30 September 2017, Safeco Field, Seattle, WA
I was a conscientious objector and then was most contrite. I made a huge deal about not wanting to see the Eagles continue without Glenn Frey, especially in such a colossal and overly expensive way, so I decided to boycott the Classic West Festival that played right in my vicinity in Los Angeles in July. And then on the day I was hopelessly depressed about not being there, on missing what was going to be a historic event. So my Yom Kippur atonement involved leaving the glorious late summer heat of LA for a chilly weekend in Seattle to catch the Eagles (and Doobie Brothers) at Safeco Field for their Classic Northwest appearance, a scaled-back version of the big two-day Classic Fests that played in Los Angeles and New York in July.
It was with some justification that I found The Classic West (and Classic East in New York) repugnant, and I wrote about that here. The ridiculously high prices when tickets first went on sale and the fact that five out of the six bands weren’t worth the ordeal of being in such huge crowds in a hot stadium kept me away. But not being present for the first Eagles show since Glenn’s passing, not witnessing his son Deacon’s first public performance with his dad’s band, was my loss. So I decided that when more shows were announced, I’d find a way to be there. Seattle being on the same coast as me was a nice enticement, too.
To say The Classic Northwest was a scaled-back version of the original festival is an understatement. It was “The Classic” in name only, as it wasn’t even a one-day fest. (It became obvious why Steely Dan was not included in the Seattle line up, once the sad news of Walter Becker’s demise came through last month.) This was an evening concert with two bands only, but fortunately the only two bands that I was interested in seeing anyway. It was the Doobie Brothers opening and the Eagles as the main act.
But there was nothing scaled back about either band’s performance. The Doobies are ever the good time powerhouse rockers and they can fill up a big stage with their presence and a stadium with their sound effortlessly. And the Eagles, with their updated configuration, have managed to pull off what I had believed to be impossible – playing on almost without missing a beat. Of course they are missing a huge beat, their heartbeat, their founder, the irreplaceable Glenn Frey. But I have to keep reminding myself that while these guys – well, Don Henley and manager Irving Azoff – are always money-focused, they are also people of high integrity. They just are. Musically and morally. And while some will still debate whether Glenn would have honestly been okay with his band going on without him, it seems clear that he was unprepared to die when he did and possibly had not left clear instructions for his band, and so his family, his bandmates and his manager who, while always having his eye on the financial prize, was also the closest friend a manager can be to his artist, had to work through their grief, weigh up all the pros and cons of going on as the Eagles, even after saying they would not, and find a way to do that with dignity.
This is just my take on it having had months to come to a place of acceptance of what is. I don’t know Irving, but I have heard Don speak enough about the band’s continuation and I have spoken with Glenn’s beautiful wife, who is all joy and positivity about this new phase of the band, and more than anything, I have watched Glenn’s son Deacon – decorous, poised, calm, confident, completely devoid of ego – step on that stage in honour of his father and make it all look exactly the way it should look if the Eagles will indeed continue.
Don said that it could only happen with Deacon but we thought that was a casual comment a year or so ago. In fact, it really could only happen with Deacon. He’s grown his hair to look just like Glenn circa 1972-1974 and is physically similar in many ways, and he plays Glenn’s “Old Black” guitar, but he is his own guy and a supremely talented one. However long he wants to play with his musical uncles on the big stages, those old guys will go on. They looked happy. I haven’t seen Don look that happy on a stage in a long time. As happy as he was on his birthday, he was still carrying the weight of singing 23 or so songs. Now a 23-song Eagles set is divided up with five singers and while Don still has the largest share – ten on Saturday night – the relief of not bearing the burden of all vocals was palpable. As was his fondness for Glenn’s gorgeous son, for Deacon’s bravery and talent and for being the essential ingredient in keeping the band alive.
And then there’s Vince Gill, the 21-time Grammy winning country superstar (21 Grammys – like, wow!), who was Glenn’s friend and golfing buddy, who sings like an angel and plays a much meaner and louder guitar than one might imagine, who is clearly in awe of the situation he finds himself in, joining the band he idolised as a young man and burgeoning artist, and who said yes of course when invited to join the line up for The Classic shows and now a continuing tour. When asked at the recent Runaway Tours Q&A if Vince Gill would stay in the Eagles line up in the future, Don gave an unequivocal yes. Those of us who didn’t know much about Vince’s own career, other than his status as a country star, were unsure about his stepping in to sing several of Glenn’s songs, somewhat underwhelmed in fact. Don praised Vince’s singing and playing repeatedly at the Q&A. Now I see why. He’s a valuable and steady addition. Yes Don is the voice we all want to hear and the founding member we all love and need to see; Joe is the guitar maestro and showman; Timothy is the solid bass playing high harmony nice guy we rely on. And then Vince Gill just slots in and quietly, without fuss, brings a polish and proficiency to the line up that Glenn could only approve of. Vince brings country cache but doesn’t demand the limelight; he is gracious and affable and yes he can sing. His vocals on “Take It To The Limit” alone earn him that spot on the stage. He was born to sing that song, probably sang it in the shower as a kid. Glenn used to sing it and refer to it as the credit card song, dedicated to his first wife, plaintiff. No jokes or gimmicks were required now; Vince just sang his heart out and imbued the song with a depth of sincerity and sweetness that gave it a whole new life.
Vince’s other lead vocals in the show were “Tequila Sunrise”, “Lyin’ Eyes”, “New Kid In Town” and “Heartache Tonight”. None jarred, they all flowed, the harmonies supporting him made it sound really, naturally, Eagles to me. I was amazed at how unperturbed I was to hear Glenn’s songs sung by someone else. Deacon sang “Take It Easy”, “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and “Already Gone”. At one point I was moved to tears. Deacon’s voice does not have the depth or the twang that Glenn’s had, but it’s smooth, strong and uninflected, and he is utterly gorgeous to watch, his face so clear and untroubled. Whatever might go through his mind when he is up there in front of 50,000 people with one of the world’s biggest bands, he’s not fazed and he holds his own with the music veterans alongside him. And that line up of guitars when Don is out front playing as well and Steuart Smith is on the far right next to Joe – that’s six of them in a row – that is enthralling.
Timothy sang his requisite two songs, “I Can’t Tell You Why” and “Love Will Keep Us Alive”, and Joe did the fabulous “In The City” and his solo rockers “Life’s Been Good” and “Funk #49” (and I’m not sure why he is now the only band member showcasing solo hits in an Eagles concert when Don’s not including his own in the set). Don’s voice seemed a little shaky at first with “One Of These Nights” and “Witchy Woman” but by the time he got to “Those Shoes” (“Here’s a song about one of my favourite things,” he said, and I thought, now I didn’t know Don had a shoe fetish) he had warmed up nicely. When he got to “The Last Resort” he was at that place where the vocal technicalities were hopefully not taking up too much of his headspace and he was enjoying the moment, as he deserved to, for it was a moment of perfection.
And so on the music went (link to full set list below), and it was all about the music, all leading to those defining climactic songs, “Hotel California” and “Desperado”. In between the songs things were a little reserved at times; the stage patter that Glenn handled so charmingly was absent. The band introductions were confined to the five key players; not even Steuart Smith got an introduction, let alone the sidemen Scott Crago (drums), Will Hollis (keyboards) and Michael Thompson (piano) or the string section (hard to see from the second row of the audience but known to include violinists Milo Deering and Erica Swindell) and the horn section who are presumably the guys that have been touring with Don’s own band for the past couple of years. The simplicity of presentation – albeit with beautiful back-screen images as per usual for Eagles shows – and focus on the music was probably deliberate for these Classic shows. As the band continues with a tour on their own, perhaps the set list will be expanded and some more talk and fuller acknowledgements of the amazing players that back them up will be worked back into their show. For now, the music was enough. It was faultless. Unless the lack of Glenn can still be viewed as a fault. I have come to realise that it’s just a reality, a sad, horrible reality, one that is still almost impossible to fathom, but Don is happy being in his band, and while he still wants to do it, and Deacon and Vince are willing to go along for the ride, then the Eagles will have this third and final act.
And I am really, truly, with all my heart, so glad.
About the photo gallery: It was part of the joy of my experience that photography was allowed and I took many pictures. If you view them in order you’ll get a sense of the entire show.
Footnote: As I finish writing this, news has come through of Tom Petty’s death. The shortness of these lives, the absolute imperative to see them, hear them, be in their presence, these artists whose work inspires, helps define our existence and give it meaning, is pressing in with more and more urgency. It casts the Eagles’ decision to continue in an even more emphatic light. Yes, the music lives on. But the people who make it are dying. Too fast and too young. May the musicians I love live and work and give joy and feel joy for much, much longer. Their music is my heart, is my breath. I offer this post in that spirit.