February 25, 2020
The Eagles in Concert – 48 Years & Still Going Strong
Christopher Ehlers READ TIME: 4 MIN.
Whether you'd call the Eagles the greatest American band of all time or not, there's no arguing with the numbers: they hold the number one and three spots on the list of best-selling albums in the United States with "Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975)" and "Hotel California," with the former also carrying the distinction of being the best-selling album of the 20th century. With over 200 million albums sold worldwide, the Eagles are one of the most beloved and enduring American rock 'n' roll creations ever.
Founded by Glenn Frey and Don Henley in Los Angeles in 1971 (they met playing backup for Linda Ronstadt), the Eagles were formed with the goal of becoming the band of their time. But as Frey later said, they wound up creating a band for all time.
It's been 48 years since the Eagles released "Take It Easy," their first single off of their first album. Over those 48 years, the band has had enough ups and downs – firings, replacements, breakups, trashed hotel rooms, and even a death – to make the fact that they're still selling out arena concerts in 2020 all the more amazing. Although Frey isn't with us any longer – he died in 2016 – the band is still proving Frey right with their "Hotel California 2020 Tour," which will conclude stateside in April before making stops in Los Cabos and London.
There's no title more apt than "band of all time" that I can give the Eagles after sitting through their 32-song, three hour-long concert, which played three sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden this week. What is there to say about a band that has provided so many of us with the soundtrack of our lives?
Well, the first thing that must be said is that they sound exactly, painstakingly, like they always have. Some have complained about the lack of spontaneity in an Eagles concert, but the band has always – famously so – insisted that their live shows sound as close to their recorded albums as possible. The Eagles have always been this way. It's always been about the sound: That's why Bernie Leadon left and Joe Walsh came crashing in, and why Timothy B. Schmit was hired when Randy Meisner left. Aside from being one of the greatest songwriting duos of all time, Henley and Frey were always sticklers for "the Eagles sound," holding themselves and their bandmates to a high standard that persisted even when then band was falling apart (they broke up in 1980, and did not reunite until 1994).
That high standard remains with the two newest members of the band, who were hired after the death of Frey, despite Henley telling the Washington Post in 2016 that the Eagles died with Glenn Frey. Country singer Vince Gill and Glenn Frey's 24-year-old son, Deacon, are the two newest members of the Eagles, joining Henley, Walsh, and Schmit. The presence of Deacon adds a dimension to the proceedings that is both fresh and familiar, and his "Take It Easy" and "Already Gone" received instant standing ovations. To add to the symmetry of all this, Deacon is exactly the same age as his father was when he co-founded the Eagles.
"Hotel California" is played in its entirety during the show's first set, something the band did for the first time only last year. Walsh rips through the title track's guitar riffs with unbelievable dexterity and precision, and Henley's vocals seem unchanged by time, especially in "Wasted Time" and "The Last Resort," which are performed with a full orchestra that rises up from underneath the stage, infusing the evening with a touch of class and a great deal of drama.
"We're gonna take about a 10 or 15 minute break," said Henley at the conclusion of the first set. "Because we have to," he added dryly. "And then we're going to come back and play everything else we know." And that's exactly what they did.
The 22-song greatest hits setlist – which also included some James Gang and Joe Walsh tracks, in addition to Don Henley's gloriously 80s earworm "The Boys of Summer" – is chock full of so much beloved music that the first few notes of each song elicit affectionate "ooohs" from the adoring crowd.
"Witchy Woman" had one of the loudest audience reactions of the evening, as did "Lyin' Eyes" and "Heartache Tonight," with Gill providing the vocals for the latter two, sliding flawlessly into the music to the point that it's easy to forget that they aren't his songs. Schmidt's disarmingly gentle "I Can't Tell You Why" was another highlight, as was "Desperado," which brought back the orchestra one more time.
My sole gripe is something that has nothing to do with the concert at all: The Eagles have a bizarrely strict policy that bans photographs and video recording, something that is practically unheard of (and unenforceable) at large arena concerts with crowds upwards of 13,000. With no announcement, the vast majority of concertgoers seemed to be unaware of this policy, and instead, Madison Square Garden security prowled up and down the aisles to the point of being a total distraction. In my opinion, if someone is shelling out hundreds of dollars to see their favorite band (the average Eagles ticket costs between $225 and $495), then let them take a 30 second video of their favorite song. I assure you, security guards circling like vultures is far more damaging to the experience.
Regardless, the Eagles have been the best at what they do for more than five decades now, and to see them work their magic live is to not only witness living history, but to see – up close and personal – what makes them so damn good. While Henley and Walsh continue to do most of the heavy lifting – and their gifts haven't softened a bit over the years – I'd say that the star of the Eagles in 2020 is Deacon Frey, who just might be the key to keeping the Eagles going for another 50 years.
"Hello everybody," Deacon said to a screaming crowd at one point. "Keep doing that, that helps me out a lot," he added, shyly. "This is so amazing to me. I don't know how to describe it, really."
The feeling's mutual, Deacon.
For more on The Eagles, including upcoming dates on their current tour, visit the group's website.