. (Eagle aficionados will remember that Leadon dated President Ronald Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, and unceremoniously left the band by pouring beer on Glen Frey’s head.)
These two songs created an intimacy with the band, and I felt as if I were in their living room watching them jam.
These two songs created an intimacy with the band, and I felt as if I were in their living room watching them jam. Leadon sounded great and remained with the band for the first set. The vibe was lighthearted and relaxed. Maybe they are older, and egos put on the back shelf, but there was a warm camaraderie among them.
The rest of the first set pulled heavily from the band’s first two albums, combined with remembrances from Henley and Frey using pre-recorded video and onstage banter. After the first lesser-known songs, the band launched into "Peaceful Easy Feeling," with the introduction of Timothy B. Schmit, and "Witchy Woman, " with the ever popular Joe Walsh making his entrance, for which the band received its first of several standing ovations.
The remainder of the first set was a trip down memory lane with a reworked "Doolin-Dalton," featuring bassist Timothy B. Schmit on harmonica, "Tequila Sunrise," "Already Gone," "The Best of My Love" (the Eagles’ first No. 1 hit), "Lyin’ Eyes," "One of These Nights" and "Take It to the Limit, "which Frey dedicated to ailing former Eagle Randy Meister.
Frey and Henley traded lead vocals, with the lights dimming after each song, presumably so Henley could alternate from piano to drums and guitar. Although the Eagles have never been ones to cut a rug on stage, they more than made up for it in the quality of their voices and, well, the songs themselves just take you back to a different time and evoke an emotional reaction many (many) years later.
The voices and their unique harmony are as good as ever. And it should be said that Henley, who Rolling Stone named as one of the greatest vocalists of our time, has not lost a step. Their back-up band, which has—for the most part—been with them since the 1994 "Hell Freezes Over" tour, adds a depth and richness to the songs. Steuart Smith, who replaced fired Eagle Don Felder, is outstanding.
Long second set
After a brief intermission, Frey opened the second set by saying “I don’t know about you, but I need to move my body a bit,” and referenced the Beach Boys jamming to "Barbara Ann." The audience took the hint and stayed on their feet for the 11-song second set.
The austere set stage was enhanced by film footage from the 1970s, and songs included hits from the latter-'70s including "Pretty Maids All in a Row," "New Kid in Town," "Love Will Keep us Alive," "The Long Run" and "Life in the Fast Lane." When the band introduced themselves, Walsh commented, “I was here a few years ago and everyone said I had a good time.”
The nearly three-hour show ended with two encores. First was a shorter-than-I-remember "Hotel California," followed by "Take it Easy" — “the one that started it all,” with Leadon back on stage, and Walsh’s "Rocky Mountain Way," and finally, the hauntingly beautiful "Desperado," with Henley soulfully singing without instrument. The harmonies literally gave me chills.
While I wish they had included some songs from their 2008 release, Long Road Out of Eden, the title of the tour ("History with the Eagles") indicates a focus on the early years. My only other quibble is there is no Houston date yet, but I understand that they will be touring into 2014, so hopefully H-Town will be added.
And with 40 dates planned between now and the end of November, you too can catch this legendary band. Unlike the Stones, I do not see the Eagles performing in five years. And unlike the Stones, the Eagles give few interviews to promote their concerts. And don't expect them to be tweeting pics of their most recent concert. They have always let their music speak for itself.
The Eagles documentary ends with Frey poignantly saying, “The Eagles hope to be more than a band for a time. We want to be a band for all time.”