Glenn Frey's Final Houston Show Saw the Eagles In Peak Classic-Rock Form
Eagles co-founders Glenn Frey (left) and Don Henley at Toyota Center, October 2014
Photos by Jack Gorman
Note: Glenn Frey, co-founder of classic-rock stalwarts the Eagles, passed away Monday at age 67, according to multiple reports. Unlike David Bowie, who died last week at age 69 but ceased regular touring more than a decade ago, the Eagles visited Houston many times after the release of their 2007 album The Long Road Out of Eden, including twice alone in 2014 behind their documentary film History of the Eagles. To pay tribute to Frey, here is Bob Ruggiero's full review of the band's most recent (and surely final) Houston appearance, on October 14 of that year.
At this point in their career — which, as singer/guitarist Glenn Frey noted, has lasted 43 years — any Eagles concert is essentially bulletproof. The have the catalogue, they have the still-firing lineup, and they have an insane level of audience goodwill.
And, as singer/drummer Don Henley also noted, they're "still here." The band's appeal has outlasted a murderer's row of other genres and shifts in popular taste that for a time found them and their brand of country-rock passe or "over." "When's the last time you saw a disco band?" the native of Linden, Texas quipped.
So it was with this resume that Musical Professors Frey and Henley led a rapt, capacity Toyota Center crowd Tuesday through a repeat course of the "History of the Eagles" tour, based on the band's documentary DVD of the same name.
L-R: Bernie Leadon, Frey and Joe Walsh
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A concert sprinkled with live and video remembrances of recollections of the band's story by its members — co-founders Frey and Henley, singer/bassist Timothy B. Schmit, singer/guitarist Joe Walsh, and returning original singer/guitarist Bernie Leadon — it was the tour's second stop in Houston in less than a year.
Ambling onstage like two old gunslingers but with acoustic guitars instead of six-shooters (though the cowboy/Western imagery would play out on the video screens behind them), the blue jeans/work shirts-dressed Frey and Henley opened with the pristine harmonies of "Whatever Happened to Saturday Night."
They then welcomed Leadon, for the night's deepest cut, "Train Left Here This Morning," from the Eagles debut record. Leadon, who left the band in 1975 after famously pouring a beer over Frey's head (he seems to have been forgiven...), wrote the tune while with country-rock pioneers Dillard and Clark.
One by one as the stories began, Schmidt, Walsh, longtime tour guitarist Steuart Smith ambled onstage for a primer in the band's most countrified tunes, including a shimmering "Peaceful Easy Feeling," before the intimate-set stage gave way to a much larger setup and the addition of four more backing singers/keyboardist/percussionists.
Highlights included the wistful, Frey-led "Tequila Sunrise," the Henley ballad "Best of My Love," and the harder-edged "One of These Nights." Original member singer/bassist Randy Meisner got a tribute in the form of his signature song "Take It To the Limit" — though sung by Frey this time instead of the similarly high-pitched Schmit for this tour.
As the Eagles came out gradually, Timothy B. Schmidt (left) eventually joined them.
After intermission ("So you can check your cell phones and I can go to the bathroom," Frey quipped), and Leadon's departure from the stage, things went mellow gold with cuts like "Pretty Maids All in a Row," "New Kid in Town" and "Love Will Keep Us Alive.""
Love" was the most recent tune of the night, from 1994's Hell Freezes Over combo studio/live reunion record. Oddly, there was not a single song from 2007's double disc The Long Road Out of Eden.
"Thanks for sitting attentively through the quieter numbers," Frey then told the audience. "But that time is over. Let's rock a little." And they did, stomping through a new arrangement of "Heartache Tonight," which, it was revealed, was their attempt to cop the living-room-party-record vibe of the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann."
This led to an all killer-no filler run that included the transcendent Walsh-led "In the City," "The Long Run" ("Cuz all the debutantes in Houston, baby, couldn't hold a candle to you..."), "Life in the Fast Lane," and Walsh solo cut "Life's Been Good."
As usual, Walsh took the role of beloved class clown, from his trademark "How Ya Doin'?" greeting, whooping yelps, facial and guitar-playing contortions and at one point playing with a video camera strapped to his baseball cap, showing the crowd on the monitor.
Walsh was also the only Eagle to have any solo material in the set list, which also included "Rocky Mountain Way" and the James Gang's "Funk #49." Though, gauging from the audience reaction, it was easy to see why. (Fun Fact! Walsh's brother-in-law is fellow recent Houston concert-stopper Ringo Starr. They are married to sisters.)
The evening came to a close with the inevitable "Hotel California" (thankfully returned to its original, more rocking arrangement), and "Take It Easy" before sending the more-than-sated audience out on the streets with the gentle "Desperado."
It has to be mentioned, though, that the "history" part was missing one key faculty member: guitarist Don Felder. Tellingly — like a better-looking, blond Voldemort — his name was not even uttered the entire evening.
While Leadon returned and purported health issues have sidelined Meisner for even a guest appearance, Felder's famously acrimonious firing from the band (and subsequent lawsuits and Felder's tell-all book), made his return even less likely than hell freezing over twice. The Houston Press reviewed the book, and Felder gave his version of events to us earlier in the year.
And Felder was missed, although Smith more than ably handled his guitar parts, including the double-necked action on "Hotel California" (which Felder co-wrote).
Having toured History of the Eagles for 15 months now, the show was a pristine, well-oiled machine down to the onstage jokes and punchlines. And while the band could have phoned in their performance, they did nothing of the sort for more than two and a half hours. Class act, these weathered birds.
Personal Bias: Like the hits and still enjoy even the overplayed ones. Defended the band as a teen to a religious zealot who argued that the band were Satan worshippers.
The Crowd: Fiftysomethings and up no longer outrageously partying, but probably paying heavenly bills on their mortgages.
Overheard In the Crowd: "My mother's favorite is 'Love Will Keep Us Alive.' She used to play Hell Freezes Over again and again while cleaning the house. I got sick of it!"
Overheard Onstage: "We're glad to be here in Houston. No storms coming this time!" — Henley, in reference to a cancelled Eagles show in 2008 due to Hurricane Ike
Bonus Overhead Onstage: "I'm from Detroit. The city that gave us Ted Nugent, but they won't take him back. I'm afraid he'll come after me with his bow and arrow." — Frey
Random Notebook Dump: The Toyota Center needs more bartenders in the lower level lounges. People were waiting nearly 20 minutes for a fucking Stella Artois.
Whatever Happened to Saturday Night?
Train Leaves Here This Morning
Peaceful Easy Feeling
Doolin' Dalton/Desperado (reprise)
Best of My Love
One of These Nights
Take It to the Limit
Pretty Maids All in a Row
I Can't Tell You Why
New Kid In Town
Love Will Keep Us Alive
In the City
Life's Been Good
The Long Run
Life in the Fast Lane
Take It Easy
Rocky Mountain Way
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