On 6 March 2015 the Eagles performed their second Sydney concert as part of their History of the Eagles tour. The ‘boys’ took the aging crowd back, way back, to the harmonised, guitar-led soundtrack of our youths and reminded us why they were so big in the ’70s, and why they’re still flying high – just not quite so high.
It started in a personal, laid back way, just Glenn Frey and Don Henley on a bare stage perched on amps, singing Saturday Night from the Desperado album. It’s a logical place to start for a history tour, though the song’s lesser-known status made it a slow beginning. Bernie Leadon, founding ex-member, joined the stage early on and stayed till the break, clearly enjoying, and easily sliding into, his temporary reinstatement.
The first act staging was minimalist and the effect simple, the focus on the men and their music. Glenn and Don took turns to tell stories of how it happened and how it was, guitar jamming sessions, musicians they worked with, seeds for songs, with a nod to the ‘pioneering’ Beach Boys of multi-part harmony inspiration, and some of their other early collaborators. And lots of vision of cowboys on the screens – a bit like how the West was won. There was no doubt the audience was lapping it up and appreciating the moment, but it seemed surprisingly laid back verging on lacklustre at times, the patter clearly scripted whether spoken live or projected from pre-recordings. Gradually Timothy B (why always the B?) Schmit and Joe Walsh joined the stage to complete the line up. The years were turned back it and it looked and sounded like they’d never stopped, those years of sizzling tempers and competing egos no longer on display, just the sight of in-synch guitar magic and a well-rehearsed and familiar setlist.
After a break, the Eagles were back for more – lots more, playing for close to three hours and ramping up the energy. Leaving Bernie behind, this act delivered a string of hit after hit, concentrating on The Long Run and Hotel California albums, the days of the band that included Schmit and Walsh. Even those who say they don’t know the Eagle’s music would have known half the songs – seeping in through osmosis over the decades whether you bought their albums or not. I Can’t Tell You Why, There’s a New Kid in Town, Pretty Maids all in Row, it goes on and on. Witchy Woman appeared with a funky version featuring an in-form Walsh, the original way they used to rehearse the song. Heartache Tonight was also given a different treatment with a slowed down blues version.
Let’s be honest – the vocals weren’t always as good as thirty years ago, but they were close, especially in those trademark harmonies so core to the music, when any weaknesses were blended out, and supported by the barely visible support crew. Henley moved seamlessly between vocals, drums and percussion, sharing the vocals with Glenn. As the tempo moved up from dreamy ballads to their rockier numbers, reflecting their progression as a band, the big screens finally lit up to highlight more of the on-stage action to the crowds further back.
Despite being snuck on the stage early in the first act without ado, guitarist Joe Walsh was given a large spotlight to shine under, and he lapped it up and hammed it up. He had a number of moments to showcase his own material (brought to the Eagles) and his inimitable guitar work and slides, as well as his long-haired lout personna. He entertained the crowd with his distinctive drawl, reminding them of his past wanton, substance-induced room-wrecking ways (we chuckle now but it must have had the hotels incensed at the time) hoping the audience remembered his songs – and that he did too.
Bass guitarist and vocalist, Schmit, had his moments of glory as well, proving his distinctive vocals have stood the test of time in an unwavering rendition of Love Will Keep Us Alive from the Hell Freezes Over album and I Can’t Tell Why. Even his trademark long locks have withstood the passing of years, the only notable change being the addition of a beard.
A History of the Eagles tour it may be, but it’s certainly just one version of it – history according to Henley and Frey. Leadon may have been invited to come along for the ride and Randy Meister may have received an early acknowledgement and a quick cheerio, but not so Don Felder, that pesky, litigating, bean-spilling ex-member who was with them from 1974 to 2001 during their glory years and co-wrote their biggest hit, Hotel California. (His missing vocal and guitar spots were filled in by the talented and long-serving Steuart Smith, who was hired in 2001 to replace Felder.) Clearly wounds are still open, or perhaps litigation.
Notable too in its absence was any material from the Long Road Out of Eden album. Not one song. Nada. Admittedly it didn’t do that well for them (relatively speaking) but you’d think a double album six years in the making would get at least a mention. That’s what happens when you write the history – you get to tell whatever bits of it you like most.
In my view, the saddest omission was The Last Resort which didn’t make the setlist – my pick as their greatest ever song. A song Frey once described as Henley’s opus, although Henley himself believed the song never quite achieved the heights it should have, musically speaking.
The night finished with two encores, not just one. Rocky Mountain Way was about having fun, Desperado was all about the harmonies, and Hotel California and Take it Easy were there to remind us how great their precision multi-layered guitar really was.
In the end it was about the boys and their music, and that has certainly prevailed over the decades. Notwithstanding the notion of a handpicked recording of history, there was plenty well worth remembering. The Eagles haven’t been grounded yet.
No pics of mine to show – these old boys are old school and ask you not to take videos and photos. Just sit and listen. Imagine – no selfies or selfie-sticks. Pity the security were over-zealous in their (rarely needed) attempts to enforce this as the resultant kerfuffle was more irritating than phones – at least for the audience.
With thanks to the Misses M for the Chrissie gift. Mwah!
First set Saturday Night (from Desperado, 1973) Train Leaves Here This Morning (with Bernie Leadon) (from Eagles, 1972) Peaceful Easy Feeling (from Eagles, 1972) Witchy Woman (from Eagles, 1972) Doolin Dalton (from Desperado, 1973) Tequila Sunrise (from Desperado, 1973) Doolin Dalton/Desperado reprise (from Desperado, 1973) Already Gone (from On The Border, 1974) Best Of My Love (from On The Border, 1974) Lyin’ Eyes (from One Of These Nights, 1975) One Of These Nights (from One Of These Nights, 1975) Take It To The Limit (from One Of These Nights, 1975)
Second set Pretty Maids All In A Row (from Hotel California, 1976) I Can’t Tell You Why (from The Long Run, 1979) New Kid In Town (from Hotel California, 1976) Love Will Keep Us Alive (from Hell Freezes Over, 1994) Heartache Tonight (from The Long Run, 1979) Those Shoes (from The Long Run, 1979) In The City (from The Long Run, 1979) Life’s Been Good (from But Seriously Folks, 1978) The Long Run (from The Long Run, 1979) Funk #49 (from James Gang Rides Again, 1970) Life In The Fastlane (from Hotel California, 1976)
Take it Easy, Rocky Mountain Way (Joe Walsh song), Desperado