Monday, March 16, 2009

Concert Review: The Eagles, MTS Centre, Winnipeg, MB, 3/13/09

For the first time in 31 years, The Eagles returned to Winnipeg for one of the fastest-selling shows in the history of the four-year-old MTS Centre. This show also had the most expensive tickets at the venue, with the top price $239, likely topping $250 once all the extra fees were tacked on. From my seat in the fourth row on the floor, I had a perfect view, with all the main band members' faces showing up crystal clear in my vision.

With no opening act, the show kicked off with four of their newer songs, from 2008's Long Road Out Of Eden, which met with polite response from the audience. The fifth song began with a solo trumpet opening which led into the first huge number of the night, "Hotel California," as the video screen showed footage of the iconic album cover and similar scenes.

The principal players were dressed in identical black suits and ties with white shirts and the backing four-piece horn section were clad in all-black attire. For most songs, there were nine people on stage, including superb lead guitarist Steuart Smith, a drummer (who sometimes traded off on percussion with Don Henley), and three keyboardists. The audience rose to their feet with thunderous applause after "Hotel California." As was the case with everything they performed on this evening, it was note-perfect and sung flawlessly. Even when Henley sang from the drum kit, his vocals sounded fine.

The balance of the first set saw a couple of solo tracks among other prime Eagles material. Don Henley's 1984 smash, "The Boys of Summer," which featured a lot of guitar soloing as well as Joe Walsh's 1979 track, "In The City," which received among the most applause all night, both sounded absolutely fresh. (While it ultimately found a place on The Long Run, the song was originally recorded by Walsh for the soundtrack to the film, The Warriors.)

From the band's 1972 self-titled debut, "Peaceful Easy Feeling" and "Witchy Woman" made it into the first set, the latter sounding positively hypnotic with it's unmistakable, tribal drum introduction. Timothy B. Schmit still looks far younger than his 61 years and the bassist sang with a remarkable R&B falsetto on some songs, including 1994's "Love Will Keep Us Alive."

The master of ceremonies for the evening was Glenn Frey who often spoke to the audience, reflecting on the origins of songs like "Hotel California" and "Lyin' Eyes." He also joked about songs coming from the band's "Satanic, country, rhythm and blues era." When he was introducing a song about their wives' spending on credit cards, one woman in the audience piped up with the title, prompting Frey to point to her and say, "You got it, lady: "Take It To The Limit." He also remarked that his favorite part of the show was introducing the band members, even stating that Don Henley is the greatest songwriter he knows. The irony here is that MTS Centre officials were told to keep Henley and Frey away from one another during the intermission as the two are still feuding personally.

During Joe Walsh's "Life's Been Good," the video showed old footage of Walsh and the band members from the golden days in the '70s, which was at times quite hilarious. Timothy B. Schmidt then walked to the front of the stage, his arms clapping above his head and encouraging the audience to follow suit — which lead into Henley's first solo hit, "Dirty Laundry." The video showed many of cable television's most controversial talking heads, appearing as foolish as they consider themselves serious.

This was my first time seeing The Eagles and I was a bit surprised by how Joe Walsh appeared fairly tame and subdued during the opening set. It was also a surprise to see someone else perform most of the lead guitar work, especially on the classic songs.

The second set began with the band seated on stools, playing acoustic guitars to a few of their newer songs. Later on, in a not-so-spontaneous move, they took of their jackets in unison, which seemed just a tad choreographed and corporate.

Great gonzo guitarist that he is, Walsh performed to expectations during the second set, proving himself an absolute monster on lead guitar and demonstrating why he's one of the best players of his generation. At one point, he and Frey were trading licks, but while Walsh's wizardry was always deft and precise, Frey just couldn't keep up. I think the entire point of that exercise was to show was a master Walsh is. True to form, when he soloed, Walsh contorted his body and grimaced, the notes volcanically erupting from his frame.

To add even more fun to the show, Walsh appeared on stage with a helmet camera and proceeded to wow the audience, strutting around and displaying the images on the big screen. Throughout the show, in fact, there were two large video screens suspended on either side of the stage, fed by at least two cameras, one of which was mounted on a remote controlled rig that panned in and out and moved as if it had a life of its own.

As the evening wound down, the band appeared for a two-song encore, "Take It Easy," followed by Henley singing at center stage for "Desperado," which had the audience signing along. They couldn't play every fan favorite — notable songs missing included "New Kid In Town," "Tequila Sunrise," "Best of My Love," as well as Henley's "The End of Innocence" and Joe Walsh's "Rocky Mountain Way" — all of which would have been welcomed. As it was, regardless, three hours worth of performance proved quite satisfying. The Eagles are well past their heyday and have been a cherished nostalgia act since reuniting around 15 years ago, but they still put on a superb show by anyone's measure.

First Set:

How Long
Busy Being Fabulous
I Don't Want to Hear Anymore
Guilty of the Crime
Hotel California
Peaceful Easy Feeling
I Can't Tell You Why
Witchy Woman
Lyin' Eyes
Boys of Summer
In the City
The Long Run

Second Set:

No More Walks in the Wood
Waiting in the Weeds
No More Cloudy Days
Love Will Keep Us Alive
Take It to the Limit
Long Road Out of Eden
Walk Away
One of These Nights
Life's Been Good
Dirty Laundry
Funk #49
Heartache Tonight
Life in the Fast Lane


Take It Easy

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