12, 14 and 15 September 2018, The Forum, Los Angeles, CA
Finally I saw the Eagles play in the band’s hometown. After seeing them fifteen times before, in Sydney, Brisbane, London, Vancouver, Las Vegas, Seattle, Detroit and Portland, at last I saw the Eagles play in the city where they formed, in a venue of great significance, where the sound was pristine, where the entire venue was decorated as a monument to the band, lit up and inscribed, so nobody had any doubt who was in residence. The most successful American rock band of all time, which holds the honour of having the biggest-selling album of all time, was home.
I wasn’t in LA when the Eagles re-opened the renovated Forum in January 2014 with a series of concerts, and just a few months ago I wasn’t sure I would get to any of these 2018 shows even though I now live here. So it was a relief and a delight to figure out how I could indeed be at all three. Well, I couldn’t not. It was enough that I didn’t go to the Classic West at Dodger Stadium last year. I couldn’t miss a moment of this run of their lengthy 2018 tour. I am in thrall and the entire three-shows-in-four-days thing was a thrill.
I love the word “thrall” because for me it’s about being enthralled, but its literal meaning has largely negative connotations – enslavement, captivity, servitude. Hmm. Those giving this music site a cursory glance might well assume my Eagles passion is some kind of enslavement. I’ve written many times in various ways about my inability to check out or leave this Eagles devotion, and I have offered my well thought-out views on what they do, how and why, in concert and behind the scenes, since they resumed their third act a year ago and before that when I thought a Don Henley solo concert was the closest anyone could get to an Eagles show again. I was wrong about that. Truth is, I cannot honestly claim to know a lot about what goes on in the internal workings of the Eagles or the mind of its remaining founding member, despite some occasional industry insider insights that I’m privy to. I can only really purport to be an expert at being a passionate devotee. I am certainly no passive audience member (and I’ll talk about audiences a bit later).
So in the week or so since the last of the three concerts I attended at The Forum in LA, thinking about what I could write that wasn’t just a report of what they sang, how they looked, how they sounded, and also wasn’t some pseudo-intellectual interpretation of where this version of Eagles is now at and what these three shows at such a significant venue might signify, I’ve come to the conclusion that the thrall is all, and I am probably going to do all of that. And more.
Last Saturday afternoon I posted on my Facebook page: “Definition of joy: getting ready to go to my third Eagles show in four days.” It was joyful and exciting; it was intense and very emotional. It was the best of my love, in fact.
Three songs into the set on the first night, Don came to the front of the stage and strummed a guitar while speaking deliberately, poignantly.
“It’s good to be here. Here at the Fabulous Forum. We first played this building 43 years ago. Everything was orange. 43 years two months and one day to be exact. And tonight will be our 16th show over the past 43 years here.
“It’s a little bittersweet tonight. ‘Cause there’s somebody missing. Our friend, our brother and our leader is missing. But he is here in spirit. And he’s here in the songs that have become a part of your lives over the past 45 years. So he would want us to celebrate. We’re going to celebrate his life tonight, we’re going to celebrate his songs, the music that he created, and the extraordinary contribution he made to the canon of American popular music.
“Which is why it makes our hearts full to have his son Deacon up here on stage. The young man has had some big shoes to fill. And he’s stepped up like a champ. His first show with us was at Dodger Stadium. 56,000 people. The kid’s got balls. Chip off the old block.”
Glenn Frey’s name wasn’t mentioned, never needed to be. Glenn was all over this concert, as he has been since the band started playing again with Deacon and Vince Gill. The black and white image of Glenn that fills the back screen at the end of Deacon’s rendition of “Peaceful Easy Feeling”, half way through the show, is a moment of drama that the show is structured around. It harks back to the band’s Grammy performance one month after Glenn’s death, and it’s been a key part of every Eagles show for the past year, and I imagine will continue to be for however long the band continues. And it cannot have been far from Don’s mind that the last time the Eagles played on stage at The Forum was not in fact the re-opening in 2014, but the night after the Grammys in February 2016, at the private memorial for Glenn attended by friends, family and music industry colleagues. There were eulogies, Don’s the lengthiest and most memorable according to those who were there, and there were performances. The Eagles performed several songs, with Bernie Leadon, with Jackson Browne, JD Souther, Bob Seger, Randy Newman, even Stevie Wonder sang. And making his real debut with the Eagles that night was Deacon Frey. Eighteen months before that Dodger Stadium appearance Deacon sang “Peaceful Easy Feeling” with his father’s band on stage at The Forum for a few hundred people.
So maybe that was on Don’s mind as he stood in front of the audience at the first of the three shows last week, and when he gave shorter versions of that tribute at the two following Forum shows. Hopefully it’s the lengthier version that will make it on to the DVD.
“Just in case you haven’t noticed already, we are recording and filming the concert this evening,” Don told us on the Wednesday night. “We’re going to film and record all three nights here at The Forum. Of course if our manager has anything to say about it, it will become another box set. Of which all of you will be a part. And our manager will have something to say about it.”
It’s a long gap between the Eagles Farewell I DVD that was produced from the band’s 2004 Melbourne, Australia concerts, and this. My personal dream for this new box set is that some previously unseen footage from the Long Road Out Of Eden and History Of The Eagles tours will find its way onto a bonus disc. Surely there will at least be some kind of bonus tribute to Glenn in the box.
The band members wore the same clothes for all three shows so that when this new DVD is released the edits will be seamless, but having been there each night, sitting in different seats, I will be interested to see how the audience is featured. Hopefully only the first night audience will star in those elated crowd scenes. Because the Friday and Saturday night audiences were pretty appallingly behaved. I’m still getting to that.
The setlist for Wednesday and Saturday was 26 songs, and 27 on Friday with the addition of “The Long Run”, which Don has started adding as an audible when he’s up to it. Dropped from the set since I saw them in Portland four months ago were “Best Of My Love” – a shame, it’s so gorgeous live – and “Victim Of Love”. Surprise addition was “The Boys Of Summer”, which I figure was added back into the set to balance things up for the DVD. It’s a welcome return to have at least one Don solo song in the show, as there are several (too many) Joe Walsh non-Eagles songs, even a Vince Gill solo song, but for the past year none of Don’s. Interestingly, despite “The Boys Of Summer” being a huge hit and arguably the best song of the eighties, it still didn’t garner the level of zeal from the crowd that Joe’s songs did. The audiences love Joe. Even the LA Times reviewer credited Joe for “his appealing caveman-genius act” and said that “Hotel California” and “Desperado” were boring. They weren’t, but Don is content to let Joe get the lion’s share of the crowd’s roar.
In fact, Don is content to sit in the dark at his drum kit for a lot of the show, and on the second night, when I had a seat much further back, up on the side looking down at the stage, I was really taken by just how dark it is where Don sits with his drums, and how meditative his work there is if he is not singing the lead vocal. Even when he is singing lead at the drums – “One Of These Nights”, “Witchy Woman”, “Hotel California” – the light on him is soft and the lighting for all three shows was generally dimmer and bluer than at other shows I’ve been to, which is something to do with the filming, and which resulted in a collection of photos from me that are grainier than normal, kind of like those pictures from the big mobiles phones that most of the audience were holding up high, blocking people’s views, throughout the show.
But when Don steps into the light at the front of the stage to sing lead and play guitar, or to sing harmonies to a lead vocal from Timothy B Schmit or Vince or Deacon or Joe, whether he wants to be or not, he is the centre and leader of this band, and I want to snap some good ones.
A friend asked me what I thought the highlights of the shows were. I said that “How Long” is the standout for me. I have loved seeing and hearing the growing confidence and strength in Deacon’s voice and demeanour, and so the most exciting thing to me is to see Deacon trade lead vocals with Don on JD Souther’s old song. I loved that story that Glenn told when the Long Road Out Of Eden album came out and “How Long” was released as its first single, which he told again on the History of the Eagles documentary, about how his kids were watching clips on YouTube and found footage of the early Eagles singing “How Long”, and hollered and laughed about their Dad’s long hair.
So it’s another moment when Glenn’s name isn’t mentioned but he is all over it on stage here and now, as Deacon, who grew his hair to look like early-seventies Glenn, sings that song so smoothly and partners Don like his Dad did. I love it.
Another highlight is Vince singing “Take It To The Limit”, which he really was born to sing, as I wrote a year ago when first seeing him in the band in Seattle. (Timothy mentioned that Randy Meisner was in the house on Saturday night.) Vince’s voice is so perfect and beautiful and that song, along with “New Kid In Town”, is a major highpoint for me. “Desperado”, my favourite song of all time, is never boring – never – even when Don’s voice is tired. And when “The Long Run” was added at the end on Friday night, a song some thought they would never perform again (“Who is gonna make it? We’ll find out in the long run”), it was a statement of defiance. We’re going to make it. We are making it. Even without the one who didn’t make it, our founder, brother, father, leader, the one we’ve lost. I loved it when Don said on Saturday night, “But we’ve gained a son.”
Deacon doesn’t sing the songs like Glenn did. I was listening to music randomly in my car yesterday and the live version of “Take It Easy” from 1980’s Eagles Live came on, and hearing Glenn sing a song he was so invested in as its co-writer, as the smooth rockin’ dude who lived that life and sang about it – “It’s a girl, my lord, in a flatbed Ford slowin’ down to take a look at me” – reminded me yet again of what we no longer have. Deacon might be singing it for the symbiotic sound he can offer and the joy and healing of standing in his father’s place, and he sings it so very well, with such a strong voice – and nobody but Deacon or Jackson Browne can pull that song off authentically now and even Jackson’s version isn’t as strong – but it’s about keeping the song alive for those who still want to hear it, not about what Deacon himself has lived. Even if he might have taken a trip to Winslow AZ and stood on the corner just to experience it for authenticity.
The songs are all, they are the reason the band has carried on, but honestly, just being in the same room when they are all playing and singing together, that is why I am there. From start to finish, it’s a glorious thing.
Sadly, not everyone in the audience had the same attitude. I’m not quite sure why some of those people were there, why Americans are often so blatantly rude and obnoxious at concerts. To me, seeing a legendary band perform meaningful songs, a band that prefers the audiences to sit and listen, is a sacred event. The Eagles are a sacred entity. (On Friday night Don asked the people up front to sit down and let the people behind them see, but unfortunately he didn’t put out that request on Saturday night.) I want to sit, at least for most of the show, listen intently, hear the vocals, the lyrics, the instrumentation; I want to watch everything happening on stage, and importantly I want to hear what the artists say between songs. When Don speaks it’s something I want to hear. When Vince sings “Ol’ 55” I want to hear every wistful melodic word. I do not want to hear the buffoons behind me bellowing about god knows what – not about the songs that’s for sure – as if they are at a baseball game. I don’t want the guy next to me bumping and grinding and swaying over me yelling at Deacon like a football coach (“Come on Deacon, you got it, you got it, yeah, yeah, go boy, go boy, you got it!”). Seriously. Why do people arrive late, two songs after the show has started, stand straight away, then go get drinks and fries and come back and stand some more and spill their drinks and then, when I look at them like they’re the rudest creatures on earth, insult me and tell me they can do whatever the F they want because they paid for their seats?
Please explain all of this. No, don’t. Just don’t let them in. Really.
I’m digressing here but this is such a bugbear. It’s about respect. The audiences in England and in Australia are generally very respectful. I saw three Eagles shows in relatively quick succession in early 2008 in London, at the start of the Long Road Out Of Eden tour. At my third show I had a front row seat. I was so serious as I took it all in, at one point Glenn looked at me and gestured for me to smile. I was crazy happy, but it was internalised. I’ve learned since then to at least put a smile on my face while I’m listening seriously, but never would I, in a front row seat, stand and block someone’s view.
On Wednesday night I was in the third row centre in a mostly well-behaved midweek audience. Friday night up on the side I could have set my hair on fire and neither the people around me nor the security officers could have cared less. Saturday night, through a kind swap from a friend’s son, I was back at the front, sixth row centre, but being a Saturday night, it really was like being at a major league game and my friend and I sat in bewilderment at the testosterone-fuelled insanity around us.
Because an Eagles concert is a sacred event, it’s hard to deal with that kind of nonsense around me and stay in the moment. That is one of the reasons I love taking pictures, I think. It gives me a focus that draws me closer to what is on stage. The other reason is that I want to capture moments that I might otherwise forget. I won’t ever forget Don’s touching speech about Glenn on Wednesday night. But without the photos I might forget that particular look he gave Deacon, or Vince, or the world-weary tenderness in his eyes as he sang the songs that have moved me for more than 40 years, or the look that takes over his face when he watches the nonsense in the audience in front of him. A look from Don can say it all. Like he’s thinking, “These people are imbeciles and peasants, but I shall play on regardless.” And sometimes I can capture that look. And forget the nonsense around me as I do.
And there are also the sweet, sometimes trippy looks from Deacon as he interplays with his old uncles on that stage, or just takes in the adulation from the audience, automatically bestowed on him because of his lineage and because he is oozing talent and that Frey charisma. And the gee shucks lovely modesty of Vince Gill, who’s still in awe of where he finds himself, notwithstanding the huge career he’s had in his own right for decades. And the colour and light from the screen and the stories those pictures on the screen tell. All that and more, moments to cherish, to file away for safekeeping, knowing that one day there will only be the photos.
I did not take any pictures when I first saw the Eagles on their 1995 Hell Freezes Over tour in Australia, two shows in Brisbane, one in Sydney. I checked out the Sydney setlist from back then as I was writing this, and I kind of remember it, I remember being further back than I like on a pleasant Sydney summer night, I remember being with my sister and being in thrall – that’s always a part of it – but I don’t remember anything that was going on up on the stage. My clearest memory of that night is a brief chat I had with Don back at the hotel where the band were celebrating the end of that tour. But now I have really digressed.
So to return to the shows at The Forum, and this tour generally, and a note about the backing band that’s on stage with the Eagles. Steuart Smith, who stepped in for the ousted Don Felder 17 years ago, did get a thank you from Joe along the way, and that’s the least he deserves given that he is not even a backing musician but very much up front. But Michael Thompson and Will Hollis on piano and other keyboards, Scott Crago on drums, the outstanding five-piece horn section and five-piece string section, deserve some kudos, even if they aren’t being named.
This was the first time – three times – that I saw the Eagles perform billed as the Eagles in Los Angeles. It’s actually not the first time that I saw the members of the Eagles play together in LA, however. That was 20 years ago at the Tiger Jam benefit, for golfer Tiger Woods’ charity, which Glenn hosted and which, one by one, the then members of the Eagles joined him on stage for. Joe, Don Felder, Timothy and Don Henley all joined in to the point where the Eagles were on stage and sang a bunch of Eagles songs. I didn’t take pictures that night at the Universal Amphitheatre so I have never had a clear memory, but thankfully those trusty Eagles Fastlaners, L&M, wrote about the event and even took a few photos to remind me of when I had seen the Eagles in Los Angeles before, just not at an Eagles concert.
So now I have. And I’ve seen them at The Forum, a place that’s like their home field, these musicians in their seventies who started enthralling me in the seventies. I don’t know when I will see them again as the Eagles, but I hope I will, as the long run isn’t yet done, for the band or for me. They’ll always have the best of my love.
And as they aptly demonstrated on the exteriors of The Forum last week, Eagles lyrics tell us about our lives, so somehow those clichés don’t seem so trite as I write.
Photos from all three shows in the gallery below.