The Eagles, Auckland – smooth sweet California soul, rock, and Joe Walsh

Photos by Steve. Review by Simon.

First things first: the core of The Eagles have seen a few summers, but they can still sing, and still play. Don Henley told the audience they were about to hear two and a half hours of music, “because you deserve it, and because we can.” He was right.

The show’s opener saw Henley, Joe Walsh, Timothy B. Schmidt – all in their early 70’s – flanked by younger comrades (more on them later), and delivering Seven Bridges. The voices were strong and clear, and in an instant took you back to the 1970’s, when it seemed the songs of The Eagles greeted you every time you turned on the radio. In those opening few seconds, the 2019 model of The Eagles won the crowd over. You could still feel some fire in the belly of the band, and they were here to prove it. And they wanted our attention. It’s common for audiences to be told not to use their phones to record during a concert, but when Henley spotted someone doing just that, he shut them down and made a plea: “Be here now .. be present .. eyeballs .. memory.” And largely, the audience went along with him for the rest of the concert.

As bands do, they adapt to survive. In this case two players have replaced the late Glenn Frey. One is his son Deacon, who sure sounded like his father, and sang lead in three songs – Already Gone, Peaceful Easy Feeling, and Take It Easy. And Vince Gill, a successful singer songwriter in his own right, sang other big hits like Tequila Sunrise and Lyin’ Eyes. Both men’s performances were spot on and seamless, and reminded the audience how tight and polished these songs were. But the soul of the band lay in the older players, and when Schmidt, Henley and Walsh took to the microphone, their voices still compelling, you knew you were bearing witness to one of rock’s great bands.

Across the night we were reminded of the range of this band. The light country rock feel of the aforementioned Peaceful Easy Feeling contrasted with the more rough-around-the-edges style of Joe Walsh just about every time he took sang lead or played a guitar solo. In my mind this was a good thing, in fact very good, as it gave the show an edge it needed. Many of the songs were delivered as you remembered them, as you’ve sung them in the car or at a party, note perfect and as expected. With Walsh however, you weren’t so sure. Maybe he’d go off script. Probably not, but you never knew. He may have been playing up to his clown prince of rock image, but good on him. Sporting a Maori All Blacks cap later in the show, he was the most character-full man on stage.

And that stage was well populated. With Steuart Smith also in the front line on lead guitar and vocals (he’s a relative newcomer too, in the band since 2001) plus an extra percussionist, keyboard player, piano player and an occasional five piece horn section, the sound was full on. The stage was backed with three large screens which most of the time highlighted individual members of the band. This aspect of the show was simple but very effective.

The crowd wanted the big hits, and got them, plus perhaps a few songs, like Ol’ 55, which weren’t quite so well known. This might be the only criticism, that the show might have been punchier if it had been two or three songs shorter. After cheering a song the crowd would fall silent, as if they were guessing which song would be next. This lent the night a particular feel. Steve joined me later after taking photos during the opening songs, and remarked it was one of the politest concerts he’d been too. Perhaps it was reverence.

The run of hits at show’s end reminded everyone of the quality of The Eagles’ output. Fast Lane, Desperado, Rocky Mountain Way and of course Hotel California were masterfully delivered. In our last podcast Steve and I joked about the enthusiasm we witnessed a couple of years ago from the touring tribute band The Ultimate Eagles, and if the originals could match it. Well here were the originals, or as many of them as could be present. And yes they did play like they still gave a damn, reminding us of songs we grew up with. History on stage. No wonder they inspired tribute bands.

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