The Eagles @ Birmingham Arena, 29 June 2019


There is a special feeling you get when you go to see a band you have been listening to, and for the most part, loving, for over forty years.  Sometimes it isn’t the band itself you love, it is the songs, and where and when the songs entered your life.  It is how these songs became stitched into the fabric of your life; how lyrics became diary entries across the years; the melodies and hook lines take you to a time and place in your own life and every member of the audience tonight in the Birmingham Arena brings along their own baggage and their own story of how the Eagles’ music affects them: that in itself is a powerful draw for fans not just as a nostalgia fix, and it pulls in the people by their tens of thousands to fill this cavernous venue.

For my story, and I’m sure you have a similar list yourself, there is an unbreakable link between the BRMB’s travel news jingle using the riff from ‘Life in the Fast Lane’; realising that the TV theme to Hitchhiker’s Guide is actually ‘Journey of the Sorcerer’; Chris singing without a hint of irony: “your prison is walking through this world all alone”; arguing about whether ‘Dancing Queen’ or ‘One of These Nights’ has the better recorded open hi-hat; and thinking I knew at 18 what “When you’re looking for your freedom, nobody seems care” meant, but only knowing at 50 what it really means.  But what took me by surprise is the impact the second track of tonight’s set has on me.  After the opener ‘Seven Bridges Road’, in which the band seem to be making a declaration right away that they can sing harmony better than anyone else, as it is a low key almost a cappella arrangement with only gently strummed acoustic guitars, the surviving members of the band introduce the young man who steps into the shoes of Glenn Frey: his son Deacon, whose flowing locks and facial hair look so much like his dad during the mid-70s it is scary and wonderful – and then he sings ‘Take It Easy’ – and then I feel an emotion building in my chest as I remember every moment of my life this song has been there, from the day I stood alone on that corner in Winslow, Arizona looking for the woman in the flatbed Ford before rolling down to Flagstaff (after years of actually picturing a British made ‘flat Bedford’ van), or singing the song with Harry, or hearing Jackson Browne sing it in Symphony Hall… and then seeing Deacon sing his late father’s song and picturing my dad and my own son, created a sob in my chest and tears from my eyes that I could not stop or contain.  The emotion is a mixture of joy and sorrow and proof of the power of the song and the perfect performance.  Devastating in every definition of the word.  Heaven knows what the man sitting to my right is thinking as I wipe tears from my cheeks.

Having contained myself, I relax and enjoy the rest of the show, which is a lesson for any performer on how to put on a stunning gig:  the setlist is all killer and no filler, and hit and hit.  It is note perfect without being predictable and flat, the musicians on stage don’t throw themselves around or shout their introductions, they just talk to the crowd, like, well, adults.. but I suppose we are in AOR territory.  The audience are happy to be treated like grown ups too, and to sit and be entertained.  At first it seems as if the music is not inspiring anyone, as no one stands up until ‘The Boys of Summer’, which is very late in the set, but I think most of us are just in awe.  Rarely have I witnessed a more respectful audience, but I never got the impression anyone is not 100% feeling every note.  Certainly from Don Henley’s solo smash hit onwards the crowd mostly stay on their feet, and for those that aren’t they rise after each song for a deserved standing ovation.

The Eagles are all about great songs, sweet harmonies and scorching guitars; the bulk of the guitar solos are played with great respect for the originals by the truly magnificent Steuart Smith, whereas Joe Walsh is well within his rights as the author to do what the hell he likes and he does – embellishing lines, extending solos, and generally having a blast.  Of all the band members, he certainly is the most value for money, but never does it feel forced.  His infamous facial expressions are a natural extension of his playing and despite the cameramen focusing on his hands during his solos and displaying them on the enormous screens that surround the stage, I always want to see Joe’s face.  This is my only criticism really.  For the most part the visuals compliment the music without getting in the way, with scenes of stars, and roads, and deserts, and cities, and also showing the actual band sometimes.  Of course, these video screens are invaluable when you are a mile from the stage, so you can actually see your heroes, but all too often the director picks out only a small piece of the action to blend with the graphics.  Worst of all is the effects used during Joe Walsh’s guitar solos, where it seems they only had a video effect box from 1980’s Top of the Pops – and the biggest crime, hardly showing Joe’s gurning.  Bass player and vocalist Timothy B Schmit introduces Joe Walsh with a smile before his own stunning lead vocal performance on ‘Love Will Keep Us Alive ‘ by saying, you never know what Joe is gonna do.. but it’s always great.  Even after all this time Walsh seems to be a loose cannon, but aware that when your audience is paying over £80 a ticket, they want the players at the top of their game, and these guys really are.  They are certainly not acting their age, as they still play with the energy and passion of men half their age; in fact sometimes from a distance, you can’t tell the difference between Henley and the young Frey.

Special mention must be given to Vince Gill who more than makes up for the missing members from the original, or perhaps, more well known line ups.  His lead and backing vocals, as well as lead and rhythm guitars, fit into the Eagles’ sound effortlessly.  And I guess this is what the Eagles do, they create and perform impeccable music like it is the easiest thing in the world.. of course it is not, but these guys barely break a sweat.  For this reason there is not a spare seat in the Arena tonight and I feel that the last minute granting of our review pass is to do with the total lack of availability in the hall; this is the highest compliment that can be paid a band – not an empty seat or dry eye in the place.  A case in point is second encore ‘Desperado’, when the audience lights up their phones to make the Arena look like the Milky Way, I think of Chris and wonder what he’s doing now, and hope he’s okay.  I believe everyone here has similar thoughts floating through their minds and these songs have a way of unlocking feelings like nothing else can.

Highlights for me are Walsh’s glorious ‘Life’s Been Good’, the perfectly played solo on ‘One of These Nights’, and most of all, finally hearing the song played live that felt like my signature tune during my teenage years, ‘Take It to the Limit’, when all I wanted was a long straight road to escape down.  But I actually found out later that the best piece of advice I had been given was: ‘Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy’, and that’s still true today.  Thank you Eagles you have been the greatest of my teachers, long may you hold my hand down life’s highway.

 

Setlist:
Seven Bridges Road
Take It Easy
One of These Nights
Take It to the Limit
Tequila Sunrise
Witchy Woman
In the City
I Can’t Tell You Why
New Kid in Town
Peaceful Easy Feeling
Love Will Keep Us Alive
Lyin’ Eyes
Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away
Those Shoes
Already Gone
Walk Away
Life’s Been Good
The Boys of Summer
Heartache Tonight
Funk #49
Life in the Fast Lane

Encore:  
Hotel California

Encore 2:
Rocky Mountain Way
Desperado

Encore 3:
Best of My Love

Review: Alan Nielson

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