Eagles – LG Arena, Birmingham
There are some gigs that you always feel incredibly privileged to have been present at. Thin Lizzy’s last tour in 1983, Metallica on the Puppets tour, Dio on the Holy Diver tour, any Rush gig, Opeth at the Albert Hall and last year seeing ZZ Top and Fleetwood Mac. Well, pretty close to the top of that stellar list you can now add the Eagles. Upon arrival at the LG Arena we had our camera confiscated by the security and initially we were pretty miffed about it. I always like to get a couple of snaps as a memento, although I admit watching bands through the backlight of smart phones and cameras is often incredibly irritating. Moments before the start of the evening’s show information on the big screens and PA system requested that the audience turned off their phones, refrained from taking any kind of photography and ensured that no-one’s view was impeded before standing. It was that kind of audience. But it worked, and to be honest it was incredibly refreshing. For the entire show there was hardly any movement amongst the 10,000+ audience as we were entranced by one of the finest displays of musicianship that I have ever witnessed.
I've always been keenly aware of how influential the Eagles are to rock history, and of course they have an absolute stack of classic songs which are familiar to everyone. This show, The History of the Eagles (and the DVD released in 2012) is part of a two year rolling tour that catalogues the history of the band and provides a small insight into how the band formed and developed their music. The evening opened in an intimate setting, with two of the founder members, Don Henley and Glenn Frey seated at the front of the stage to perform a beautiful version of Saturday Night from Desperado which produced tears of joy from several members of the audience, Mrs H included. Henley then explained about the very early formation of the band and that he and Frey were part of Linda Ronstadt’s touring band. The stories were delivered with much tongue in cheek humour. They were then joined by one of other original members, Bernie Leadon who led the trio on Train Leaves Here This Morning from their self-titled debut album. Frey makes reference to the other original member Randy Meisner, and linked this to another of Meisner’s bands Poco, which in turn allowed bassist Timothy B Schmidt (who was also in Poco) from 1978 to join the stage as they deliver Peaceful Easy Feeling. After Henley moves to use his guitar as a drum for Witchy Woman, the band were joined by the legendary Joe Walsh and they moved to a full band setting as the curtain was lifted to reveal the full rig and screens. Throughout the first half of the show Frey and Henley appeared on the screen between songs with some amusing and interesting insights into the evolution of the band. A selection of songs from Desperado followed, with some exquisite harmonies as all members of the band and the additional musicians joined in. A stunning Tequila Sunrise was my personal highlight of this part of the show. A double from 1974’s On The Border, Already Gone and a quite breath-taking Best Of My Love set up a trio from 1975’s One Of These Nights. Some deliciously delicate musicianship and quite enchanting harmonies featured here, with Lyin’ Eyes, One Of These Nights and Take It To The Limit delivered with simplicity and pure quality. A perfect end to the first half.
After a short break the second part commenced with Pretty Maids In A Row from Hotel California; although Leadon was now absent. The band focused on their more well-known material but continued to deliver humorous anecdotes and commentary about the songs and their relationship. Given that there was such an acrimonious breakdown, a 14 year gap from 1980 to 1994 where they were not together, and the huge amount of substances that this band consumed, it was, as Henley mentioned at one point, a miracle that we were watching them at all. As the second part developed, classic followed classic and this was supplemented by an impressive lighting show with big screen backdrop. However, what struck home most was just what brilliant musicians the Eagles actually are. In Walsh they possess one of the greatest guitarists to ever grace a stage. Criminally underrated in a similar way to Lindsay Buckingham from Fleetwood Mac. Henley is no slouch on the drums or the guitar, whilst Frey and Schmidt are also phenomenal players. What also sets this band apart is the rare and incredible talent that they hold in the vocal department with all of the band taking turns to deliver the lead and combining with the others to deliver those delicious harmonies I referred to earlier. Highlights from the second section included New Kid In Town, Love Will Keep Us Alive from 1994’s Hell Freezes Over with Schmidt on lead vocals, and two of Joe Walsh’s solo songs, In The City and the excellent Life’s Been Good To Me. Walsh obviously took the lead on both of these with some intricate and subtle lead guitar. Closing the main part of the set, The Long Run, a cover of the James Gang’s Funk#49 and my all-time favourite Eagles track, Life In The Fast Lane, which was quite simply awesome.
The fun didn't stop there, as Frey, Henley and Schmidt introduced the band and the additional musicians. These included the three keyboardists, Michael Thompson, Will Hollis and Richard Davies, Percussionist and drummer Scott Crago and the incredibly talented Steuart Smith, who shared lead duties on several of the tracks with Walsh. Inevitably it was soon time for Hotel California, and Leadon re-joined the band for this, which unsurprisingly had the audience singing along. An undeniably brilliant song, with one of the all-time classic guitar solos (delivered to perfection by Walsh and Smith), it produced a deserved standing ovation as the band left the stage. A final encore produced three more treats, with Take It Easy, the band’s first ever single, written by Jackson Browne and Frey, followed by a stupendous Rocky Mountain Way (another Walsh solo epic) and the beautiful and poignant Desperado closing one of the most incredible night’s music I have ever witnessed. Absolutely superb stuff and an evening that ranks amongst my top five gigs of all time. If I could give 11 I would. 10/10