Hell Freezes Over

Check out the pictures from this concert!

"Welcome to the Hotel California", sung Don Henley, playing the drums at the same time. And a bloody expensive hotel it was too. The initial euphoria that had erupted to the begining strains of the two-guitar intro (if you've ever wondered why it was hard to play the intro, this is why) to Hotel California had by now faded and the most-sedate-concert-crowd-I've-ever-seen were Taking it Easy absorbing the chorus. The "hotel" in question was a post-Armageddon stage, appearing rather derelict. Unfortunately this appearance was also reflected in the Eagles' music and performance, notwithstanding the tolls physical age has taken.

I almost missed the Eagles; the high ticket prices did not appeal to me and they really haven't done much together for a long while (contrast this to the other dinosaurs touring this summer; the Stones and Floyd both of whom have put out albums recently). But then I realised they played a lot of their solo stuff, and since Lyin' Eyes was one of the first tunes I learnt to play on the guitar, I decided to pay tribute to this part of rock 'n' roll history. I also thought the concert was on the 14th instead of the 13th. Luckily DC101 reminded me of this fact and so I headed out to the RFK stadium. As usual, I purchased tickets from a scalper (I paid face value for a 80$ VIP ticket in the 6th row), and waited for the Eagles to come out with a Peaceful Easy Feeling.

By the time Hotel California finished, it was clear that this was going to be totally different from a show like Floyd's which focused attention away from the performers. Here the cameras took in every detail of the musicians' movements and a music critic would've had a field day picking out the Eagles' flaws projected onto huge screens. Floyd, even though attention was focused away from them, played as if every note mattered. The Eagles did not and there were awkward moments (though no vocals were flubbed), but perhaps this in itself, when combined with the clowning around on stage, had its own charm.

The second half, consisting mostly solo material, was by far much better than the first. While I admire Henley's work extensively (arguably, he is the most successful Eagle flying solo), it was Glenn Frey's You belong to the City that was the most inspired song of the evening. The saxaphone player was in fine form, producing the solos as in the studio version, but with the right touch of improvisation. Frey's vocals didn't bother to hit the high spots, but certain parts were very well filled in by bassist Timothy B. Schmit. The extended guitar solo at the end was almost poetic. Henley's solo stuff, works like All She wants to do is Dance, Boys of Summer, and Heart of the Matter (an acoustic version), were also performed very well.

The acoustics sucked and there was a lot of distortion and other weird noises. But this isn't the reason the Eagles sounded mediocre performing their rock 'n' roll classics. I guess not being together for 14 years (within the context of Don Henley's comment: it has taken that long for hell to freeze over) has made them a bit rusty. It is a tough job to drum and sing at the same time, but Henley's drumming on Hotel California left a lot to be desired. In the studio versions, the drumming is simply beautiful, especially the various drum rolls, but here it was stiff. On the whole, the band wasn't as tight as it could have been. Joe Walsh was perhaps the only member who had his act together and while his "rock star" antics were too cute at certain times, he managed to impress. The vocals weren't very well done either, especially with regards to Frey (maybe he was just reaching out in new directions). Among all the vocalists, Schmit's very by far the most appealing, especially during a captivating rendition of I Can't Tell You Why.

The new stuff, except perhaps for Get Over It, which still sounded poppish to me, didn't appeal to me either. Contrast this to Floyd's The Division Bell or the Stones's Voodoo Lounge, both which are at least reasonable and capture some of the magic. The Eagles have become a prisoner of their own legacy, which seems to be buried in country than in rock 'n' roll, and this could account for why I didn't like at least one of the newer songs. It was not a packed stadium, with over a third of the seats unfilled during the intermission. There were not many young people around and the people around me were a bit taken back to my headbanging to One of These Nights. I also resented the political messages put out, which were completely hypocritical given the nature of ticket prices and the blatant objectification of the Eagle (the bald kind, not any particular member of the group, though they seem to be heading in the same direction).

That's a reasonably objective critique of what happened. Now, Lyin' Eyes was simply brilliant. It wasn't the playing that mattered; to me it represented a personal moment: it was one of the first songs I heard/learnt the entire lyrics to (along with songs from The Sound of Music). The songs during the encore came off well also, since they were some of the most popular ones. Desperado (the annoying silence notwithstanding) and Take it Easy (my favourite among the encores) shone. Other songs played, besides the ones mentioned above: Victim of Love, New Kid in Town, Life in the Fast Lane, Already Gone, One of these Nights, and Peaceful, Easy Feeling. As if their own repertory of songs wasn't enough, they did a cover of Funk #49 by the James Gang, which rocked!

Sheryl Crow opened and she did an excellent job. This is the second time I am seeing her and she had a tighter act than the Eagles did. Given access to all the effects and the video screens, she might've put on a better show than they did. She has a lot of good stuff out (at least one tune which is quite popular among "modern rock" stations, but the name escapes me) and is a talented guitarist, along the lines of Bonnie Raitt.

Still, I enjoyed every moment of it, but unless you're really familiar with their music, have grown up to it, and have lots of money to spend, I wouldn't recommend this at all. You'd be better off hoping they follow their namesakes in the wild.

"My-oh-my, you sure knew how to arrange things.
 You set it up so well, so carefully.
 Ain't it funny how your new life didn't change things.
 You're still the same old girl you used be."
                             ---Lyin' Eyes, The Eagles

Music ram-blings || Ram Samudrala || me@ram.org || September 13, 1994