22 May 2018, Moda Center, Portland, OR
It was a wild crowd at the Moda Center in Portland last Tuesday night. Boisterous, talking, singing, hollering, on their feet, snapping every moment of the show on their mobile phones, videoing away despite omnipresent burly security men. Rarely did they take the cue to quieten down. At one point Don Henley looked as though all he could do was surrender to it. So he smirked and said, “Must be the coffee.”
Coffee, craft beer, weed, a combination of those and more. Portland baby boomers. And their kids. Next to me in the third row was a sweet 29-year old guy named Ryan. It was his first Eagles concert. He didn’t seem to be at the effect of any stimulating substance, but he was in thrall to the occasion and mesmerised by the music. I was buzzing from a strong afternoon coffee, from the company of a good friend with whom I had driven down from Seattle that morning, and from the pure elation of being back at an Eagles concert after seven long months.
A year ago I was feeling incensed that Henley and his band mates had reversed the decision to end the Eagles following Glenn Frey’s death, and tickets were selling for the Classic West and Classic East festival shows, which I chose to avoid, and then regretted avoiding. In September I flew up to Seattle to see them in only their third performance with Glenn Frey’s son Deacon in the band, along with country superstar Vince Gill. And I loved it. I also travelled to Detroit a month after that – hitherto unreported here – because to see Deacon perform with his Dad’s band in his Dad’s home town seemed like an important landmark that I and some of my friends wanted to bear witness to. Both Seattle and Detroit were emotionally charged, somewhat monumental concerts, the Deacon/Vince thing was still very new and, having realised that seeing the Eagles in a post-Glenn incarnation was preferable to never seeing them again, for me it was very exciting.
By the end of last year an exensive tour of the US and Canada had been announced for 2018 with some 50 dates, and after doing Seattle and Detroit, as well as the Henley 70th Birthday Bash and Q&A in Dallas, I couldn’t figure how I was going to get to more Eagles shows this year at all. But after years of seeing them only sporadically while living in Australia, my closer proximity to an Eagles tour now finds me unsettled and yearning if I go too long without a fix. So I set my sights on Portland, because it was close enough to LA, and the LA shows (three at the Forum) aren’t until September, if I manage to go to any of those at all, and that’s just too damn long to wait. My Portland trip (flying in and out of Seattle) came through very much at the last moment, using airline points and having been offered a ticket as a gift, but then got postponed by a few weeks due to Don suffering a nasty bout of food poisoning. “I apologise for the inconvenience,” he told the crowd early on in the show, referring to the switch from a Saturday night to a Tuesday night weeks later. “I can tell you, it wasn’t fun for me either.”
Here was Don Henley in a very relaxed, amiable state. Reports from the shows over the first two months of the tour testified to a cheerful, at ease Henley, sharing smiles and in fine voice. In Portland I was quite impressed by how much he smiled. Most of those smiles were directed at Vince Gill, who is a truly humble star on that stage, and whose involvement has taken an enormous amount of pressure off of Don as the primary lead vocalist. Vince sings beautifully, plays some killer guitar licks, and when he sang a song of his own, “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away”, he introduced it apologetically, saying if we’re pissed off about hearing a country song, we should blame the other band members, who insisted he sing it. Of his seven lead vocals, Vince shines on “Take It To The Limit” and “New Kid In Town” and his voice shimmers on the Tom Waits song “Ol’ 55”, which Glenn sang so plaintively on the On The Border album, one of two Eagles songs added to the setlist this year. The other addition is “How Long”, the JD Souther tune that the band recorded on the Long Road Out Of Eden album, which Deacon now shares lead vocal on with Don.
Deacon was also the recipient of a lot of the Henley smiles, and why wouldn’t he be? Since his brave and glorious debut performances with the band last year, Deacon has gained a lot of confidence, his voice has strengthened, and he looks more and more like his father. Sharing some of his off-stage antics on social media, he gave followers a glimpse of how he relaxed in preparation for this particular show, and accordingly it was a perfectly Portland performance. “Take It Easy”, “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and “Already Gone” sounded assured and it was just such a delight to watch him standing there basking in the adulation. It continues to be profound for him, for the old guys on stage with him, and for the fans.
There was another younger player on stage that Don smiled at now and then as well. Quietly on the far left, standing mostly in the shadows, stood Don’s own son, Will Henley, adding another rhythm guitar to the mix. (At times there are six guitars plus bass up there together. It’s a wow thing.) Will is serving a kind of apprenticeship during this tour, unassumingly joining the band for seven or so songs, not singing, not even being introduced on this night, just playing, and staring out into the vast arena, not making eye contact with anyone in the audience or on stage. It must be strange for him, surreal and possibly intoxicating. It was fascinating to observe. Don has always said that Will is a better musician than him. So he is getting a taste of life on the road, hanging out with his Dad, before he goes away to college.
Timothy B Schmit had a nasty fall at the beginning of the tour and has been performing on a seat with his leg elevated and his foot in a huge cast. From where I was sitting, his leg completely obscured my view of Don on the drum kit. My other gripe is that the show has become a major Joe Walsh fest, with the latter part of the concert mainly devoted to Joe Walsh/James Gang hits. In the past, Walsh hits would be complemented by Henley and Frey solo hits, but after two years of touring his own solo show, Henley might have wanted a break from his old songs and certainly a release from carrying the weight of most of the lead vocals. The press reviewers have all stated that Walsh is the force that raises the energy of the band in these concerts, and those who love those rocking Joe songs and that clownish Joe persona and his guitar virtuoso flourishes get a real kick out of his portion of the show. I just prefer the other singers and the other songs. And particularly that Henley voice. Which was pretty amazingly perfect throughout the night. “One of These Nights”, “Best Of My Love”, “Those Shoes”, “Hotel California” and of course “Desperado”, among others, were pure gold. It’s work, we know Henley works hard, but he really seemed to be enjoying himself in the process. I watch him and hope he keeps going at least as long as Paul Simon has; I hope he stays healthy and keeps smiling.
Just a few nights before Portland, I had had a conversation with former LA Times music writer Robert Hilburn, who’s out promoting his new biography of Paul Simon (one of Don Henley’s favourite songwriters). Hilburn had made a comment to the effect that Simon has remained relevant and progressive through his career, constantly writing and recording new material, whereas bands like the Rolling Stones and the Eagles were just out there regurgitating their old hits in a boring, predictable way. I defended the Eagles, reminded him that with Glenn gone there was probably not likely to be new Eagles songs, and pointed to the 2007 Long Road Out Of Eden album, and Don’s recent Cass County album, as examples of great later career output. At which Hilburn retorted scornfully, “And Henley gave up his solo career to make a million dollars a night playing with the Eagles!”
Sometimes there’s no convincing someone who is so fixed on a derisive point of view. But the sincerity I perceived at those shows in Seattle and Detroit, and now this uber relaxed state I found Henley and his band in in Portland, have convinced me that there is a lot more to this new Eagles phase than just making a lot of money. (And I have no doubt that making money remains a key motivator, too. It’s just much more than that.) Yes, many of us want more Henley solo work, recorded and on stage. But this is what he wants to do right now. So it’s what I want to see.
On the subject of derision – and as a steadfast Eagles devotee I get plenty of it – I am reminded of a meeting I had in late September of 2016 with a music PR woman that a mutual friend had connected me with. She had worked for some years for the firm that looks after all Eagles and Azoff Management PR and communications, and had since branched out on her own. I told her I had just returned from a trip to New York to see Don Henley do a show at Coney Island. She looked at me with utter disdain. “You’re a super fan,” she said. I wanted to punch her. I am someone who doesn’t ask for free tickets, who travels to see shows, who essentially helps pay the salaries of people like her. And then writes about the experience with ardour and doesn’t usually get paid for that. Screw her and those that would dare disdain me for loving the music I love.
I have such a huge backlog of stories about other bands and artists to share here on Debbie Does Music, some half-written, one fully written that I have been sitting on for months, and several that are way overdue to be written because, if nothing else, I have great photos to share from shows I have seen over the past year. Life has really been doing its “what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans” thing. I haven’t wanted this site to be as Eagles-centric as it would seem to be. But I went to Portland last week and I saw the Eagles, and I took some photos, and I just had to share the experience. So here it is. I hate resorting to a play on words over and over, but it’s hard to go past this: Loving the Eagles is Hotel California – it is something I can never leave. I can’t even check out. It’s just too essential.
So here are some Portland photos. And there is also a separate post now with a gallery of photos from last October in Detroit, where I had a much more advantageous view, especially of the man on the drums.