“The History of the Eagles” tour, which recently flew into Baltimore’s Royal Farms Arena, lived up to its name, as the band took the soldout crowd on a journey beginning with the band’s humble beginnings 44 years ago to the present.
The show, which spanned 27 songs and nearly than three and a half hours, took the crowd on a walk through time, opening with founders Don Henley and Glenn Frey sitting next to each other on stools, playing “Saturday Night” with their acoustic guitars.
Guitarist/banjo player Bernie Leadon, bassist Timothy B. Schmidt and lead guitarist Joe Walsh all joined the stage in ensuing songs, making the group whole – or at least as whole as it has been since it fired Don Felder in 2001 and bassit Randy Meisner quit in 1977 due to health reasons. It’s unclear if the absence of Felder, who wrote the guitar music for Hotel California, which blossomed into one of the most recognizable songs of all time, impacted the show. Veteran studio guitarist Steuart Smith played Felder’s solos as he has been doing for the past several shows – and even co-wrote some of the music on “East of Eden,” album.
Would Felder’s energy have added to a performance in which Henley, Frey, Schmidt, Walsh and Leadon did a lot of playing while standing still? Would Felder have said something derogatory about Henley and Frey like he did years ago, ultimately landing the sides in court and nearly a fist fight on stage.
We’ll never know. But we know this: the crowd, which was as white and as old as a Tea Party rally, never chanted his name as they watched Frey and Henley turn back the clock for one more stroll down memory lane.
The Eagles’ first set exemplified their more mellow, early-1970s days, which was highlighted by “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” “Witchy Woman,” “Doolin-Dalton,” “Already Gone” and the band’s first No. 1 hit, “The Best of My Love.”
The crowd rarely stood during any of the first set. The Eagles were the Eagles. Relying on a steady diet of vocal harmonies, 12-string acoustic guitars that defined their signature sound, the band kept the stage show minimal. There were no lasers or explosions, just the same red, blue and yellow lights the children of the 70s grew up looking at roller rinks.
Even the video screen that served as a backdrop to the stage was bland, spending more time showing pictures of farmland than vintage footage of the band that’s sold more than 150 million albums and cranked out five No. 1 albums.
The “History of the Eagles” was taught more like a class than a concert during the set, which featured band members telling funny stories and playing songs as the crowd sang along to hits like “Lyin’ Eyes,” “One of These Nights” and “Take it to the Limit,” without the piercing high notes that Meisner provided for his signature song.
The band took an intermission “to go to the bathroom,” Frey said.
They returned a different band.
In the same manner that their clean and quietly polished style needed a retooling in the late 70s, the second set brought out the band’s grittier side, thanks to a heavy dose of Walsh. The legendary loose cannon, party animal, tongue-in-cheek presidential candidate who joined the band in 1975 took control of the set with his distinctly nasal vocals on “Pretty Maids All In a Row” and “In The City”
The peal of his slide guitar solos and voice-enhanced wah wah chords brought the fans to their feet for a hard-rocking show.
Walsh had the distinction of being the only member to perform any of his prior band material during the show, cutting loose on “Life’s Been Good,” perhaps the best song of the night. He also pulled out a couple of James Gang classics “Funk 49” which was preceded by a comical trading of guitar riffs with Frey, and “Rocky Mountain Way” that found its way into the band’s second encore.
The band played their biggest hit “Hotel California” as a first encore, then after a brief departure, played “Take it Easy,” “Rocky Mountain Way” and “Desperado.”
When it was over, the men held hands and took a bow, as the crowd roared their gratitude for making everyone feel young again, even for just one night.
Chris Swanson is a live music and sports fanatic and a long-time Maryland resident. He holds tightly to what some consider an unreasonable affection for the Baltimore Orioles and older music venues. Chris has a Communications Degree from the Franciscan University of Steubenville.