Late in the Eagles’ sterling showcase at the Smoothie King Center on Saturday, Don Henley stood front and center for his 1984 solo hit “The Boys of Summer.” His voice essentially unchanged, he sang without irony, “Don’t look back, you can never look back.”
Ignoring his own advice, he and his bandmates spent nearly three hours onstage looking back.
And nostalgia never sounded so good.
Henley and bassist/vocalist Timothy B. Schmit are 75. Guitarist/vocalist Joe Walsh, the only other remaining bandmember from the Eagles’ late-‘70s heyday, turned 75 the day after the New Orleans show. “I had a lot more fun being in my 20s in the ‘70s than being in my seventies in the ‘20s,” Walsh cracked.
They opened the show with a complete performance of “Hotel California,” the 1976 opus that ranks as one of the best-selling albums of all time. To kick it off, an actor in a cloak dramatically strode across the stage to a turntable, where he contemplated a vinyl copy of the album before cueing up Side One. Following “Wasted Time,” a woman in a black dress flipped the album over to Side Two.
The overall production was lavish, from the window pane-like video screens — which switched to close-ups of the guitarists’ hands during solos — to the lights. An orchestra comprised of members of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra rose up on a lift at the rear of the stage for “Wasted Time;” they would come and go throughout the show.
Vince Gill was a brilliant choice to help fill the void left by Glenn Frey’s 2016 passing. He arrived with his own star power, thanks to his long career. His Nashville pedigree dovetails nicely with the Eagles’ California country aesthetic. And in addition to being a first-rate guitarist, his tenor is reminiscent of Frey’s, as evidenced on “New Kid in Town” and elsewhere.
Performing “Hotel California” in its entirety meant dusting off the three album tracks that weren’t hit singles. Walsh sang lead on “Pretty Maids All in a Row,” arguably the weakest of the three. Gill took over the country-flavored “Try and Love Again.” The two dozen members of the Frazier Singers choir helped out on “The Last Resort.”
No one in the band as much as said hello to the audience until after “Hotel California” was finished. Then Henley got chatty, in a cranky old dude kind of way.
Signs posted at arena entrances requested that fans not take cellphone videos. Before leaving the stage for a 20-minute intermission, Henley pointed to someone in the suite-level seats and warned, “If you don’t turn it off, I’m going to come up there and shove it up your butt.”
Later, in the show’s second half, he apologized for his outburst, saying he’d been “misinformed:” “You get to be crotchety when you’re 75 years old.”
He didn’t give himself a free pass on anything else. He played drums while singing lead on “One of These Nights” and other songs. He switched to percussion for the heavier songs or stepped up front to play guitar and sing, letting one of the band’s auxiliary musicians take over on drums.
With the Eagles, harmonies and guitar solos are expected to be letter-perfect, and they were, remarkably so, on “Seven Bridges Road,” “Lyin’ Eyes” and elsewhere. But the musicians occasionally found space to stretch out. Walsh and Steuart Smith affixed a coda of bonus guitar riffing onto “Life in the Fast Lane.”
Twenty years ago, Smith replaced Don Felder as the Eagles’ lead guitarist. His taste, touch and tone were impeccable, from the moment he opened Saturday’s show with a pristine recreation of the “Hotel California” title track’s chiming double-neck guitar passage. His solo in “I Can’t Tell You Why” was lovely and delicate.
During the Eagles’ 2018 tour, Glenn Frey’s son Deacon spent the entire show onstage with his father’s old band. This time around, Deacon was relegated to “special guest” status, coming out for only a handful of songs.
When he did, he was a human time capsule: with his jeans, T-shirt, dark, shoulder-length hair and youth, he looked like a circa-1977 Eagle. Acoustic guitar in hand, Deacon evoked the spirit of his old man as the lead voice on a sparkling “Take It Easy” and a lovely “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” He then disappeared until the encore.
It was left to Gill to handle Glenn Frey’s vocals on “Tequila Sunrise,” “Lyin’ Eyes” and elsewhere. “Vince is going to sing one right now and I’m betting you’re going to sing it with him,” Henley said ahead of “Take It to the Limit.”
He was right. With its five-part harmonies, sweeping strings courtesy of the LPO and Gill holding notes for emphasis, “Take It to the Limit” was sumptuous.
Walsh, per usual, provided comic relief. Referencing his milestone birthday, he quipped, “There is no ’75 For Dummies.’ I looked.” In his “Life’s Been Good,” instead of “they write me letters/tell me I’m great,” he sang, “They write me emails.” He and Gill squared off, trading licks, in “Funk #49.” In “Rocky Mountain Way,” the guitars were turned up all the way.
In the encore, the LPO graced “Desperado.” Henley stretched out the “love” in the final “you better let somebody love you,” signaling the audience to sing the line back to him.
That would have made a fine ending. But they then fired up an all-out “Already Gone,” with its soaring harmonies. Henley invited the audience to join in on “Best of My Love” and “sing it for Glenn.” They finally wrapped up with a stab at Fats Domino’s “Walking to New Orleans,” a song Henley heard growing up in East Texas via WNOE’s powerful signal.
Before “Best of My Love,” Henley noted that 2022 marked the 50th anniversary of the Eagles. In that time, “there’s been lots of changes,” he said, citing examples of favorite New Orleans restaurants: “K-Paul’s is gone. Uglesich’s is gone.”
“But,” he continued, “these songs are still here.”
And in the Eagles’ capable, weathered hands, they still sound fantastic.
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