As they did in 2017, co-founder Don Henley and longtimers Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit recruited the talents of Vince Gill and Deacon Frey, son of deceased founding member Glenn, for a musical assist. But this time the Eagles set an even grander goal – performing "Hotel California" in its entirety with the augmentation of an orchestra and choir.
Eagles bassist Timothy B. Schmit and drummer/guitarist Don Henley at State Farm Arena on Feb. 7, 2020. Photo: Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com
The show is divided into two sets – this epic run through the third best-selling album in U.S. history (26 million copies) followed by, as Henley said with one of his wry grins, "Everything else we know." Or, rather, everything from the best-selling album in U.S. history (38 million copies), the Eagles' "Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975)," and more songs.
A brief aside: there is a no photo/video policy at these shows. Since ushers were forced to engage in an exhausting game of phone whack-a-mole with audience members To Whom the Rules Never Apply, we'll just ask on their behalf…is it really that difficult to adhere to the band's request and resist the urge to document everything? Let's try living in the moment again. You know, like during concerts in the '70s.
» PHOTOS: More scenes from Friday night’s show
So back to that decade…the unveiling of “Hotel California” arrived with a bit of theatrical flourish. Claps of thunder, a cape-clad bellhop striding across the stage to place the vinyl on a turntable and drop the needle and, as the curtain crept upward, the indelible Don Felder-written guitar opening, played as it has been since 2001 by ace Steuart Smith.
Henley, parked behind his drum kit, where he would trade off throughout the night with percussionist Scott Crago, steered the gentle chug of the title song as video screens offered a sweeping projection of the album cover’s famed shot of the Beverly Hills Hotel.
The Eagles’ set is uncluttered and massive, with video screens behind and flanking the stage and layers of lighting that wouldn’t seem misplaced in a stadium setting.
Legendary singer/guitarist Vince Gill is back with the Eagles for a second round in 2020. He started playing live with the band in 2017. Photo: Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com
During their opening salvo of songs – “Hotel California,” “New Kid in Town” (sung, in a cute twist, by guitar wizard/teddy bear Gill, who smiled through the lyrics at the cheer that greeted his first utterance) and “Life in the Fast Lane” (with Henley joining the frontline on guitar) – fans were not only immediately reminded of the potency of the band’s catalog, but treated to gleaming production.
Those wondering where this oft-mentioned orchestra and choir were stashed received their answer when, in the middle of “Wasted Time,” a platform rose from behind the stage to showcase the players Henley introduced as the “Atlanta orchestra.” Those fabulous musicians would pop back throughout the concert, a lush backdrop to Gill’s flawless vocal on “Take it to the Limit” (a song so ideal for him, it could have come from Pure Prairie League) and Henley’s “Desperado” among their assignments.
But coupled with a choir announced as “the Rambling Wrecks from Georgia Tech,” the orchestra added a stirring coating to “The Last Resort,” which also spotlighted Henley’s gift as a singer. His delivery has always been about emotion, not technical proficiency, and here in the spotlight, he thrived.
The lovably kooky Joe Walsh (left) and guitarist Steuart Smith perform "Hotel California" during the Eagles' Feb. 7, 2020 stop at State Farm Arena.Photo: Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com
Henley also wasn’t exaggerating when he said the band would perform “everything we know,” and with a 32-song set list, there was zero room for any Eagles fan to complain. “We’re gonna wear your asses out,” he joked as the official welcome to the second set, and by the time a five-piece horn section appeared for “Witchy Woman,” helping to see-saw the song between ominous thump and Memphis soul swinger, you got the feeling he might be right.
From the beautifully layered harmonies of “Seven Bridges Road” - with everyone but Schmit wielding an acoustic guitar - to Frey’s lovely “Take it Easy,” his timbre and shy smile a loving reminder of his father, to Schmit’s ingrained bass slides and the pristine high range vocals of everyone onstage during “One of These Nights,” this was Eagles nirvana.
The Eagles were never a flashy band, focused more on solid melodies, introspective lyrics and sublime harmonies with the quirky kick of Walsh added for the “Hotel California” album.
The Eagles played the first of three shows at State Farm Arena on Feb. 7, 2020. This was also the kickoff of the band's "Hotel California" tour. Photo: Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com
That kinetic livewire, his face a Silly Putty masterpiece, is still the guy who might stick to the script or just wander into his own musical moment. The extended jam that accentuated “In the City,” with Walsh and Smith trading licks, was as gratifying as listening to his eccentric enunciation, another rock hallmark never to be duplicated.
In addition to the abundant Eagles canon, the band also stormed through “Walk Away” and “Funk #49” from Walsh’s pre-Eagles James Gang and adroitly tackled “The Boys of Summer,” a wistful contribution from Henley’s ample solo career.
Yes, nostalgia is an engine of these shows, as is some melancholia at the loss of Glenn Frey, whose smiling face was shown after his son honored his legacy with “Peaceful Easy Feeling.”
But sometimes you just need a reminder of the past.
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