Timely is my middle name so while we’re talking Glenn Frey and Eagles here’s a couple of reviews from their (as it turns out) last two tours to Australia and a strange interview with the one widely liked Eagle.
NOVEMBER 30, 2010
What a strange bird this show was. For a long time it was a case of band and audience who deserved it each or who could blame each other, if either could muster the energy. Then it was a case of be careful what you wish for with a climax of if not mixed then certainly complicated blessings.
On one side was a dedicated but passive audience, waiting to be entertained, to be “given” a show while giving almost no energy back themselves. Though they politely greeted the long blocs of newish songs which opened both sets (Busy Being Fabulous and Guilty Of The Crime rising above the recorded versions) and whooped appropriately at the end of each of the classic songs that followed, in between they sat, smiled contentedly and received.
On the other side was a business-like band of musicians who almost grimly went about their work in the first half, professionally deploying tunes and offering near-perfect harmonies as the four frontmen’s occasionally vulnerable voices (Timothy B Schmidt the most worrying in his signature I Can’t Tell You Why) were augmented by four more voices from the highly efficient and skillful backing band. All done well but there was nothing you could call zeal.
Apart from some well rehearsed lines from Glenn Frey, they barely spoke, with Don Henley saying his first word one hour in and that was to comment on how “quiet” the audience was. Sure the audience wasn’t exactly energised but who could blame them when there was a complete absence of passion in front of them. Business is business but this business is also meant to be show business isn’t it?
During this pleasant but tepid hour it was hard to remember that the Eagles in their pomp had been a vibrant and very good rock band whose early country flavours were only part of the deal. But relief for those a little harshed by the mellow, like the two chattering buffoons behind me who had been calling out for Joe Walsh to “rock out”, came midway through the much longer second set when hardly essential songs Life’s Been Good To Me, Dirty Laundry and Funk 49 were turned into at first solid then extravagant and then finally over-indulged explorations. While this too eventually grew boring as the minutes ticked away during the guitar workouts at least the band had rediscovered something like its mojo, though you could see a good portion of the room sink into their seats a bit wondering when Take It Easy would arrive (at the beginning of the encore as it turns out) and if they’d get to the carpark before midnight.
With five all but sold out shows in Sydney alone on this trip, the Eagles are really impervious to criticism, as evidenced by the fact they got the obligatory standing ovation. But with a catalogue this deep and, let’s be fair, this good, a bit of self reflection wouldn’t hurt about exactly what they are offering on stage and why.
MARCH 2, 2015
Qantas Credit Union Arena
History is bunk? Maybe. A tour called History Of The Eagles suggests that at the very least we can say that the Eagles’ history is malleable in this musical but also oral telling – between songs on stage and in some to-camera pieces shown on video screens – as songs emerge more or less chronologically. (We start with Saturday Night and Train Leaves Here This Morning and end the set proper 150 minutes later with Life In The Fast Lane.)
So history is written by the victors? Most definitely. And none are more victorious – and few feel as little need to hide a little smugness in that victory – than Don Henley and Glenn Frey who have not just a deep catalogue of hits, classics and iconic songs but the ability to shape how that victory (and the contributions of others) is portrayed. This is evident from the get-go, an opening duet – with either off-stage or on-tape contributions of extra instruments: it’s never entirely clear which – that says it started with us and it remains us.
You wouldn’t call it half truths, necessarily, though Sister Ferdinand did drum into me early on in life that a lie of omission is as bad as one of commission – and, like songs that stick in your memory from your teen/formative years, those early lessons are hard to shake. (Is that why the night’s most stellar moments were in the encore when a concise but on-point Hotel California and beautifully harmonised Take It Easy and Desperado balanced memories and modern sensibilities as the game clock ticked past three hours?)
So while bringing back foundation member Bernie Leadon works well, leaving out one troublesome band mate altogether (Don Felder), passing over another in a single line (founding member Randy Meissner), not quite acknowledging the co-writer of one of those hits (Jackson Browne) and weirdly never explaining the how and when of one crucial member’s entry to the band, even though he’s standing beside you from the fifth song onwards (oh look there’s Joe Walsh) is being at least as relaxed with facts as you are with an opening set of laidback country rock that took it very, very easy indeed.
You wouldn’t say it was outright lies either, for as Robbie Williams and Gary Barlow explained in their autobiographical song Shame “well there’s three versions of this story, yours, mine and then the truth”. And as anyone who has watched the fascinating documentary which gave this tour its name knows, everyone who has been in or near the Eagles has their truth. And their bitterness. And their regrets.
Oh, and their harmonies. Which were uniformly great, with up to nine voices locked in, though this time they weren’t the only story. Unlike the tour five years ago – when ennui reigned on stage, inertia reigned off-stage and everything was buried in a large vocal contribution from the expanded “backing band” – individual strengths and weaknesses of Henley, Frey, Timothy B. Schmit, Leadon and Walsh were allowed to show through.
This vocal openness was – along with a couple of songs, such as Rocky Mountain Way, where guitar showmanship was allowed to go on a bit too long – a rare sliver of imperfection, of creases in the smooth telling of this history. You might even call it truth.
INTERVIEW PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 2010
If you’re reading about the Eagles the chances are you’re reading about Joe Walsh. Unlike his more famous/intense/self absorbed (take your pick), band mates Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Timothy B. Schmit, the affable Walsh is happy to talk and have a laugh. Even if it’s sometimes at his own expense. Hey what does he care if you’re laughing at him sometimes and not with him. when the Eagles can sell out a tour of Australia before your cynical types can even write the words country rock, cocaine and California.
So it is Walsh on the end of the line exchanging pleasantries and asking me if I can hear him okay. Yes, I reply, perfectly; luckily I haven’t had to endure 40 years of playing loud rock ‘n’ roll in front of big ass speakers.
“Can you say that again,” the 63-year-old asks. Seriously.
Speaking of the years, from my vast knowledge of the field of marriage counsellors, gleaned from many years of television watching, the experts talk about enlivening 20 and 30-year-old marriages with devices such as a second honeymoon or role reversals or couples retreats. What would Joe Walsh advise people who have been playing together for 20 or 30 or, heaven forbid, 40 years, do to keep their band fresh?
“Well, what works best for us is to truly accept everybody as they are, instead of taking inventories about how you would like them to be. And everybody giving each other their own space,” he says. “When we coexist and stay out of each other’s business and when we just really all show up on stage and focus, we do love to play together. When we give each other lots of room so we don’t get on each other’s nerves and when we stop arguing about everything, that’s the secret of longevity.”
Having seen hell freeze over when they reformed after 14 sometimes acrimonious years apart (Henley famously once saying that a reformation would only happen “when hell freezes over”), it doesn’t look like this band will ever stop playing. No matter how many times a new generation of upstart bands and critics call for it.
“We’ve still got it. And none of us know what else we would do,” Walsh laughs. “We are lucky we are not athletes because we would not have any knees left.”
Although Walsh says “it’s kind of uncharted territory for rock ‘n’ rollers to hit their 60s” with or without their original knees, as any promoter touring baby boomer acts to full stadiums knows, a rock band in their 60s is in the prime of their (commercial) life.
And this is a very efficient commercial enterprise. As Walsh explains, “we all have assignments in Eagles songs, we all know what to do and everybody has very carefully thought out, planned out parts to play and sing” and risk is not a high.
Nonetheless, Walsh believes the audience can tell if they are having a better than average night or breaking the mould. I wonder if that is true given at this point in their career, with this level of rusted on support and automatic responses like sold-out shows and standing ovations, whether this is an audience that wants variety over familiarity.
“I think they come in pretty much to hear the hits. They want to hear the catalogue and have favourite songs they want included,” Walsh concedes.
Still, it’s not all old and familiar. Since their last tour here the Eagles released Long Road Out Of Eden, an album of new material which sold respectably, so at least some of the fans at the concerts might want to hear some of the five or six new songs in the set recorded after 1980. Mind you, their catalogue is deep enough that the Eagles could probably play three nights in a row without repeating a song.
That could be the next step for the Eagles, create their own Woodstock: Eaglestock. Of course on the fourth day they might be near death, but what a way to go playing a hundred of your songs in one long weekend blast.
“We’d have to go and learn some of them again,” Walsh growls. “Just because you wrote ‘em, don’t mean you can play ‘em.”