August 30, 2021
Concert Review: The Eagles Remain the Best At What They Do
Christopher Ehlers READ TIME: 4 MIN.
There aren't too many classic rock bands who can still do what the Eagles do, and I don't just mean sell out arena concerts year after year. When you consider all the bands that have come and gone since Don Henley and Glenn Frey formed the Eagles in 1971, it's an incredible feat that they continue to be one of America's hottest touring bands, though perhaps not surprising for a band who has the number one and number three bestselling albums of all time. But what is an impressive feat is that they continue to perform at such a high level – with their flawless musicianship apparent at every turn – that it's impossible not to be blinded by the star power of what I will go ahead and call the greatest American band of all time.
After a bitter breakup, a 14-year hiatus from performing, the death of Glenn Frey, and a global pandemic, The Eagles know a thing or two about being in flux. So it's no surprise that after taking a forced 17 month hiatus because of the pandemic, they returned to Madison Square Garden with a vengeance, sounding as perfect as they always have, doing a three-plus hour, 31 song, career-spanning set that shows exactly why, after 50 years, the Eagles remain the gold standard.
This 2021 tour, which was scrapped prematurely last year, will snake its way around the country, wrapping up in Seattle in November. It's a two-act evening, appropriate for the band's innate theatricality, that starts with the "Hotel California" album played start to finish, followed by a sprawling greatest hits set. And speaking of theatricality, there's a full orchestra and choir that rise up from underneath the stage for "Wasted Time," "The Last Resort," and a show-stopping "Desperado." What's more, Edward James Norman – original arranger and conductor for three Eagles albums including "Hotel California" – led the orchestra. As you can see, the Eagles don't scrimp on details.
The most striking thing about the Eagles has always been their sound, that carefully curated, painstakingly protected sound, and the most striking thing about their concerts five decades later is still that sound: by and large, they sound exactly the same as they always have. Henley's vocals are virtually unchanged, as is Walsh's insane guitar skills; the two longest standing Eagles, it's no surprise that Henley and Walsh emerge as the MVP's.
But the newest Eagles are indispensable as well: Vince Gill – who Henley called one of America's best singer/songwriters – makes it hard to imagine that he hasn't always been an Eagle: his "Take It to the Limit" is just as good as Randy Meisner's was. And speaking of replacements, there's no addition more exciting than Deacon Frey, who joined the band in 2017 after the death of his father, Glenn. Frey's 'Take It Easy," "Peaceful Easy Feeling," and "Already Gone" are among the most exciting of the evening.
"It's good to be here," said Henley to the fully-vaccinated crowd. "At this stage of the game, it's good to be anywhere," he quipped. "In fact, it was 50 years ago this month that his daddy (referencing Deacon) turned to me and said, 'I want to start a group.' Thank you for your support all these years."
Joe Walsh marked the passing of the years in a different way: "It's a lot more fun to be 20 in the '70s than 70 in the '20s," he joked to a cheering crowd. Walsh, who in his younger days was rock's most famous hotel trasher, may have cleaned up his act over the years – and an ultimatum from the band years ago may have saved his life – but he is still a firecracker, and they don't make 'em like Joe Walsh anymore. Judging from the teenagers and 20-somethings I saw mouthing every word to his songs, he is still an idol, tearing through "Walk Away," "Life's Been Good," "Funk #49," and "Rocky Mountain Way" with the timeless electricity that only a rock legend could manage.
They ended on something of a somber note, dedicating "Best of My Love" to two other legends, Don Everly of The Everly Brothers – who had a big influence on the Eagles – and Charlie Watts of The Rolling Stones. "Sing it so they can both hear you," he instructed the audience.
And sing it they did, with thousands of cell phones illuminating Madison Square Garden. "We used to do that with matches," my dad leaned over to me and said. That's how long the Eagles have been at this: long enough not only for iPhones to surpass matches as the accepted form of audience illumination, but long enough for people of entirely different generations to flock to their concerts and mouth every word to every song.
There's no doubt that the Eagles are the best at what they do. Long may they reign.
For a complete list of upcoming tour dates by the Eagles,