The Eagles play ‘Hotel California’ in full, the hits from the Austin show
If you’re going to play a classic album in its entirety and in order, you might as well have fun with it. So the opening scene of Thursday’s performance at the Moody Center by the Eagles: A man in a black trench coat walks slowly from stage left to stage right, where he encounters a record player and a copy of the LP emblematic of the group of 1977 “Hotel California”. “He places the album on the turntable, slips the needle into the groove, and voila! The curtain rises and the band launches into the title track.
It’s a good mix of campy showmanship and heartfelt nostalgic drama from one of the greatest bands in pop music history. And if any classic rock album deserves such treatment from start to finish, it’s probably “Hotel California,” easily the best-selling of the band’s seven studio albums with more than 30 million copies sold worldwide.
Only the band’s iconic greatest hits album sold more, which is why the rest of the concert (after a 20-minute intermission) went through nearly all of the band’s top singles. When we’ve had as many hits as the Eagles, it’s been a long show: The band went on stage at 8:10 p.m. and didn’t leave until 11:15 p.m.
The “Hotel California” section was the highlight. Don Henley, the only founding member remaining after Glenn Frey’s death in 2016, started on drums and vocals for the title track, which set the tone for a stellar performance of the album by an eight-piece band in tour. The video backdrop cleverly projected images of California as if seen from a hotel bay window, complete with window grilles.
Related:The Who put rock opera songs at the center of the Moody Center concert
Country superstar Vince Gill, who joined Frey after the death, did a fine job as lead vocalist on the second song, “New Kid in Town.” Henley came out front for the “Life in the Fast Lane” rocker, joining Gill and duelists Joe Walsh and Steuart Smith to form a formidable wall of four electric guitars, with bassist Timothy B. Schmit.
The real payoff, however, came on “Wasted Time,” a more thoughtful number that closes side one of “Hotel California” and is revisited with a brief orchestral reprise to begin side two. (Yes, they also went through the ritual of LP flipping; this time, a woman with flowing blonde locks walked across the stage to flip the album.)
The Eagles spared no expense here, recruiting around 40 string players from the local Violet Crown Orchestra to exquisitely fill out the sound of these two numbers. Leading the orchestra was music legend Jim Ed Norman, who met Henley at the University of North Texas in 1968 and followed him to California, where he became an accomplished composer/arranger (and later president of the Nashville division of Warner Bros. Records for two decades).
The second side of “Hotel California” didn’t produce the hits of that first side, but its closing track, “The Last Resort,” is a seven-minute epic about paradise lost in the name of progress. The orchestra returned for the dramatic finale, this time supplemented by around 20 members of the local United Voices choir. “It was for the Austin that I knew,” Henley said at the end, pointing out that the song and album’s theme of loss of innocence extends beyond the Golden State.
After:Tour of UT’s new Moody Center arena (yes, we spoke to Matthew McConaughey)
Much has been made of the Moody Center’s sound upgrades from the neighboring Erwin Center, where the Eagles made their last Austin appearance (with Frey) in 2015. It was the first of four concerts I attended at the Moody on opening month. where those acoustic upgrades were gloriously obvious: I don’t think I’ve ever heard such pure band sound in an arena as in Wednesday’s first set.
Because the length of the “Hotel California” album is approximately 45 minutes, and because the Eagles had so many other hits to cover in the second half, the structure of the concert was inevitably unbalanced. The next 15 songs (plus a four-song encore) following intermission lasted more than twice as long as the first set.
Not that the nearly exhausted crowd cares. They offered thunderous cheers to Gill on several occasions as he did his best on songs Frey used to sing including “Tequila Sunrise”, “Already Gone” and “Lyin’ Eyes”. Walsh had time to shine towards the end, serving up his 1970s solo hits “Life’s Been Good” and “Rocky Mountain Way” as well as “Funk #49” from his early days in the James Gang. “I had more fun being 20 in the ’70s than being 70 in the ’20s,” he cracked, earning his Eagle accolade with a sense of humor.
Henley continued to go back and forth between playing guitar up front and drums (or percussion) behind. His distinctive high tenor stood out on such memorable hits as “One of These Nights” and “Desperado.” The band also wisely included their 1984 solo hit “The Boys of Summer” in the encore. He also sang the show’s closing ballad “The Best of My Love”, acknowledging co-writers Frey and JD Souther at the start of the song.
Bassist Schmit got his usual vocal spotlight on “I Can’t Tell You Why” and also took vocal lead on “Peaceful Easy Feeling”, a Jack Tempchin song from the band’s 1972 self-titled debut album that Frey sang on the album. A few vocalist changes have happened recently; Frey’s son, Deacon Frey, toured with the band for several years after his father’s death, but left last month to pursue a solo career.
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They did it all again Friday night at the Moody’s, which was built in part by the band’s manager, legendary music industry executive Irving Azoff. Thursday’s pre-show entertainment included a set of local rockers, the Raccoon Brothers, on the plaza stage at the western entrance to the arena.
List of Eagles sets in Austin 5/19:
1. Hotel California
2. A new kid in town
3. Life in the fast lane
4. Lost time
5. Lost Time (Retake)
6. Victim of Love
7. Pretty maids right away
8. Try and love again
9. The Last Resort
10. Seven Bridges Road
12. One of Those Nights
13. Peaceful and Easy Feeling
14. Witch Woman
15. Go to the limit
16. Tequila Sunrise
17. In the City
18. I can’t tell you why
19. Lying eyes
20. These shoes
21. Life has been good
22. Already Gone
23. Funky #49
24. Heartache Tonight
25. Rocky Mountain Road
27. Summer Boys
28. Best of My Love