Sunday, May 02, 2010

Jimmy Carter's Revenge Part Five: The Eagles Strike Back


The first phase of The Eagles career ended pretty close to Jimmy Carter leaving office, so they make for a fitting addition to this 70s series. Tonight or technically last night I saw The Eagles in concert at the HP Pavilion in San Jose CA. And what an experience it was! Before we even walked into the Pavilion, there were two religious picketers (one with a bullhorn) telling the crowd that we were all damned to hell unless we accept Jesus. It was kind of funny, of the 60 plus concerts I've been to only two others had religious demonstrators: AC/DC and The Rolling Stones. So we were like really? The Eagles lead to eternal damnation? Then I remembered, there are religious people out there who are convinced that "Hotel California" is about The Devil. They stab it with their steely knives but they just can't kill the beast!

Though if you consider going to a concert and being surrounded by people who carry on loud conversations, check their e-mail or get obnoxiously drunk while the band is playing a form of Hell, then maybe it does involve...could it be...Saaaatin? (insert Dana Carvey as the Church Lady here)

We had good seats for the show, I could see the performers faces without the assistance of the video screens. The screens had excellent coverage of the stage with live camera men and a robot camera on the end of a boom that swivelled over the front of the stage. A surprising amount of keyboards covered the stage (1 large piano, 1 electric piano and like three synthesizers) in addition to numerous microphones and a drum set with a percussion stand side car. There was a large half dome shaped video screen behind the stage and two smaller video screens flanking on each side. A small army of stage / lighting techs and side musicians gave plenty of support to the aging country rockers.

After about 30 minutes past the official start time, the lights went down and my first Eagles concert commenced.

The Set List:

Seven Bridges Road / How Long / Busy Being Fabulous / I Don't Want To Hear Anymore / Guilty Of The Crime / Hotel California / Peaceful Easy Feeling / I Can't Tell You Why / Witchy Woman / Lyin' Eyes / The Boys Of Summer / In The City / The Long Run

No More Walks In The Wood / Waiting In The Weeds / No More Cloudy Days / Love Will Keep Us Alive / Take It To The Limit / Long Road Out Of Eden / Walk Away / One Of These Nights / Life's Been Good / Dirty Laundry / Funk #49 / Heartache Tonight / Life In The Fast Lane

encore: Take It Easy / Rocky Mountain Way / Desperado
The lights go out and there stand the four remaining Eagles smoothly harmonizing on "Seven Bridges Road" the a capella classic from the Eagles Live album. First thing I notice is that the voices are a little lower toned than the 70s recording which would be natural for a band over thirty years old. However, with up to four additional back ground vocalists they are able to give "Road" a full bodied sound. Some spare instrumentation picks up towards the end which leads to the old school styled country rocker "How Long". The band comes across as amazingly tight and allows side guitarist Stuart Smith the first of many spectacuarly tasteful solos. Side man Smith's guitar work upped The Eagles musical prowess by leaps and bounds. In the first half of the show he was arguably the biggest star, I began to look forward to the guitar solos to see how he would creatively rearticulate classic guitar parts with his sharp agile playing. I hate to say it, but it's easy to see why Don Felder was let go when they can hire a guitarist of this caliber and not make him a full band member (which means mo money, mo money, mo money for the remaining Eagles).

This starts a block of Long Road Out Of Eden tracks that gives each band member a lead vocal turn. The fun "Busy Being Fabulous" was next followed by the Timothy B Schmidt sung mellowness that is "I Don't Want To Hear Anymore". This was all chased down with a standard Joe Walsh blooze rocker "Guilty Of The Crime". For this part of the show, the sound was lower than normal and had the cleanest live mix I've ever heard. While I enjoyed this part of the concert much of the crowd was restless for something they recognized. The crowd milled around to get more drinks or food, the guy to my left kept yammering on to get more play from the girl he was with, the girl was looking everywhere but the stage as she scanned her IPhone for emails...geez, when did going to a concert become the equivalent of watching tv? If the audience could have DVR'd the concert and fast forwarded to the big hits, they would have.

At some point in this Glenn Frey announced to the audience that this was the "Eagles Assisted Living" tour which is pretty funny. Age has certainly caught up with these guys, most of them were hunched over and jowly plus Don Henley appears to have added weight (not to mention a grey Grizzly Adams look). Frey seemed to struggle physically throughout the show and has lost power in his voice, changing his singing style to resemble a less raspy Neil Young (not bad sounding, just a little sad). Joe Walsh was mostly in the background during the first half of the show, drawing extra attention to his old lady haircut. Timothy B Schmidt seemed the best preserved of the four, retaining some power behind his high pitched voice. The concert set was cleverly planned to allow the four Eagles to rotate their lead vocals and instrumental involvement. They were able to pace themselves so the lead performer of each song could deliver a strong performance when the spot light shone on them for a few minutes, then allow a fade into the background while another band member or side man Smith takes over.

An extended trumpet solo lead into an absolutely epic rendition of "Hotel California". Not that unplugged Hell Freezes Over version either, the full on rock version. Here Don Henley began to truly impress. Having never seen him live, I was blown away by how well his voice has held up. In a live setting, Henley is able not only to retain the power but also the nuance and phrasing his raspy voice is known for in the studio. Plus he played drums at the same time! "Hotel California" soared majestically with the tight harmonies and twin guitar action that made that song great. The audience woke up and began dancing in the aisles. Some young kids a few rows below lit up some stinky ass pot. At the end of the song a guy in the row before me started yelling at the kids to put it out. Then the drunk guy sitting in front of us began yelling at the other dude, saying smoking pot is part of the concert even though he wasn't smoking (no, he was instead drinking profusely. He would become increasingly drunk, clumsy and loud. Eventually the guy gave us a break by literally getting lost in the arena and presumably throwing up.) For a second it looked like we were going to have a fight to watch on top of the concert, but the pot hatin' guy sat down.

In a true sense of irony, Glenn Frey took center stage to cruise through "Peaceful Easy Feeling". Timothy "cheap pop" Schmidt continued the laid back mood with a fine vocal on "I Can't Tell You Why" (with Frey serving nicely on keys). Henley and team then absolutely crushed "Witchy Woman", even nailing the high pitched wailing on the bridge. Again while drumming!

I went to the bathroom during "Lyin Eyes" and came back in time for Henley's solo hit "The Boys Of Summer". Then in a shocker the crowd became unglued as The Eagles kicked into "In The City". While it was a hit, "In The City" is far from being the bands biggest smash and is usually excluded from their best of comps. You wouldn't know that from the crowd reaction as ladies started gyrating and dudes fist pumping while Walsh tore it up with his first significant guitar work of the evening.

Don Henley went to the front of the stage to inform the audience of the intermission to "give you guys some rest" before swinging into "The Long Run". Henley slightly resembled Bob Seger with his shaggy appearance and walking shuffle as the brass section amped the R&B feel of this classic rocker.

Intermission gave everyone a break, which makes for a good spot to comment on the use of a brass section. It was real hit or miss for me. At some times, like "The Long Run", the brass section added some swing to the overall sound. In other spots, like say at the end of "Hotel California", they were in the way of the guitars. Overall I probably could have done without them, but it wasn't all bad.

The Eagles returned a capella again with the Long Road Out Of Eden tune "No More Walks In The Wood". This started a mellow block of songs that let the guys sit on stools for a bit. My personal fave from their recent album, the acoustic guitar harmony driven "Waiting In The Weeds", got a nice run through even as Mr Drunk Guy in front of us stumbled into his seat mid song to smother his girl and down more beer. Frey took the lead on the band's semi recent adult contemporary hit "No More Cloudy Days".

Then Schmidt addressed the far sections of the audience asking for them to cheer which they did with such precision that we thought maybe this was piped in audio and not an actual audience making noise. This would also explain the odd audience pops during the quiet "Love Will Keep Us Alive" in which there would be loud crowd noises at the end of each chorus. To be fair, the audience did seem happy to have a major hit they knew the words to again. Mr Drunk Guy loudly grunted the lyrics right into his girlfriend's ear before us.

"Love Will Keep Us Alive" buttered up the crowd for another oldie but goodie, "Take It To The Limit" with Frey on lead vocals. Everyone sang along like it was their favorite beer tavern tune, though I was surprised that Frey got lead vocals on it since it was originally sung by Randy Meisner. Meisner's role was taken over by Schmidt, so I thought it would have made more sense for Schmiddy to sing that one. But Frey did a nice job (what I could hear over the sing along), so I got over it. Ha! Get over it!

The lengthy "Long Road Out Of Eden" was the last stop before pulling into hitsville. Taking his cue, Walsh took over and ripped into the James Gang classic "Walk Away". San Jose erupted into a pot smokin' beer guzzlin' party like it was 1973 again. The festivities carried over to the boogie of "One Of These Nights". Then, like a closing pitcher in baseball, Joe Walsh whipped the crowd into a frenzy for my favorite performance of the night, "Life's Been Good". Sentimental flashback footage of Walsh and the band flashed on screen as he mugged, danced and tore through his guitar solos with authority. Even had a nice update to his lyrics by saying his fans "send me e-mails, tell me I'm great".

Don Henley strapped on an electric guitar to bounce us through his solo ditty "Dirty Laundry". Images of Fox news, Tiger Woods and Octomom flew by as Henley's '82 smash seemed all the more prophetic about how we love "Dirty Laundry". Funny cheap shot at The View's Elizabeth Hasselbeck during the line "Bubble headed beach blonde". The band got into a jumping jag, bounding together as a group before a tiring Glenn Frey had to bounce out. I wondered if the back ground vocals were being flown in, the "kick 'em when they're up, kick 'em when they're down" chorus sounded an awful lot like the original record.

With the team in the lead, Joe Walsh once again brought the heat pulling out the other James Gang classic "Funk 49". As fun as it was, I don't know if I could really call it an Eagles concert at this point because it had been so long since I heard, I don't know, an Eagles song?
Frey joined the fray with an actual honest to God Eagles song, "Heartache Tonight". Then they closed the regular set with a storming "Life In The Fast Lane". My favorite Eagles song! My wife says I was bopping my head with extra neck action.

After a break the encore started up with the ever reliable "Take It Easy" which went by smoothly. Walsh then rolled out more blooze rock thunder with "Rocky Mountain Way". To close, Henley nicely crooned the band's ultimate song "Desperado". Here we were, listening to that magical song that Elaine's boyfriend on Seinfeld could only hear in his mind, yet people were still jabbering all over. Every quiet moment crushed by the noise of people talking about stuff they could discuss minutes later.

As lame as the audience was, we had a good time at The Eagles concert. They're definitely getting long in the tooth and will probably have to stop for health reasons within a few years. But for what it was, a sort of one stop drop for Eagles and Henley / Walsh solo it was fun. Felt bad for frail Glenn Frey who needed to muster every ounce of energy he had just to go through the motions. I didn't expect a lot going in, The Eagles have a reputation for being weak live, so I was pleasantly surprised by the professionalism and strong performances. I even enjoyed Don Henley's drumming, a shock because on recordings I find his drums to be simplistic and draggy. What can I say, life's been good to them so far.

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