“We’re not doing this for the money. We’re not doing it because we’re borrrred. We’re doing it because it’s the greatest fucking job in the world” – Don Henley.
There’s a tacit acknowledgement in the title of this latestEagles tour, ‘The History of the Eagles’, that things might finally be edging towards a conclusion. While central characters Henley and Glenn Frey haven’t publicly decided whether things will continue beyond the tours 2015 conclusion, it has been seven years since The Eagles last put out anything new worth mentioning, and even Long Road Out Of Eden was the only release since 1979. Six albums in eight years followed by one in the next thirty five probably tells its own story.
The tour is designed with the recent documentary of the same title in mind, and it shows in the format. You can scarcely talk about The Eagles without discussing that hallowed ground at the ‘middle of the road’, but shows like tonight – a chronological pondering of years long since lost – shows the strength and heart to be found in their accessible Californian pop rock. The band build in number early on, mirroring their early days. Frey and Henley open alone, with Henley offering tales of writing early songs between trips to the liquor store. It’s intimate and mellow, a quiet interlude before Joe Walsh, Timothy Schmidt and even former member Bernie Leadon drop in one by one, and the band as we know them takes shape before us.
The only flaw in such a set up is it lumps the biggest tracks together. From track three onwards we’re inundated with hits: ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’, ‘Witchy Woman’, ‘Doolin Dalton’, ‘Already Gone’, ‘Tequila Sunrise’ and a monstrous rendition of ‘Lyin Eyes’ that’s to prove the set highlight. They’re crammed with lush harmonies, cheesy but offer whopper singalongs. Things are broken up only by Frey’s back stories on the big screen, and an Eagles standard: security so strong on recording that you wonder if you’ll be forcibly removed for sending a text message.
To give them their due, it works. There’s a throwback atmosphere, not just because of the harmonies and stage antics, but because tonight’s show is pleasantly lacking in the usual array of smart phone screens and flashes throughout. The first half, it seems, is the half of the pop melody, and it’s like the world’s best karaoke, effortlessly charming and sonically strong enough to be shoved straight to live album.
That was always going to be difficult to follow, and when the band re-emerge for a second half, giving each member the chance to take the lead, Schmidt’s falsetto and Joe Walsh’s ‘Joe cam’ and ‘I left my brain somewhere in the desert’ act only go someway to making up for the set being so front loaded. That’s not to say there aren’t highs: ‘Heartache Tonight and ‘Life In The Fast Lane’ are particularly jaunt outtakes, but they’re offset by the likes of Walsh-led ‘In The City’ (great performance, less than loveable track) and ‘Love Will Keep Us Alive, which is instantly forgettable.
Picking holes in individual tracks is only so easy, though, as so much of what The Eagles do sits so close to the tracks we’ve grown up with, meaning the dips really stand out. The soft-rock harmonies are utterly exceptional, the rock numbers – which see the band lined up across the front of the stage and playing ‘pass the spotlight’ – slightly less so, but still a distance from disappointing.
There has to be a bang to close, of course, and the could hardly be a bigger bang in pop music than ‘Hotel California’, offered in full overblown, slow-building style with the entire building on backing vocals. ‘Desperado’ is emotional to the point of bleary eyed, but ”Take It Easy’ might be an even better statement of what The Eagles are about. They’re clearly very well rehearsed, but also so experienced and comfortable in their own skin that the show seems off the cuff. Hell, half the time we’re not sure Joe Walsh even knows where he is. Then again that might just be part of the act. The Eagles live laid back California to a tee.
At comfortably over three hours, The Eagles are evidently still willing to flirt with the limits of endurance to ensure fans get everything they want. ‘Thanks for supporting us even when we didn’t support each other’, Frey quips, in reference to that fourteen year break up after their initial success. It’s very easy to see why a band like The Eagles still as near as sell out The O2 three times over; an audience of 30,000 plus. If they’ve got any worse over the years, than frankly it’s terrifying to think how good the must have been back in the 70s. They’re still here, and past legal battles notwithstanding, Henley, Frey and co. probably don’t need the money. They definitely do, however, play with a permanent beaming smile. Like they’re doing the best job in the world. James Hendicott
Check out Shaun Neary’s full photo set from the show below.