Eagles Astutely Straddle the ‘70s and Today’s Market on Their Current Tour

As I sat and watched the evening unfold at Petco Park in San Diego last night, I marveled at how the many decades have faded away. There were the Doobie Brothers, churning out their radio friendly hits as the audience began to fill the stadium. Most of the audience were thicker of waist and thinner of hair than when they first heard those songs in the mid ‘70s, but they did not let the intervening years dampen their enthusiasm.

Zac Brown Band played the middle slot, and although the band members were mere pups in the ‘70s, they chose several cover songs that were clearly designed to draw in the audience: “Whipping Post” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Although both songs undoubtedly had frequent airplay on freeform FM radio when they first appeared, it is doubtful songs from The Allman Brothers and Queen are often performed today by one band in a stadium.

By the time the sun set in the late summer evening (the calendar reminding us it was the first day of autumn), Eagles took the stage to a full house. The a’capella harmonies of Steve Young’s “Seven Bridges Road” signaled the newly reconstituted Eagles still held firmly to precision musicianship.

Eagles today – left to right: Joe Walsh, Vince Gill, Deacon Frey, Don Henley, Timothy B. Schmit

With only one original member, Eagles have weathered the ensuing decades in fine form. Don Henley still skillfully sings while crisply holding down most of the rhythm behind the drum kit. Bassist Timothy B. Schmit (the third longest member and self professed ‘white boy from Sacramento’) builds the other half of the rhythm while sharing his high harmonies. Newest members Vince Gill and Deacon Frey fill the shoes of the late Glenn Frey. Glenn’s son Deacon handles only several of his dad’s vocal parts, the majority are ably handled by the far more seasoned Gill.

Don Henley

Timothy B. Schmit

The second longest Eagles member is Joe Walsh, and I remain perplexed about his role in the band. With such an earnest and insightful songbook, Eagles presented thoughtful perspectives on the myth and reality of the California dream. Walsh only slightly presented that much depth before and after he was asked to join Eagles. (Observers have noted that Irving Azoff managed both the solo Walsh and Eagles, no mere coincidence). Each time I see Eagles in concert, I wince when he takes over with his songs and schtick. The audience loves the shenanigans, and I reckon once Henley and Frey took over the controls of the band in the late ‘70s after early members Bernie Leadon, Randy Meisner and Don Felder flew the coop, the pair figured Walsh brought needed levity. Henley was purportedly less receptive when Walsh joined the band, and now it’s presumably too late.

Joe Walsh – we know why this man is smiling

I can see the counterpoint relevance of “Life’s Been Good To Me,” but Walsh’s other contributions send the evening off the rails. If Eagles in concert are delving into solo material, I’d far prefer a couple more Henley songs. His “Boys of Summer” was perfect, both thematically and for the change of seasons underway that night. But Henley’s “The End of the Innocence” would work far better than Walsh’s “Funk #49.” And as much as I like the undeniable propulsion of “Walk Away” and “Rocky Mountain Way,” Walsh’s clown-like delivery is just goofy. Henley’s “Last Worthless Evening” or especially “Sunset Grill” fit so much better into what Eagles were exploring over the last four decades.

And speaking of missed opportunities, San Diego has a pretty significant place in Eagles’ early history, which went unmentioned from the stage. Founding member Bernie Leadon grew up in San Diego, not only was he the only Southern Californian in the band, he was most responsible for the country inflections that became the band’s unique signature. Also, one of the band’s most endearing hits “Peaceful Easy Feeling” was penned by San Diego native Jack Tempchin. He also co-wrote “Already Gone.” Both songs were given solid workouts last night, but the band kept the hometown audience unaware of the connections.

Make no mistake, Walsh is a fabulous guitar player. He used an extended version of “In The City” to explore his innovative fretwork. He wrote the song for the film The Warriors, and Eagles rerecorded it for The Long Run album. I just wish he’d leave his overused talkbox at home.

Hired hand Steuart Smith was the unsung hero of the evening, delivering masterful guitar solos. He strapped on a double neck guitar to deliver “Hotel California” (which reminded me of how Jimmy Page sports a similar axe on Led Zeppelin’s equally Rushmore-like epic “Stairway to Heaven”).

Eagles delivered a crisp 2-1/2 hour set. The band’s notorious perfection left little room for spontaneity, but there is no question that consummate professionals were performing. The generous set length was probably calculated to soften the blow of the ticket price, but I have come to appreciate that artists should charge and receive what the market will bear. It is far better they receive the cash, rather than the secondary market scalpers. But that is a discussion for another day.

Suffice to say, it is a grand situation where bands that made it through the decades are able to go out and earn a living from what they have accomplished. Few bands from the ‘70s are intact, and those still plying the boards have fresh blood added to the lineup. Eagles are clearly the most successful of the lot.

Glenn Frey

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.