The Eagles: a counterpoint

Simon and Steve saw the Eagles last night. Simon’s review can be found here; Crave! usually just runs one review per show, and saves the controversy for the podcast, but Steve felt he had to offer an alternative point of view.

I saw three different bands perform at the Eagles concert in Auckland last night.

The least interesting of the three is the country-lite band that churned out endless soft-rock staples through the 1980s, the band that specialised in close-harmony vocals and incredibly deftly-constructed but ultimately rather bland songs. This was the band that offered us songs like Take It Easy and Peaceful Easy Feeling, songs so easy to listen to that their titles even flag up the fact. It was a very, very slick and polished performance, endlessly professional and rehearsed and, ultimately, rather dull. Yes, Take It Easy is a fine song, but after too much Desperado and Witchy Woman and New Kid In Town the Eagles start to drag just a tad. At least they’re Eagles originals, though; Ol’ 55, a Tom Waits cover from their 1974 album On The Border did nothing to disprove Waits’ assessment that the Eagles’ reading of his song was “antiseptic,” and that “they’re about as exciting as watching paint dry.” That latter opinion, perhaps, is a little harsh, but last night’s show was indeed quite antiseptic at times — new boy Vince Gill telling us that Timothy B. Schmidt is “one of the finest singers on the planet,” and Schmit returning the compliment with “Vince — he really knows how to sing” felt overly prepared and forced, and while each Eagle took a turn to tell us how much they loved being in “your beautiful country,” Schmit even remarking that it’s still summer here, that country never was named, as though they were reading from their Southern Hemisphere “keep the crowd happy” template. They were good, but they were far too safe — five men strumming acoustic guitars in unison, while Don Henley, while he was playing rimshots on his snare, leaned in to his hi-hat like he was about to fall off his stool. It was music, it felt, for people who might find Phil Collins a little too challenging.

Vastly more entertaining was the band that Joe Walsh led, the band that took control of the latter part of the setlist, the band that ripped through the night’s much stronger material. The years have perhaps not been as kind to Walsh as they have to Schmit or Henley — he looked like an angry Fraggle, Keith Richards made into a Cabbage Patch Doll, and he sounded like he’d given his carers the slip for the afternoon and was shouting and children in the park while his evening meds became increasingly overdue. But none of this was a bad thing — his introduction to Life’s Been Good was barking, but in a good way, less staged and more organic, in an “Oh, dear Lord, where the hell might this be going?” way. And his guitar playing. Oh, his guitar playing. While his voice, unlike Henley’s, really has not held up, his playing remains all but flawless, and he dominated songs like Life In The Fast Lane or Those Shoes, which gave him an excuse to pull out his talk box and channel his inner Frampton. This is the band that got the audience on its feet, finally, nearly two hours into the show, for Heartache Tonight, Henley pounding his kit for all he was worth at last. This band was outstanding.

But the best band of the night was a band that played one song, the song that, I suspect, was the only song a decent chunk of the audience knew. But what a song. Hearing Don Henley sing Hotel California over Joe Walsh’s extraordinary guitar work is one of the great experiences in the history of world music, and, given the ages of these musicians, it’s possibly not one that many more people will have the opportunity to enjoy. The final play-out, as Walsh played those glorious triplet runs together with Steuart Smith, was a memory made of music. Hotel California doesn’t really fit into the rest of the Eagles’ oeuvre; it’s neither the radio-friendly soft rock of Life In The Fast Lane or the easiest of easy feelings of their country numbers, but occupies its own unique space in their setlist. It’s an astonishing song on record; on stage, Henley’s voice as strong as ever it was, it’s a marvel.

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