Aftermath: The Eagles at Toyota Center

Photo by Barry Gray

“This isn’t an Eagles concert,” my dad, no spring chicken himself, told me when I met him in front of Toyota Center Tuesday evening. “It’s an AARP convention.”

As Gomer Pyle used to say, suh-prise, suh-prise, suh-prise. It’s not like I expected anything different, but still, all that squareness somewhere I had recently seen Nine Inch Nails and Motley Crue – the tucked-in shirts, khaki shorts, sensible shoes, Liz Claiborne blouses, etc. – was kind of impressive. And I thought the crowd at Bruce Springsteen was squaresville.

Tuesday’s crowd - if Toyota Center wasn’t sold out, it wasn’t far off - was the epitome of the “don’t get out much” segment of the population, which, those of us who go out for a living tend to forget, is about 95 percent. I think it’s safe to say that for a lot of people, this show (which wrapped up around 11:30 p.m.) was as late as they’ll stay out all year. And white, white, white.

The Eagles came out around 8:15 p.m. and opened with three songs from last year’s double disc The Long Road Out of Eden. “How Long” was Eagles 101 – easygoing, wistful country-rock – “Busy Being Fabulous,” with Glenn Frey on lead vocals, tended more R&B, and “I Don’t Want to Hear,” well, I’ll avoid the obvious joke.

I spent most of the rest of the first set being escorted by tour personnel back and forth through the bowels of Toyota Center because to even get tickets at all, I had to agree to take pictures of Joe Walsh and a specific guitar (below) at various points – before the show, at intermission, during “Boys of Summer” and “In the City.” The things we do in the name of journalism.

Photos by Chris Gray

However, I did manage to escape my PR duties long enough to sit behind the soundboard on the band-guest platform for a few songs, near four blondes in cocktail dresses dancing up a storm and a few dour middle-aged guys literally sitting there with their arms folded. I think the “don’t get out much” crowd may forget the primary objective of going to a concert is to have fun; I mean, I’ll just assume these people weren’t there against their will, especially in those seats.

Anyway, Joe Walsh did some trademark showboating during “Hotel California,” a very country “Peaceful Easy Feeling” featured some very lush harmonies – four guys who aren’t related singing that close together with nearly perfect pitch is truly impressive – and “I Can’t Tell You Why,” with Glenn Frey and Walsh on electric piano and Timothy B. Schmidt on lead vocals, had an intimate soul/R&B vibe that momentarily made Toyota Center feel like a smoky jazz club, at least a little. “Witchy Woman” was the band’s Santana song, with Don Henley (more on him later) laying on the toms extra thick.

One moment during the first set really struck home: While I was waiting at the foot of the stage to take those close-up shots of Walsh, I noticed a woman probably in her early ‘60s standing nearby. Frey was leading the band through a gentle “Lyin’ Eyes,” and she had the biggest faraway look in her eyes I think I’ve ever seen.

It was obvious that somewhere in her past, “Lyin’ Eyes” was the soundtrack to a major life moment (and, given its content, probably not a pleasant one), and that that one wounded little ballad really meant something to her on a personal level that can often be hard to fathom for those of us who listen to music as our 9 to 5. My heart broke a little both thinking about that and wondering what must have happened for that song to cast such a spell on her.

Even the camera is afraid of Don Henley.

So, about Henley: Even from far away, he looked like someone not to be trifled with. Clad in a dark suit and tie like the other three principals, he could have been a sinister church deacon – steely-eyed, thin-lipped and cold as the other side of the pillow. Then, when I was in the pit, he and I locked eyes for a second and I was fucking terrified; I’m still amazed I didn’t burst into flames on the spot. If Henley really is searching for the daughter of the devil himself, a good place to look might be the ol’ family album. (Frey, on the other hand, came across as a regular guy who probably enjoys a round or two of golf pretty much every day; perhaps wisely, he handled the emcee duties for the evening.)

The second set likewise began with a trifecta of songs from Eden, melancholy folk numbers with the four Eagles each seated with acoustic guitars and again, none especially memorable. Schmidt took over lead vocals for “Love Will Keep Us Alive,” a pretty but dull song from 1994’s Hell Freezes Over written by ex-Squeeze player Paul Carrack – I laughed when he sang a few bars of “Tempted” in a vain attempt to explain to the crowd who Carrack is.

Thankfully, things picked up after that. With the stage breathtakingly lit in indigo, “Take It To the Limit” – introduced by Frey as “Our wives call this the credit-card song” and by my dad as “my all-time favorite” - brought back those beautiful harmonies and was genuinely moving. The sense of loss and uncertainty in the song was palpable and, it turned out, an effective segue into the next one.

True, Henley’s “Long Road Out of Eden” was about as heavy-handed an anti-Bush/oil/consumerism polemic as it gets – especially with a visual backdrop of traffic jams, oil derricks, soldiers in Iraq, etc. - but its slow-burning anger was real and discernible; Walsh’s guitar leads were particularly seething. And given the arena was full of likely McCain voters, Henley deserves credit for confronting people who coughed up hundreds of dollars to be there with some rather unpleasant truths about their (our) lifestyle.

Frey followed with “Somebody,” the only song from Eden to make a real impression. Dark, rocking, and suspicious, with a strong undercurrent of Link Wray/Dick Dale guitar, it cast politics aside in favor of bleak Old West imagery (tombstones, graveyards) and more screaming slide work from Walsh, who more or less took over from there on out. Some brave souls near us actually got up to dance during “Walk Away,” and Walsh's “Helmet Cam,” interspersed with home movies of the band during “Life’s Been Good” was a big hit.

“Dirty Laundry” brought images of every TV talking head known to man – except, strangely enough, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert – and mock magazine covers of the band a la “Don Henley solves global warming” on Time. (Maybe he does have a sense of humor after all… naaah.) The rest of the band – including the dozen or so horns, keyboard and guitar sidemen - was full-tilt boogie during “Funk No. 49,” but Henley looked a little bored behind the congas.

“Heartache Tonight” revisited the horn-charged Memphis soul of first-set closer “The Long Run”, both the cocktail-dress ladies and African-American ushers nearby totally got into it. And another, slightly more effective hard-bitten Henley lifestyle critique, “Life In the Fast Lane,” closed out the set with the most crackling guitar lick in the Eagles catalog, again courtesy of Walsh, and Henley actually letting his guard down (somewhat) and engaging the crowd.

“Are you with me so far?” he asked. Yes sir, we were – mostly because the consequences should we choose otherwise were too terrifying to even consider. – Chris Gray

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray