E-A-G-L-E-S … Eagles!
No, not those Eagles. The Eagles that took flight at the sports complex in South Philadelphia on Monday night were the 1970s Southern California rock band Eagles — the group originally led by Don Henley and Glenn Frey. They are the only act in pop music history to count two of their albums on the list of the 10 best sellers of all time.
One of those is Hotel California, the 1976 release about decadence and burnout and the American dream coming to a dead end in the nation’s bicentennial year in cocaine-fueled life-in-the-fast-lane Los Angeles.
That’s the one with the 6 1/2-minute title song with “warm smell of colitas rising up in the air” and an epic guitar coda that’s been a de rigueur aspiration for countless cover bands for nearly a half century.
Not to mention the Henley-sung final line that should have served as a warning to the band and every other showbiz lifer pretending to step off the stage once and for all: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”
Thus it was Hotel California that had brought Eagles back to life and found the band at an all-but-sold-out Wells Fargo Center on Monday. There they played the album in order in its entirety, followed by nearly two hours of greatest hits, including every cut on Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975), the one even-bigger selling Eagles album.
So at this late date — 42 years after they first called it quits — who are the Eagles?
At the Wells Fargo, the core group was drummer and singer Henley, guitarist Joe Walsh, and longtime bassist Timothy B. Schmit, plus Vince Gill, the country singer-guitarist who’s taken Frey’s position at stage right and is a most welcome addition.
Introduced by Henley as “one of America’s finest singer-songwriters,” Gill took his first star with honeyed tenor voice on “New Kid in Town.”
That was apt since, at 64, he’s approximately a decade younger than the other principals in the band. He sparkled vocally on that Hotel cut, as he did later in the evening on “Take It Easy” and “Take It To the Limit.” And when called upon, Gill showed what an underrated guitar player he is, as he did on the 1970 James Gang hit “Funk #49” in which he squared off with Walsh, who added silliness and slide guitar firepower throughout the evening.
In addition to Gill, the band on Monday was also joined by auxiliary players, including Steuart Smith, their longtime touring guitarist who replaced Don Felder in 2001, and who teamed with Walsh on the aforementioned Hotel California coda.
On select songs, the band was joined by even more musicians. For Hotel’s “Wasted Time” and its instrumental reprise, three dozen string players, whom Henley called “the Northeast Corridor Orchestra,” appeared.
(If you added up all the masks on the back of the stage, it might have totaled more than those worn by all audience members.)
And on Hotel’s elegiac “The Last Resort,” the band and orchestra members were joined by the yellow-robed, 21-member University of the Arts Chorus, which helped give the album closer its aimed-for air of broken dream significance.
For a band with so many millions of fans whose songs’ chief characteristic is their pleasantness, Eagles have never had a shortage of detractors. For some it’s the music’s peaceful, easy, anodyne quality.
For me, it’s that combined with the casual misogyny that courses through their catalog, particularly the greatest-hits portion. So many witchy women who can’t hide their “Lyin’ Eyes,” and wounded male narrators who know all too well “what a woman will do to your soul.”
If there are seven women on the mind of an Eagle — as in “Take It Easy,” written by Frey and Jackson Browne — he counts himself lucky if one wants to be his friend.
Of course, all of those songs are expertly crafted and forever memorable, and for rock fans of a certain age, likely to be burned in your brain, even if you haven’t played an Eagles album in decades.
On Monday, they were performed with verve and precision in a first-class production that only occasionally dragged. Harmonies were sharp and highlights abounded, whether it was a stomping “Heartache Tonight,” with Gill taking the lead, or Walsh’s discordant “Rocky Mountain Way,” or Schmit’s delicate “I Can’t Tell You Why,” a yacht rock masterpiece unlike any of the band’s other signature songs.
Early in the evening, Henley, whose always slightly raspy vocals were strong and expressive all night long, said that the band hoped to bring the audience “a three-hour vacation from all the chaos and discord going on out there.” By those standards, even Eagles haters would have to admit the Hotel California tour succeeded.
Eagles’ ‘Hotel California’ concert set list in Philadelphia
“New Kid in Town”
“Life in the Fast Lane”
“Victim of Love”
“Pretty Maids All in a Row”
“Try and Love Again”
“The Last Resort”
“Seven Bridges Road”
“Take It Easy”
“One of These Nights”
“Take It to the Limit”
“Peaceful Easy Feeling”
“In the City”
“I Can’t Tell You Why”
“Life’s Been Good”
Rocky Mountain Way
“The Boys of Summer”
“Best of My Love”