The Eagles
at TD Banknorth Garden,
Boston, Mass.
(30 July 2008)

In a recent cover story for Rolling Stone, music journalist Charles M. Young called the Eagles "one of rock's most contentiously dysfunctional families." Former guitarist Don Felder, who helped pen the song "Hotel California," described his time with the group as being both "heaven and hell." Current member Joe Walsh has said "it's a democracy with two dictators."

Those assessments don't come as news to Baby Boomers. Over the years, we've seen bands come and go as musical personalities have clashed, as addictions have taken over or as interests have merely faded away. Perhaps we harbor hope that -- at least, with the Eagles -- music can still transcend all, and that private problems can be pushed aside for the greater good of the product. We want to see them together again; we want to hear the old songs played the way we have them memorized; we want to make sure those guys are as real as we are and are not merely soulless robots. And that's why the Eagles can still sell out concerts.

This was the group's second night in Boston on the Long Road Out of Eden tour, launched not only to promote the double album released last year but also to revisit their most popular tunes of the past. Some folks in the audience hadn't seen them in person since the 1994 Hell Freezes Over tour. Others were seeing them -- miraculously -- for the very first time. "You never know how much longer they're going to do this," they sighed. Some, I'm sure, came just to hang out with fellow Survivors of the Seventies.

What they were treated to were 30 songs offered over the course of three hours, in a performance that was as meticulously scripted as any successful political campaign. Our heroes were dressed just as appropriately in natty pseudo-Beatle suits, with a consummate professional demeanor encasing each one of them. Backed by a variety of additional musicians, the core quartet nevertheless remains: handsome and headstrong Don Henley, soft-spoken soprano Timothy B. Schmit, wacky wild man Joe Walsh and Glenn Frey, the stoic and steadying stage manager, whose tasks are twofold: to make introductions, and to keep the competing energies funneled into a cohesive channel.

The group made the most of combining the old and the new, the familiar with the not-so, in a line-up that gave every vocalist as much equal time as possible. Glenn -- the only one of the four who has yet to hit 60 -- quickly made an age joke by welcoming us to "The Assisted Living Tour." First off were four songs from the new album: "How Long," "Busy Being Fabulous," "I Don't Want to Hear Anymore" and "Guilty of the Crime," which in order featured Glenn, Don, Timothy and Joe. It was a nice promotional smorgasbord that had some folks nodding in recognition and mouthing the words. Others listened politely, waiting to hear music they recognized.

After a lone trumpet solo by Bill Armstrong, the "Hotel California" graphic bounced onto the back screen, and the crowd went wild at the opening riff of one of the most familiar songs in rock history. "Fifth Eagle" Steuart Smith played Felder's original guitar lines to a tee (as he did all night long), and the sing-along began. Henley took his seat behind the drum set to sing and seemed natural doing both (in spite of Billy Joel's recent assessment that "singing drummers look weird"). Joe and Steuart's tag-team guitar picking was masterful and earned them cheers from the audience. So did the last line of the lyric, which still represents one of the best turns of phrase ever put to music.

That selection was followed by "Peaceful Easy Feeling," "I Can't Tell You Why," "Witchy Woman" and "Lyin' Eyes." During the course of the evening, whenever it was Glenn's turn at the microphone, it turned out he wasn't singing solo as much as he was leading a thousands-voice chorus. And he appeared not to mind at all. Don came out from behind the drums to give more attention to his "Boys of Summer." Joe broke loose on the guitar with "In the City." After Don stepped up and thanked people for their support for the local Walden Woods Project, the organization he started in 1990, the first set ended with "The Long Run."

We had a 20-minute intermission, and then it was time once again to feature the new album and to focus specifically on its vocals. From stools set up near the front of the stage, the men sat and sang in close harmony for "No More Walks in the Wood," "Waiting in the Weeds" and "No More Cloudy Days." The last one could have come straight from the late '70s, when even non-disco songs carried a certain beat in the background. For some reason, it reminds me faintly of Nicolette Larson's recording of "Lotta Love" (written by Neil Young) -- or at the very least, of the style of pop music produced back then. Maybe it was the sax solo that was the key triggering ingredient. Still: nothing beats seeing four men lined up, strumming acoustic guitars together in perfect rhythm.

The Long Road Out of Eden album has gotten mixed reviews from critics and fans since it came out in 2007. Listeners were used to their favorite Eagles songs being all about the human condition and relationships and love, both won and lost. Well, we -- and they -- are older now. We've grown up. We can talk about love, yes, but we have other issues to concern ourselves with. The new album offers such fresh stuff that it could take a good month of playing it over and over to get to the point of acceptance. (That's what it took for me.) And then to release it solely through Walmart outlets! Sure, the move made sense from both the distribution and financial standpoints. But from an environmental- or labor-related one? Not so much. That's when you realize that the Eagles are first and foremost businessmen, when it comes right down to it. No wonder they were wearing suits. But I digress.

Though Timothy's voice had been a tad shaky on his previous solos, he came through with clear bell tones on "Love Will Keep Us Alive." "Take It to the Limit" is the only classic Eagles song that sounds different now in live performance. Once part of Randy Meisner's duty, it now falls to Glenn to sing, and the arrangement has been bumped down the better part of an octave to accommodate him. Audience participation was encouraged, as the house lights came up each time for the last line of the chorus. We gave it our best.

Don followed with his more serious side and the new title track, "Long Road Out of Eden." A condemnation of politics, war, American apathy, corporate indifference and any other nasty Establishment-driven entity you can think of, the dirge lasts for about 10 minutes. He is nothing if not thorough. And yet the Eagles looked like executives themselves, the very bad boys they were chastising, up there in their Armanis. Maybe the guilt by association was too much. With a synchronicity that would have done Martha Graham proud, they took off their jackets as the applause wound down: their white shirts gleamed in the dark, reflecting the muted stage lighting. Now it WAS time to get down to business.

Glenn called up his Motor City roots by howling and growling through the macabre lines of another new song, "Somebody." "Down in the graveyard on that old tombstone / There's a big black crow and it's calling you home. / Somebody, somebody / You've got a feeling / Somebody's following you." When you think about it, the Eagles are the perfect foursome. Together, their voices mesh into united melodic perfection. As individuals, they have four separate styles that bring about four separate reactions. There's something for everyone, really. Don makes us think. Glenn makes us sing. Timothy makes us wonder how anyone can still hit those high notes. And Joe? Joe makes us ROCK.

And rock we did, to what I consider the first climax of the evening, "Walk Away." "Seems to me / You donŐt want to talk about it / Seems to me / You just turn your pretty head and walk away." He rocked the Garden and the fairly sedate crowd in it. Some rose to the occasion and clapped along. Some merely bobbed their heads. I don't know how anyone could ignore that infectious heartbeat. Joe's live version is much more personal and much "harder" than the old James Gang recording. I could easily listen to it and watch him play it, 20 times in a row, right now, and I would be a happy cat. He, however, might have other ideas.

After "One of These Nights," which featured Don doing double duty again on both vocals and drums, Glenn took a few minutes to introduce the supporting cast: Guitarist Steuart Smith; keyboardists Richard Davis and Will Hollis; pianist Michael Thompson; and a horn section consisting of Greg Smith on baritone sax, Bill Armstrong on trumpet, Christiaan Mostert on sax and Al Garth, who played sax and also added violin to select numbers. As Bay Stater and drummer/percussionist Scott Crago was introduced, he unfurled a paper banner that read "Elizabeth, Will You Marry Me?" The spotlights and in-house cameras zoomed in on the stands at the edge of the stage, and we all watched a woman in hysterics in the middle of the screen. Eventually she stood up, waved and said yes. (What else could she say?) Glenn muttered something about Scott expecting a raise as a result.

Joe came back with his Helmet Cam, which he has used on previous Eagles tours. In between the verses of "Life's Been Good to Me," he ran around the stage and aimed his head at the audience -- who then appeared, to everyone's delight, on the big screens. Sadly, no nearby woman took the opportunity to lift her blouse and flash Joe and everyone else, like someone did in Philadelphia for the tour opener. We were in Boston, after all. We were too far north for such behavior to be considered.

The music was still going steady and strong; yet at the same time, we felt it winding down. "Dirty Laundry" was followed by "Funk 49" and "Heartache Tonight," a sequence that finally got the crowd singing and clapping in time (again, at the end, with Glenn at the helm). Great guitar work on "Life in the Fast Lane" concluded the set.

But of course, that wasn't the end of the gig. The boys came back to rock us with "Rocky Mountain Way" and "All She Wants to Do is Dance." Again I was confounded by the number of people who didn't automatically jump up and dance to that last number. (I HAD to.) It seemed as if most of the folks up in the cheap seats decided just to sit in them for the duration. Maybe they were afraid of losing their balance and tumbling down the steep concrete stairways of the Garden balcony. Maybe we're getting too old for all of this excitement. The guys up on stage, however, were in it for the long haul.

It was the second encore that we were all waiting for: the anti-climatic climax, the one that ended the concert in the only way possible, in the only fashion it has for years: "Take it Easy" and "Desperado." Theme songs for a generation, offered up in their original form by the original artists, who were still going strong. How could it get any better than that?

This was my fifth Eagles concert. Time will tell if turns out to be my last. I have seven albums, five concert t-shirts and lots of memories to sustain me. Those who don't remember the 1970s are fated to relive them. And musically speaking, that may not be a bad thing.

by Corinne H. Smith
16 August 2008

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