“We never in our wildest dreams thought we’d be this successful.”
—Don Henley, History of the Eagles (2013)
The Eagles christened the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky with their 2010 summer tour. Somehow I missed the boat. Since then I’ve seen Van Halen, the Who, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Rod Stewart, but my concert repertoire felt incomplete. On Saturday, July 6, the Eagles kicked off their 2013 History of the Eagles tour in Louisville, and this time I was there. The next day I would turn 30, and so I felt it a very special coincidence to have a second chance to see them in my twenties.
I wondered if I was going to be the youngest fan there. Smugly anticipating the crowd, I estimated the average Eagles concertgoer to be about 60, given that the band’s first album was released in 1972.
Boy, was I wrong. A mix of fans emerged, from those in their early twenties and thirties to white-haired fans a little shaky climbing to their seats. As the lights dimmed and the sold-out crowd began to stir, I realized that the parents of twenty- and thirty-somethings—the first Eagles fans—did a damn good job of passing along their love of the band’s timeless tunes (the first person I invited to be my date to the show was my father, who is 70).
Don Henley and Glenn Frey took the stage first and played an acoustic version of “Saturday Night” from Desperado. Segueing into “Train Leaves Here This Morning”, special guest Bernie Leadon joined Henley and Frey. Leadon was the original Eagles guitarist; he quit the band in 1975 because, according to the film The History of The Eagles he was dissatisfied with the musical style the band wanted to pursue. He was replaced by rock-and-roller Joe Walsh.
Timothy B. Schmidt, who joined the band just three years before they broke up in 1980, took the stage for “Peaceful, Easy Feeling”. And saving what’s apparently best for last, the band brought out Joe Walsh for “Witchy Woman”, and the crowd screamed as they played a bluesy version of the song.
“Their voices haven’t aged at all!” my friend Gretchen exclaimed during “Tequila Sunrise”, the sixth song on the first-half set list of 12. The crowd came alive during “Lyin’ Eyes”, and you felt the camaraderie as the crowd hit a moment of unison and the band stepped back a little to let it unfold. Before that, for me, “Best of My Love” was as good as it gets, although I was surprised when Frey told the crowd that the tune, off their third album, was the first of their five number-one singles.
They played for over an hour before a 20-minute intermission. The set list from the first half was pretty much the track listing of Their Greatest Hits, except for a “Doolin-Dalton”/“Desperado” medley that left some a little confused.
In a Louisville Courier-Journal e-mail interview, Don Henley wrote, “This tour will definitely be different. ...There will be some new arrangements of familiar tunes.” Frankly, that worried me. But for this fan, eager to hear those familiar songs live, this was just not true: concertgoers looking to see and hear Eagles songs performed as they’ve always heard them on the radio and on albums were not disappointed.
The second half belonged to Joe Walsh. Warmed up and feeling confident, he and his guitar did the talking on “Life’s Been Good”, a tribute to his younger days when he did “live in hotel rooms” and was known to “tear out the walls.” Among the 11 second-set songs were “I Can’t Tell You Why” and “Those Shoes” from The Long Run. “Love Will Keep Us Alive” was the only original tune they performed from Hell Freezes Over, their first collaboration after 14 years apart.
The concert’s first encore was, of course, “Hotel California”. It was a total feel-good sing-along. They left, and we screamed our heads off. They returned and gave us what we wanted—“Take It Easy”—although they could’ve rocked it out a little more (I’d even hoped for a “Standin’ on a corner in LOU-EE-VILLE KEN-TUCK-EE”). Next, the band played Walsh’s 1973 song “Rocky Mountain Way”.
Then the lights dimmed, and the musicians changed positions and instruments, just as they had done between songs the entire night. The stage lights returned, and Henley stood in the center, guitar in hand.
“Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?” We all screamed and joined him. And we smiled because that “Doolin-Dalton”/“Desperado” medley during the first half was just a little fun the band had with us. Of course the show would go out with “Desperado”. And it went out with a beautiful bang, because Don Henley has a voice that sounds like it’s still 1972.
The relief was palpable as Henley laid “Desperado” to rest and he, Frey, Leadon, Walsh, and Schmidt took their final bows. They’d made it through the first show of what’s estimated to be a two-year tour, and I was honored to check the experience off my to-do list, no matter how old any of us are.
In History of The Eagles, Frey said someone once told him that people don’t listen to the Eagles, people do stuff to the Eagles – break up with girlfriends, go on road trips. That night, I wondered about that “stuff”. As fans young and old belted out lyrics in the packed arena, the songs took so many of us back to unique, private places in time. Swaying to “Desperado” with everyone else, I was a kid doing weird interpretive dance moves in the basement with my dad and sister. My father was, coincidentally, 30 when Desperado came out and a bachelor relating to the album’s title song a little too well. And among the crowd that night, there had to have been everything in between.