May 22, 2008
Last night Jacqueline and I saw the Eagles in concert in Charlottesville, the first time she has seen them, and the second time I have. They have been my favorite group ever since my college days, so of course, we pounced on the tickets as soon as they went on sale last month. Our seats were in the upper deck of U.Va.'s John Paul Jones Arena, on the right side of the stage, toward the front. It was close enough to get a pretty good view. The 16,000-seat arena was packed to capacity, unlike The Police concert we saw last November. The sound quality was good, not too loud, but a little heavy on the bass side.
The Eagles are promoting their new double CD release, Long Road Out of Eden, which is everything an Eagles fan could hope for; see below. The band members dressed in dark business suits, white shirts, and ties, quite a contrast to their laid-back blue-jean style of thirty years ago. But given the age of most of the folks in the audience -- boomers in their late 40s and 50s -- it was appropriate attire. Don Henley played drums on several songs, like he used to, Glenn Frey strummed acoustic guitar on most songs, party animal Joe Walsh played electric guitar mostly, including slide guitar and some lead guitar parts, and mellow, long-haired Timothy B. Schmit played bass. They all sang and played very well, obviously well practiced and eager to please their audience. I was surprised that most of the lead guitar parts (formerly done by ex-band member Don Felder) were done by a guy named Steuart Smith, from Arlington, Virginia. (!) When they played "Long Road Out of Eden" in the middle of the second set, I actually got chills down my spine. I correctly guessed both the opening song ("How Long") and the final song ("Desperado"). Here is the complete list of songs they played, based on notes I was taking:
* = songs from the new CD, Long Road Out of Eden. Two of the songs were originally done by Don Henley "(DH)" as a solo after the Eagles split up, and three were originally done by Joe Walsh "(JW)", either as a solo or as part of the James Gang.
As you can see, that's quite a big list -- "How Long" indeed! (The concert began shortly after 8:00 PM and lasted just over three hours.) I have to give those guys credit for playing so many of their big hit songs, leaving almost nothing out. It was perfectly appropriate for them to begin with songs from the new album, which deserves recognition. If I could have picked the songs, I would have included "Already Gone," "Tequila Sunrise," and "Seven Bridges Road." I was a bit surprised that none of Glenn Frey's solo songs (such as "You Belong to the City") were included. While they played "Dirty Laundry," the 1980s Don Henley tune that mocked trash television "news," the video screen showed images of contemporary exemplars of "yellow journalism" such as Nancy Grace and Jerry Springer. They even poked fun at themselves by showing a fake Time magazine cover with Don Henley solving global warming and Glenn Frey winning the Masters golf tournament. It's good to have a sense of humor. That montage also showed the latest issue of Rolling Stone, with them on the cover. They've made the big time at last! I saw somebody with a "Joe Walsh for president" T-shirt, possibly dating from 1980, but Joe didn't say if he is going to campaign actively this year. We left the arena with big smiles on our faces, very satisfied at hearing a first-class performance by the best of the best.
The Eagles were also featured in last year's Country Music Awards ceremony, a fitting tribute as the Eagles keep in touch with their musical "roots" while expanding their fan base -- a "Big Tent" approach, you might say.
Next the Eagles are headed to Newark, New Jersey, where they will play two nights in Prudential Center, and then across the Hudson to Manhattan for two nights in Madison Square Garden. (See their Web site: www.eaglesband.com.) I noticed there is an upcoming concert in Philadelphia, which must have been added recently, since it is not among the cities listed on the T-shirts we bought.
To mark this landmark event, I have updated my Culture and Travel blog page with a new section for music, featuring a brief Eagles chronology, listing their albums and band members through the years.
I bought the new CD while we were Christmas shopping late last November -- at WalMart! It was their first album full of new material since The Long Run (released in 1979), and I was very impressed. Without a doubt, they met their own high standards, and almost all of the 20 songs on it are very good or excellent. Interestingly, the big single from the new CD, "How Long," was written many years ago by John David Souther, who also co-wrote several of their early songs. That's a truly great tune, as are "Waiting in the Weeds," and "No More Cloudy Days." But the best song, I think, is the title track "Long Road Out of Eden," which begins with a haunting solo on a reed instrument that evokes the deserts of the Middle East. It's an anti-war, anti-consumerism allegory that contrasts the suffering and loneliness of American soldiers serving in Iraq to the mindless, gas-guzzling hedonism of the folks back home. Like their 1970s anthem "Hotel California," it consists of an eclectic blend of musical styles, with acoustic and electric parts, and has a serious message behind it. In the Washington Post last fall, reviewer Chris Klimek sniffed that the new CD is "mostly limp balladry and stale diatribe," but that's way too harsh. Yes, the Eagles do "preach" a little bit, but as intelligent, accomplished musicians, they've earned the right to do so -- whether you agree with them or not.
For their new CD, the Eagles created their own label (Eagles Recording Co.) and reached an exclusive sales agreement with WalMart, as a marketing strategy to fight the twin evils of monopolistic record labels and digital music piracy. Time will tell whether that succeeds in reaching a new audience or not.