"The History Of The Eagles" At Madison Square Garden, Friday, November 8th, 2013, Reviewed
History you want? “Thank you very much, this portion of the program is intended to give you some idea of what it was like back in the late summer of 1971. Anyway, we were just putting this band together and we use to sit around pretty much like this on road cases and amplifiers and we would just jam, trying to write songs and get to know each other. We used to rehearse in a little shack down in the San Fernando Valley. Just North West of Los Angeles. Anyway, it was just a wooden structure right next to a parking lot and a liquor store, which was convenient. And the little rehearsal Hall belonged to an old fellow named Mud, which is why it was called Mud’s. And we used to rehearse in there for six dollars an hour.”
If you found that paragraph in the slightest bit interesting, spoken by Don Henley between the first two songs at the Eagles retrospective performance Friday night, perhaps you’ll enjoy the Eagles on stage more than I did. The first song of the evening had been the slow country waltz “Saturday Night”, a song that almost had me leaving the Arena before the show had even kicked in, it was followed by Don’s historic commentary, a strangely irrelevant piece of history. Henley continued, “Earlier that year in April of 1971, Glenn and I had been on the road touring as part of Linda Ronstadt’s back up band…”
Of all the really big rock bands who ever existed, the Eagles were the worst. They matched the smugness of Arcade Fire with the compassion of Kanye West, while writing some really great songs but mostly adding soft rock to country rock and reaping the dividends with a number of huge huge songs, and albums, from 1971 – 1979, before exploding in a lethal mix of cocaine and ego. The 1980s found the guitarist Glenn Fry and drummer Don Henley forge successful solo careers. Those careers derailed and so the Eagles returned with a tour in 1994, a new album in 2007, and several tours since than complete with the most expensive tickets and the most arrogant attitudes in a business.
But I don’t dislike the Eagles with the intensity, Steve Crawford portrayed in his review. I would have left it to Steve Crawford, here, whose review included the legend that Henley sounded like “a castrated whale, if I did. Of their first four albums only Desperado is a dog with fleas and On The Border includes a Tom Waits song. After that you are picking your way through to the hits but at least on On The Border you can believe Bernie Leadon (back again for the current tour)) once played with the likes of Gene Clark and Gram Parsons.
On stage, the more or less chronological order means the first half of the show has its moments. They play all 10 of their superb Greatest Hits Blue Album, and while I admit that nostalgia infects my opinion of the bands earliest songs and, really, who takes Glenn Fry when you can have Roger McGuinn? Still, the “Witchy Woman” bass lick has never sounded better and show me a song as great as “The Best Of My Love” and I’ll show you GP.
But they are a terrible live band and the only shouting from the audience I can hear are the screams to turn on the monitors. Glenn gives fitness a band name, Bernie and Don look like your Grandpa, and the music is dead from the waist down. But as an exercise in refined 1970s nostalgia, I myself went because I would claim they have maybe 13 songs, on my personal soundtrack of the heart, they have earned some attention. I left early because I realized they’d played most of those songs before the intermission.
Once the Eagles get past “Doolin’ Danton”, they pick it up a notch for five country rock songs that actually move (a little). The five songs add up to a stirring 30 minutes: “Already Gone”, “The Best Of My Love:, “Lyin’ Eyes”, “One Of These Nights” and “Take It To The Limit” -that’s a pretty impressive run of country rockers and if they never came close to it again, it is the reason -along with the dreaded “Hotel California”, we are here today. “Lyin’ Eyes”, written for Glenn’s first wife “plaintiff”, he cracks is especially good and you can exactly here why “The Best Of My Love” was pushed to the top of the charts by a random woman requesting it at a radio station in Grand Rapids and the song taking off. In 2013 you can get 100 million hits for you song on Youtube and still not sell 100,000 copies. And the show is doing what it is meant to do for me, and what I really don’t go to concerts for, I’m again that 18 year old guy watching tequila sunrises in Beirut before the civil war destroyed the country. My old friends and family members, so many dead now, get to come back for one last bow and the Mediterranean is before me, a girl named Suzanne is standing next to me, and it is getting to be morning.
The trick with countries in the middle of Civil Wars is the same as the trick with the Eagle: knowing when to get up and leave. The second half of the show plunders the post Greatest Hits, where whatever minimal charm the snide smelly superstars ever had was lost for good. So I left. It you want a more thorough review here is Steve’s again. But if you are of a certain age, and a certain middle class, and if you can stomach the egotism, you can hear some good songs you remember from your youth by the original performers… for $200.