The Eagles Toyota Center June 27, 2010
For the past five years Aftermath has been told that we should hate the Eagles, but not why. Like a child, we would ask, and all we would hear from the pop-culture constabulary was "because they suck." It's like standing in a line just because there is a line. So we stood in it for a while and seethed with boredom with the band like everyone else, even though we had no idea why.
We began thinking long and hard about the Eagles before heading into Sunday night's nearly three-hour Toyota Center set. We had to separate certain truths about the band from the perceptions we gathered from everyone else painting them as rock's Great Satan. It also helped that we had a member of the Eagles Appreciation Society sitting next to us in the form of Mama Rocks Off.
On the surface, yes, the Eagles are the exact opposite of everything rock and roll as we think we know it. No one in the band was ever found bleeding from the head after being thrashed within an inch of their life for sleeping with a minor, and drummer/singer Don Henley never woke up nude between David Bowie and Mick Jagger. If anything, their major crimes were touring excess and moustache abuse.
They were country-rockers, more content with getting you mellow while sauntering around in denim and cowboy boots and singing about cocaine and broken hearts. Don Henley and Glenn Frey weren't exactly the Glimmer Twins, but they knew their way around hooks and rhythm, tapping into a whole gamut of emotions for the entire span of their '70s run before the band's flameout in early 1980.
Along the way, the band picked up Joe Walsh, who still saves the band from Henley's flights of schmaltz nightly, and can tout the membership of Timothy J. Schmit, who has arguably been one of rock's most valuable bassists in rock for the past 40 years.
The Eagles' eight golden years can't be easily dismissed without at least a nod to the inherent groove in their songs. At least give them props for "Life in the Fast Lane," with an opening riff that sounds like it was smuggled into the States up someone's kiester.
What we saw Sunday was not a pompy rote set of classic-rock radio standards. Their songs still breathe - unlike, say, the output of fellow '70s-rock punching bags the Doobie Brothers or Boston, which are quickly aging into a stinky stifling hell. You can still quote lines from Eagles songs ("four that wanna own me, two that wanna stone me...") with more sleaze and ease than anything that Michael McDonald over "whoo-whooed."
From opening cut "Seven Bridges Road," the band was loose and up for most anything. We had heard stories of more staid sets in Houston the past three years, but got a relaxed, middle-aged garage vibe from. The Eagles' last few tours have featured suits and ties, but this time around they looked comfortable, even when playing newer material. Walsh led the band through "Guilty of the Crime" from 2007's Long Road Out Of Eden, a composition the Bellamy and Bacon Brothers had a go at last year.
"Hotel California" was rushed out four songs in, satisfying the band's legal obligation to do so. Due to its overexposure, it's hard for us to still see some weight in the song today, but for the people from the frontlines of the '70s it seems to be just as evocative as any protest song, a postmortem of the optimistic '60s. The title track of Eden, which came after the intermission, follows the same finger-pointing trajectory, with the same characters but higher stakes.
The band's softer radio songs aren't as muscular as the Walsh-juiced stuff, but can still fill up a room the size of Toyota Center. "I Can't Tell You Why" remains a slow-burner, reminding us now more of Todd Rundgren's headphone ballads than ever. "Lyin' Eyes" and its slow honky-tonk frolicking had us looking for two-steppers in the aisles of the floor seats, a la a George Strait show, but none were found. Bum knees?
The image of the four Eagles out front together or with Henley in the back dishing out those vocal harmonies was like watching a nearly extinct animal crossing in front of you. Bands don't that kind of thing anymore. No one has three, or hell, four-part harmonies unless they are wearing straw boaters or praising Jesus. Then add the band's boozey mattress rodeo lyrics and you have a whole new facet of awesome.
No one onstage Sunday exactly has to tour solo to make ends meet, so of course this allows us all to get a taste of their solitary post-Eagles recording pasts, save for Frey. No one needs a terse reading of the latter's "Smuggler's Blues" or "The Heat Is On" between one of Walsh's James Gang chugalongs or Henley's elegiac "Boys Of Summer".
Walsh's work away from the Eagles deserves a resurrection, though. Between his solo exploits and the raunchy ZZ Top-biting James Gang, Aftermath would fully endorse a Walsh retrospective tour. He and Schmit are the only Eagles who look like they are in actual rock bands; Frey and Henley look like they should be on CNN apologizing for all that oil that keeps flowing into the Gulf.
The band trotted out "The Best of My Love," which by their reckoning hadn't been played live in over a deacde and half before they unleashed it again in Dallas the previous night.
By virtue of our own upbringing and proximity to FM radio for the past 27 years, we know these songs by heart. We can pick out guitar lines in most songs that hit our pop-music sweet spot. It's not something we can wash off or ignore, so we were in essence standing directly inside the sound of one of the bands that ooze from our pores for almost three hours straight last night.
Closer "Desperado" has haunted us for the better part of the past ten years, the Seinfeld episode reference notwithstanding. Sung by Henley under a harsh spotlight, it's the sound of drifting offshore and shunning anchors. Most Eagles songs are highly relatable and, if you start peeling the layers off, all the characters in the songs are fragile, emotionally naked people. The band isn't known for its lyricism, but Jesus Christ, did they know how to spin a yarn you could yearn to.
So we guess, in essence, we can paraphrase Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski and say with all brutal honesty that we had a nice night, and we love the fucking Eagles, man.
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Personal Bias: We grew up on the Eagles, and thankfully that was tempered with rougher stuff.
The Crowd: Grown families, older couples, four-year olds having their first concert experiences, and the stray mother-daughter groupie duo.
Overheard: "I hope they do 'Fortunate Son'."
Random Notebook Dump: Henley is like the bad cop and Frey is the good cop.