50 years of life at the Hotel California | Music

“You can check whenever you want. But you can never leave.

It’s quite a lyric, isn’t it? A little scary, full of apprehension and angst, with a hint of Kafkaesque terror. It alludes to inescapable fate, while noting the futility of human attempts to exert control over the uncontrollable.

It is also a lyric that tells the story of the Eagles.

“Hotel California,” the Don Felder piece of music that inspired Don Henley’s pen to scribble this verse, is the title track from the band’s 1976 masterpiece, one of the band’s most commercially successful albums. the history of recorded music. The record celebrates its 50th anniversary with a tour that stops at the KeyBank Center at 8 p.m. Thursday when the Eagles perform it in its entirety, followed by a lengthy second set of greatest hits.

And his still sale, with the most recent sales figures claiming the record of 26 times platinum, worldwide.

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Interestingly, the Eagles tried to “check out” for nearly half of “Hotel California’s” life, running their “last goodbye, we promise” tour longer than any other rock band except The Who.

The band was formed in 1971, broke up in 1980, reformed in 1994, and spent the next decades in what amounts to an active retirement consisting of “victory lap” concert tours, with only one album of new music released during this time. Even the death of founding member Glenn Frey in 2016 did not force the closure of Hotel California. Frey’s son Deacon took on his father’s role, and virtuoso instrumentalist Vince Gill also joined the traveling band. Business remained good. Very Well.

The Eagles at First Niagara Center in July 2015.

Harry Scull Jr.

For this current tour, Deacon Frey has stepped down, expressing a desire to “forge his own path” after nearly five years of celebrating his father’s considerable legacy. That leaves the line-up as Henley, Gill, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit, aided by back-up musicians – including guitarist Steuart Smith, who will handle some of the late Felder’s guitar parts – and, for some of the arrangements, the more elaborate, airs, an orchestra and a choir. For the Buffalo show, the orchestra will be made up of members of the Buffalo Musicians Union Local 92.

“We have 38 union string players – violins, violas, cellos and basses – all performing under contract to a Local 92 contractor,” said BMA Local 92 President Jim Pace. “This is one of the biggest groups of Local 92 musicians to be hired for a traveling show in some time, and we’re thrilled about it.”

Since Deacon Frey’s official departure, Gill has handled some of Glenn Frey’s vocal parts, including the country-noir epics “New Kid in Town” and “Lyin’ Eyes.” When the band returns from intermission, release “Hotel California”, a deep dive into the Eagles’ greatest hits catalog – which is essentially an extended replay of their best-selling 1976 “Greatest Hits” collection. of the story – follows, with the addition of some nuggets from the solo guns of Henley and Walsh. The shows on the tour to date have lasted over 3 hours.

Given the many lineup changes over the years, it’s not hard to take the cynical view, interpreting the Eagles’ continued existence as an extended cash grab, a touring jukebox of nostalgia. classic rock aimed at challenging precisely no one.

Still, there’s a reason the Eagles, and “Hotel California” in particular, continue to mean so much to so many people.

Prisoners of our own device

“Hotel California” is a collection of songs detailing the dissolution of the American dream. The literary allusions spread throughout the album are profound, mostly a metaphorical nod to the green light in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” – that beacon across the water to which Gatsby gazes with envy, a symbol of love, hope and the enduring distinction between class and wealth.

The title track is set in mid-’70s Los Angeles, and its acerbic narrative tone paints a picture of a deeply ill promised land, one where the wealthy run amok in a haze of sex, drugs, and peaceful, easy feelings. , while the less privileged gaze with envy. The irony, of course, is that the guests of Hotel California are actually prisoners, inmates in an asylum of corrupt dreams, trapped behind bars built with ill-earned gain. They have the money and the cocaine, but they are no better off than ordinary Americans who covet their position, those average citizens who are always on the outside looking in.

Isn’t this America, for you and me? 1976 or 2022 – what’s the difference?

Is that why the song remains a staple of classic rock radio, and a tune that has completely permeated pop culture and transcended its immediate milieu decade after decade? It must have something to do with it, even if listeners aren’t aware of the song’s metaphorical resonance. What they are most likely aware of the high level of musical virtuosity that adorns Felder’s magnificent chord progression and Henley/Frey’s lyrics.

“Hotel California” was the first Eagles album to feature James Gang guitarist and solo artist Joe Walsh, and the band made the most of their new acquisition, dropping him for a tandem guitar solo with Felder through the long coda of the title track, in what is surely one of the most epic six-string clashes in rock history. It sounds no less amazing in 2022 than when I first heard it, as an 8-year-old deeply fascinated by the mirageous world the song and solo summoned.

There is magic in this music, magic that classic rock radio’s insistence on playing it nearly every hour has failed to kill.

The lamb lies down at sunset Boulevard

“Hotel California” is much more than its album opener. In retrospect, it’s easy to see the whole affair as a Yacht Rock concept album, a sort of California version of Genesis’s “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.”

A central character, “The New Kid in Town”, stumbles blindly into a desert oasis where nothing is quite as it seems, and the mythical “Life in the Fast Lane” “will surely blow your mind”, leading inevitably to a drive off the Pacific Coast Highway, where he finds “The Last Resort” and a bottle of whiskey to help him contemplate the effects of all that “lost time”. There’s a deep sadness that pervades the story, even during the toughest times. The listener is immersed in a sense of loss, an air of disillusion steeped in the smog of Los Angeles.

Glenn Frey Don Henley Eagles sculling 036

Glenn Frey, left, and Don Henley, then at the First Niagara Center in July 2015.

Harry Scull Jr.

The visceral dislike of the Eagles has become a meme at this point, exemplified by Jeff Bridges playing “The Dude” in the Coen Brothers film “The Big Lebowski”, an aging hippie whose adamant hatred for the group gets him kicked out of a cab by an Eagles-loving driver. It’s a hilarious scene, which stands up to repeated viewings.

But why all the haters? They surely exist because the Eagles are often considered a symbol of all that is wrong with corporate rock music, if not the very ancestor of this form.

There is merit in such arguments. But the fact remains that “Hotel California” is a masterpiece, a flawless song cycle that tells a quintessentially American story in a deeply literary and highly musical way. It endures because it was built to do so.

You do not agree ? Its good. Relax. Don’t forget that you can check at any time. But… well, you know the rest.

Eagles, "Hotel California"

The Eagles’ “Hotel California” won two Grammys in 1978, including Record of the Year, for the title track. The album has sold 26 million copies.

Doug Pizac/Associated Press

“Hotel California” played in its entirety, followed by a lengthy second set of greatest hits. The shows on the tour to date have lasted over 3 hours.

Line-up: Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Vince Gill, Timothy B. Schmit, plus back-up musicians, including an orchestra of 38 local string players.

Nicholas E. Crittendon