At the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento last week, original Eagle Don Henley looked out at the audience of roughly 19,000 fans and said that this was “overtime, extra innings.”
It has been 42 years since the Eagles hit their commercial peak with the release of “Hotel California,” and 11 years since their latest studio album. Still, an army of passionate fans fills arenas and stadiums for this hugely influential prototype of American country-infused rock ‘n roll.
In terms of popularity, it’s impossible to argue with this band’s track record. “Their Greatest Hits (1971-75)” was the biggest-selling U.S. album of the 20th century. All revenue included, they are the highest-selling band in U.S. history. While the crowd at Golden 1 was, as you’d expect, largely baby boomers and older, there were plenty of young people there as well, including my 15 year-old (damn good) guitar-playing grandson, and he adores the Eagles.
The 2018 edition of this band is intact enough to easily retain its legendary identity, but with two new members who are a great fit, emotionally and musically. On board and in continuity from decades earlier are Henley, bassist Timothy B. Schmit, Joe Walsh, and long-time touring guitarist Steuart Smith.
The choice was made to replace founding member Glenn Frey, who died in 2016, with two musicians. The first is his 25-year-old son Deacon Frey, not a dead ringer but close enough to experience him as an incarnation of his father as a young man. He holds his own as a guitarist and a vocalist and is a sweet presence amid his dad’s long-time co-conspirators. Henley said, “We lost a leader, a bandmate and a friend, but gained a son.”
The other replacement is an inspired choice, country superstar Vince Gill, with his angelic tenor voice and the guitar chops of an ace Nashville studio musician. The man sitting next to me at Golden 1 said that adding Vince Gill to the Eagles was like adding Kevin Durant to the Warriors.
It was a generous show, 27 songs, more than two and a half hours, pristine musically, wrapped in state-of-the-art video and lighting. The sound, for a sports arena, was excellent.
The question of who would sing the Glenn Frey leads was answered, at least partially, right away. After the band’s traditional opener, a cappella harmonies on “Seven Bridges Road,” Deacon Frey took the lead on “Take It Easy” and nailed it. Later in the set, he would also cover his dad on “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and “Already Gone.”
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The rest of the Glenn Frey leads went to Gill. The first of these was “Take It To The Limit,” accompanied by a string quintet, and the crowd swallowed him whole. He’d introduced himself as “the 61-year-old new guy.” He would do five other Frey leads, including the band’s great cover of Tom Waits’ “Ol’ 55.” And he performed one of his own originals, “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away,” finishing it with a gorgeous outro on his Gibson Les Paul.
Experiencing a comprehensive show like this one, it somewhat sorts itself into three sonic experiences: the Frey songs, the Henley songs and the very wild world of Joe Walsh.
Don Henley is one of those singers who sounds like no one else — the timber, the phrasing, the passion. He sang “One of These Nights” and “Witchy Woman” (with a five-man horn section) early in the evening, and then dominated the last third of the show with “The Boys of Summer,” “Life in the Fast Lane,” “Hotel California,” “Desperado” and the last encore, appropriately enough, “The Long Run.”
With Glenn Frey gone, Henley is the patriarch. He has a sober demeanor. He stands very erect (when he is not seated behind the drums). He speaks quietly. He seems to be a serious grownup. This places him in stark contrast with Joe Walsh, who is a great musician – the best guitarist in a great guitar band – and, how to put it, a mildly crazy person, the lovable lunatic of the Eagles.
Walsh had a big part in this concert, with material including “In the City,” “Those Shoes” (with the ‘talk box’), two originals from his James Gang days – “Walk Away” and “Funk #49” – “Life’s Been Good” (maximum nuttiness) and finally, amid the encores, “Rocky Mountain Way,” the stoner moment of the evening with video deconstruction of Walsh’s head, rendered bright orange, on the big screen. Something for everyone.
There’s plenty left out here — Schmit’s elegant harmonies and high tenor leads, Smith’s great guitar work, including the iconic extended dual guitar solo with Walsh on “Hotel California,” beautiful video imagery all night long.
This was a broad and deep retrospective of a great and historic American band, performed exquisitely — every vocal and instrumental note — and produced with the 21st century audiovisual technology that it deserves. I don’t think my grandson will forget it. I know I won’t.