January 15, 2014
"This is history!" an effervescent blonde exclaims to me at the Forum on January 15. And she is right, on more levels than she probably realizes. Not only is this the first of a six-night stand the Eagles are having at the Inglewood venue as part of the "History of the Eagles" tour, but it is also the debut of the newly renovated "Fabulous" Forum.
"It's about the only facelift I care for in Hollywood," Glenn Frey remarks.
The $100 million makeover has replaced plastic sports seating with upholstered, though noticeably cramped, theater-style seats to better accommodate a more arts and culture-focused audience.
Tonight that audience is here for the story of the Eagles, told chronologically in 28 songs. And if you are one of those people who shares the attitude of Jeff Bridges' character "The Dude" from The Big Lebowski – who notoriously "Hates the f**kin' Eagles, man" – let me say this to you now: I can certainly understand how the artists behind "Hotel California," arguably one of the most over-played songs on classic rock radio, second only to Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," could garner such a reaction. But I implore you to, just for a moment, entertain the idea that there is a time and a place for the Eagles. And that time is at sunset and that place is California. The Eagles are California. Think about it. Our glorious state has beaches, cities, mountains, and for each region an unauthorized ambassador to provide its soundtrack. Guns N' Roses for the Sunset Strip, let's say. The Beach Boys for the sandy coastline.
"The Beach Boys were pioneers," Frey says at one point during the Wednesday night show. "The Eagles were settlers."
Settlers who settled in our canyons and deserts to tell stories of tequila sunrises and desperados in beautifully arranged four-part harmonies.
Frey and Don Henley open the show with "Whatever Happened to Saturday Night," played acoustically under a lone spotlight. The feeling is intimate and stripped down. It has a storyteller feeling as they recount their humble beginnings practicing in a liquor store and marveling at the convenience of such a situation. A new member joins after each song, original guitarist Bernie Leadon included, until everybody is neatly assembled for "Witchy Woman," which they play with a new arrangement. It isn't the only song they mix things up on and it keeps it interesting for the audience, but also for the band. These are songs they've been playing since the 1970s. And reworking them with the experience and knowledge they have now really demonstrates the nostalgia on a tour like this. It lets you remember things a little rosier and affords the artists an opportunity to revisit the art they made in their youth to give it a wiser once-over. Besides a newly arranged "Witchy Woman" we also get an expertly melded mashup of "Desperado" and "Doolin Dalton" presented with reworked lyrics. And the Eagles are in fine form. Voices are strong, guitar playing is crisp and they really seem to be enjoying themselves. When their age is made apparent it isn't through their musical performance, but through a stern chastising by Frey, whom asks that audience members not stand during ballads and block the view of those behind them.
"I'm only going to say this once," he says like an angry father.
He also promises there will be plenty of time to rock and roll.
And he isn't lying. They close the first half of the show with the easy melodies of "Lyin' Eyes," "One of These Nights" and "Take It to the Limit." But when they return from intermission, it's clear that the sentimentality from the first half of the show has run its course. The second half is about rocking a little harder, which was the direction the band was moving in during the time period of these numbers, if you're still following the history.
It's here that we get to "New Kid in Town" and a beautifully executed "Love Will Keep Us Alive." But it's also where the band gives "Heartache Tonight" what they affectionately refer to as the "Barbara Ann Treatment," jumping right into the skillfully arranged harmony a cappella without so much as a pluck of a guitar string to give anybody their pitch.
A majority of the energy that pulses through the second set is due in large part to the supremely animated Joe Walsh, who mugs through "Life's Been Good" and tangos with Frey during the rambunctious jam of a song, "Funk #49."
They finish with "Life in the Fast Lane" and encore with "How Long," (of course) "Hotel California" and "Take it Easy."
It's a landmark night for the Eagles, for the Forum, for every nostalgic California fan in the audience. It just can't be denied; this is history. Even if you hate the f**kin' Eagles, man.