Local Spins’ Top 10 countdown of 2018’s most-read stories continues with a review of The Eagles’ mid-March Van Andel Arena show, boasting precisely replicated classics. Review, photos, set list.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Merry Christmas! Today, we’ve reached No. 4 in the Top 10 countdown of most-read stories at Local Spins for 2018. In this edition, revisit March’s tour stop by classic rock icons The Eagles at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids — a show that continued to prove the mettle vocally of this venerable group. Scroll down for photos, set list.
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I first caught The Eagles in concert at Ann Arbor’s Crisler Arena in November 1976, not long after guitarist Joe Walsh joined the band – a bold lineup move that had many inquisitive fans wondering just how this wild “Clown Prince of Rock” might fit in with these country-rock stars.
They were a tad sloppy yet robustly entertaining, demonstrating newfound rock muscle amid brand new songs such as “Hotel California.”
After reuniting many years later for their “Hell Freezes Over” tour, I got a chance to see them a few more times – even spending an afternoon back stage with the guys in Minnesota back in 2002, a couple of days before their Van Andel Arena debut in Grand Rapids.
They were tighter than ever, with longtime manager Irving Azoff pointing out how much more dedicated band members were in their 50s (compared to their 20s) about rehearsing harmonies before each show. I even eavesdropped backstage as Walsh, for all his instrumental prowess, continued to practice his guitar licks in his dressing room with the door closed just a few hours before taking the stage.
So, it was with just as much curiosity that I approached this circa 2018, revamped version of The Eagles that made a tour stop Thursday (March 15) at Van Andel Arena.
After all, this was now a band without one of its key founding members – Michigan’s own Glenn Frey, who passed away in 2016 – and sporting a couple of new and intriguing players: Frey’s son, Deacon, and country star Vince Gill.
PINPOINT PRECISION AMID A HIGH-TECH BACKDROP
What unfolded for the assembled cadre of baby boomer fans – a crowd that fell short of a sellout, unlike the last few times The Eagles have landed in Grand Rapids – was just what folks might expect from a seasoned bunch of professionals with expertise in playing the nostalgia card: a litany of decades-old hits that still resonate with fans.
In fact, their pinpoint precision in rolling out these classics – from “Take it Easy” and “Already Gone” to “Life in the Fast Lane” and “Hotel California” – was truly remarkable, with two-, three-, four-, five- and even six-part harmonies replicating those familiar vocal lines that have long distinguished the Eagles’ sound.
These days, clearly, it’s all about perfecting and replicating that sound amid a slick, high-tech stage production more than unleashing a rambunctious rock ‘n’ roll show.
So what the band — Don Henley, Timothy B. Schmit (who sat for the show’s duration with a recently injured left foot propped up), Walsh, Frey, Gill, touring lead guitarist Steuart Smith and several other backing musicians (including Henley’s son and a five-piece horn section) – lacked in energy, especially early on, they more than made up for with crisp harmonies and perhaps the perfect vocal addition to The Eagles: Gill, who pulled off picture-perfect renditions of the ballads “Take it to the Limit,” “Tequila Sunrise” and “New Kid In Town.”
“It’s funny being almost 61 years old and being the new kid in town,” he quipped, before confessing how honored he was to help “continue the legacy of these great songs” that he’d been listening to for 45 years (after which the band launched into one of his own country tunes, “Next Big Thing”).
Deacon Frey, in his mid-20s, was almost as impressive, taking over lead vocal duties on songs such as “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and a brilliant “Already Gone,” which ranked as one of the highlights of an evening that covered two hours and 45 minutes and 27 songs.
SHOUT-OUTS TO MICHIGAN
The glitzy video backdrops also added an element of spectacle to the lengthy show (though sometimes the vocals weren’t always synchronized with the images on the screens).
Thank goodness, perhaps more than anything, for Joe Walsh.
The goofy guitarist provided the night’s comic relief – from his send-up of “Life’s Been Good” to his comment introducing The James Gang’s “Walk Away”: “I don’t know if you’re young, but your parents LOVED this song.”
More critically, his songs injected much-needed energy into the show that rubbed off on the rest of the band as well as the crowd, which reserved its loudest ovations for Walsh tunes such as “Funk #49,” “In the City” and “Rocky Mountain Way,” not to mention his dynamic guitar solos. Yes, it’s obvious this guy is STILL practicing regularly in those dressing rooms.
Indeed, the rock-driven portion of the latter half of Thursday’s concert finally had the Van Andel troops out of their seats to clap and sing along to everything from “Those Shoes” and “Heartache Tonight” to “Life in the Fast Lane,” which closed out the main set.
Of course, there were the usual stage acknowledgments to Michigan, but these clearly echoed with more sincerity than the usual touring rock-band salutes.
After all, Frey grew up in the Detroit area. Henley – who also gave a shout-out to Michigan icon Bob Seger – noted that Frey at one point even applied to Michigan State University but didn’t get accepted. “Things turned out just fine,” he joked.
For Deacon Frey, it was a homecoming of sorts. “It’s so cool to be here in Michigan, dad’s home state,” he told the crowd. “I’m so thankful for the opportunity. It’s been so much fun for me.”
And, perhaps, nearly as much fun for fans.
Because this evening was really about the enduring songs that many of these devotees grew up with – songs that have proved their mettle for more than four decades and deserve the kind of dead-on treatment that this 2018 edition of The Eagles is still more than capable of delivering.
PHOTO GALLERY: The Eagles at Van Andel Arena
Photos by Anthony Norkus
SET LIST (March 15, 2018)
1. Seven Bridges Road
2. Take It Easy
3. One of These Nights
4. Take It to the Limit
5. Tequila Sunrise
6. Witchy Woman
7. In the City
8. I Can’t Tell You Why
9. How Long
10. Ol’ ’55
11. Peaceful Easy Feeling
12. The Best of My Love
13. Lyin’ Eyes
14. Love Will Keep Us Alive
15. New Kid in Town
16. Next Big Thing (Vince Gill song)
17. Those Shoes
18. Already Gone
19. Victim of Love
20. Walk Away
21. Heartache Tonight
22. Life’s Been Good
23. Funk #49
24. Life in the Fast Lane
Rocky Mountain Way
Copyright 2018, Spins on Music LLC