Check Out Anytime You Like, But You Can Never Leave

The best concert I saw this year was the Eagles' March 6 show at Toyota Center
Photo by Robyn Tuazon
The best concert I saw this year was the Eagles' March 6 show at Toyota Center

A popular COVID-era music meme asks the question, “You’re quarantined with the last band you saw live – who are your new roommates?” In my case, the answer is the Eagles and I admit, it’s kind of fun to imagine Joe Walsh schlepping around my kitchen in his robe and boxers mumbling about Don Henley drinking the last of the morning coffee. I’m not a super fan or anything, not the sort who’s been held rapt by the band’s every move over its 50 years and certainly not the type who’d be stoked having them as lockdown guests for months on end. Just the sort who appreciates that they’ve created enduring music and made many smart moves over a legendary run. So, I asked to cover the band’s 2020 trip to Houston. I’m glad I saw them but I’m also glad they’re not bunking at my place.

The Eagles was the last big act I saw live this year, a Toyota Center show on March 6, a Friday night, the first of two they played in Houston that weekend. It was the best show I saw before the pandemic brought live shows to a devastating halt. A recent article by the concert trade publication Pollstar suggests the industry’s been dealt a $30 billion blow by the virus. The Eagles played a 32-song set that night. It’s as if they foresaw the dearth of live music to come and tried to jam as much of it into our hearts and minds as they could in one evening.

We’re regularly asked to consider the best live sets we saw in a year come December. In 2019, I chose a flawless show by local heroes Khruangbin, a groovy, feel-good, under-the-stars homecoming at White Oak Music Hall. In a world where the live music might have kept playing in 2020, I still would be writing about the Eagles this morning. I can’t fathom which act would have trumped their half-century of showmanship or performed so many songs that are so familiar so well. I’ve seen plenty of older bands super glue it together for a cash grab tour. The Eagles were not that. They played brilliantly and sang every note to its intent. Whomever might have challenged them for this space still would have been a distant second and, remember, that’s coming from someone who’s not a rabid fan.

click to enlarge A keepsake ticket stub for sure - PHOTO BY JESSE SENDEJAS JR.
A keepsake ticket stub for sure
Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.

As I write this, I must ask myself whether my choice is influenced by the fact it was the last live show I saw. Maybe a little, but not entirely. If you’re reading this, it might be because you were at one of those shows and you probably agree with my assessment. The shows were great. The boss recently ran a story about the Houston Press’s most read music stories of 2020. Topping that list was my review of the Eagles show on March 6. I wrote a bunch of words and the story greatly benefitted from stunning photos by Robyn Tuazon. It’s not often we get to overtly express our gratitude for you spending a small part of your day tuning into us, so let me make the most of this opportunity to say thank you, especially if you’ve kept reading this year when we’ve had so few shows to review. I appreciate you clicking onto the content and hope that you’ve taken even a fraction of the joy reading about music that I get writing about it.

Part of our mutual love is the live music experience. We all miss it. Like, don’t you miss the anticipation ahead of the show? The sweet moment you score tickets, listening to the band on Spotify, reading about the tour, searching for potential set lists online to see if your favorites will be played. You know the drill. Then, there’s the pregame, what you’ll do in the hours leading up to the show to prepare for the spectacle. My constant companion, Mrs. Sendejas, and I routinely stop at Dirt Bar (temporarily but hopefully not forever closed) for a drink or two if the show is at Toyota Center. Whichever band is playing in the vicinity of Dirt Bar on any given night is popular on its TouchTunes jukebox. With strains of “Take It Easy” in the background, we hit the smoker’s patio at the Dirt to meet folks who were also headed to the show. Mrs. Sendejas says this is her favorite part of any show.

“I miss watching people enjoy life,” she says, speaking for many of us. “I like to watch people have a good time and I like chatting it up with strangers.”

We listened to their stories that night. “My first Eagles show was in the ‘70s, man. I was blazed on Maui Wowie!” or “This was my mom’s favorite band, may she rest in peace,” to paraphrase. We told them it was our first time to see the Eagles live and were assured we would not be disappointed and they were right.

Deacon Frey, center, made his father, the late Glenn Frey, proud - PHOTO BY ROBYN TUAZON
Deacon Frey, center, made his father, the late Glenn Frey, proud
Photo by Robyn Tuazon

You also yearn for small moments, like the walk to the venue, don't you? That excited march with the herd, past the enterprising merch vendors and street-level ticket scalpers and on to will-call to collect your tickets. We’ll do the shuffle again hours later, ears ringing, vibes high, buzz surrounding us, nodding at Kerry Melonson or Markell Gibson or whichever working Houston musician decides to busk near the venue to earn a buck or two and keep the music going just a little while longer.

I even long for waking after 40 winks to drowsily read through my scribbled hieroglyphics to write a review from scratch by deadline. What I wrote in the wee hours of March 7 was how fans of all ages knew and sang the Eagles’ timeless classics, including one onstage, Deacon Frey, who performed marvelously in place of his father, the late Glenn Frey. Deacon had one of the show’s best moments, handling vocals on “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” The song closed with him assuredly singing “I’m already standing on the ground,” beneath family photos of him and his dad on a mammoth video screen above him. Vince Gill is also a touring member of the band and the country star’s vocals are a precise fit for these songs. He inspired the first group sing-along with his take on “Take It to the Limit,” a dozen songs into the set. The show was split in halves, the first being a full play of the Hotel California album and the second being a greatest hits package.

Part of the review noted the Eagles’ knack for corralling remarkable players and voices whenever the moment begged for them, like adding the incomparable Walsh back in the '70s and Gill more recently. But the story’s emphasis was on the songs, this library of tunes so many people know and love. “Life’s Been Good” and “The Boys of Summer” were played back-to-back that night, each a big hit from the respective solo careers of Walsh and Henley. Each song recalls a strong feeling or memory for me. After the show, I tried to do the math on how many emotions like these were felt during the set. My formula started with the known variables, 18,000 audience members and 32 songs. Some percentage, like me, had a special attachment to one or two of the songs. Multiply if those emotions were yanked by five or 10 songs. Add exponential value if 15 or 20 or all 32 songs made them feel something special. That’s the power of genius songwriting. In the case of “Life’s Been Good,” it’s a song I first heard as a goofy, no-nothing teenager. I liked it because it was funny and it fuckin’ rocked. But I have a much stronger affinity for it now as a 55 year-old man who fully appreciates all the good days, and even most of the bad ones, of a lifetime.

I was happy to see Joe Walsh (L) onstage and not shuffling through my kitchen - PHOTO BY ROBYN TUAZON
I was happy to see Joe Walsh (L) onstage and not shuffling through my kitchen
Photo by Robyn Tuazon

For concertgoers, some of the joy comes from the company we keep at those shows. Mrs. Sendejas has been to more shows than she’d care to count. The Eagles was just another on a long list, dating back to our first together, Billy Joel’s Houston stop on the Innocent Man tour in April 1984. My quarantine project was to organize all the ticket stubs I’ve kept from concerts I’ve seen and document those hundreds of nights, as best as I recall, on an Instagram page. It's a work in progress. Mrs. Sendejas was almost always with me at shows at The Summit, Rockefeller’s, Fitzgerald’s, the Music Hall, and a bunch of venues which we’re lucky to have still standing, as of this writing. Chronicling those nights, I realized that being unable to attend shows has made a small but noticeable dent in our lives. We’ve got plenty to keep us busy, lots more we enjoy doing as a couple, but there hasn’t been a year since 1984 when we didn’t see at least one live show together. I’m hoping 2021 won’t be the next. Listening to the Eagles singing about “The Long Run” back in March, I honestly had no idea things would go the way they have.

I recently spoke with some Houston Press readers about concerts for an article. Specifically, they’re music fans who’ve seen the same act multiple times, the way Mrs. Sendejas and I have seen Billy Joel seven times over the years. I asked why they kept paying good money to see a performer play a lot of the same songs again just years apart. They spoke more eloquently on the concert experience than I have here. When they did, I heard in their voices the excitement, nervous anticipation and the high they got from it all. Honestly, they sounded like addicts daydreaming about the next fix.

Maybe everyone who’s unable to attend a show now isn’t a concert junkie, but for those of us who are, my advice is to listen to the Eagles’ biggest hit, “Hotel California.” It opened and closed that March 6 show and it’s fitting because it is the most famous and probably the best song about addiction and rehab ever recorded.

Right now, you’re doing what? Teaching yourself to crochet? Starting a podcast? Baking some more bread? Whatever you’re doing to rehabilitate from your nagging craving for a live show, bless your heart, keep at it. But just know that when it comes to live music, you can stab it with your steely knives, but you just can’t kill the beast. When we can all safely get our fix again we’ll be back out there shuffling with the herd, because in this community you can check out any time you like but you can never leave.