The first time the Eagles played Rupp Arena, in October 1979, the seminal Southern California band was singing a then-new tune that detailed their view of the road ahead and the vigor required to travel it.
"You can go the distance. We'll find out in the long run."
Penned by the band's mainstay members Don Henley and Glenn Frey, the title tune to the last album of the Eagles' mammoth '70s run, The Long Run, most certainly dealt with a relationship. But you could almost sense that the two were also addressing the audience that had made the Eagles the flagship country-rock troupe of its day. It suggested that the fan base was also up for tagging along as the band soared into the 1980s.
That, of course, didn't happen. The Eagles grounded themselves at the start of the decade with a split so severe that when the band finally reunited to release a half-studio/half-concert album in 1994, the title reflected just how unlikely re-establishing ties initially seemed: Hell Freezes Over.
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But the fan base never relented. The '70s audience that championed hits including Take It Easy, Lyin' Eyes and Hotel California, fashioned when the Eagles were part of a vital West Coast folk-imbued pop scene (one that included Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Randy Newman, Warren Zevon and a pantheon of others), had regenerated itself. By the time the band reconvened in the '90s, an entire new generation, reared on a contemporary country sound that the Eagles undeniably but perhaps unwittingly helped forge, were showing up at shows. Those fans had deep pockets, too, as tickets for the reunited Eagles had broken the $100 threshold, a milestone that set new commerce standards for the concert industry.
This was the era that brought the Eagles back to Rupp Arena for a March 1995 show, its most recent Lexington visit until this weekend (Henley performed there as a solo artist in September 1989).
So what has changed in that time with the band itself? Musically, very little. Hell Freezes Over boasted four new tunes, and a full-double disc album of fresh material, Long Road Out of Eden, surfaced in 2007. Both albums enjoyed sales as abundant as much of the band's classic catalog. But the legacy the band had established remained with the earlier music, the country-rooted, California-soaked songs of the '70s.
That brings us to the present with the band — Henley, Frey, Joe Walsh (who joined in 1975) and Timothy B. Schmit (who joined in 1977) — presumably in the final stages of a lengthy tour billed as the History of the Eagles, which kicked off two years ago this month in Louisville. The title comes from a critically lauded, Alison Elwood-directed documentary that premiered in 2013.
"I was really surprised and reminded of how much fun we had," Frey told Billboard magazine after the film's release. "You couldn't have asked for a better script for a bunch of guys in their 20s trying to make it into the music business. We were young. We made mistakes. We still make mistakes. It's the story of an American band, but it's also the story of the songs we wrote and what those songs did to (people). We're here because everybody likes the songs."
What that means for fans planning on taking in the Eagles' Saturday show at Rupp is a long road back to Eden. Specifically, the concert will be a marathon retrospective, heavy on the hits but with a set list that will by no means be limited to them. Expect several tunes, especially from the band's self-titled 1972 album and the sophomore 1973 set Desperado, to make tour appearances for the first time in decades. Some will be complete tour debuts. Many performances on the tour have included surprise guest Bernie Leadon, a multi-instrumentalist and original member of the band, who was integral to the its early folk/country sound. He left the group in 1975. Expect also side journeys into the solo career catalogue of Walsh, the Eagle with the most prominent pre-band history.
Plan on a full evening, too. Concerts in many cities on this tour have stretched to three hours with intermission. There is no scheduled opening act.
So what's next? Well, Saturday's Rupp show is the third-to-last performance on the two-year History of the Eagles tour. After that, Henley gears up for the late September release of his first solo album in 15 years, Cass County, along with subsequent touring of his own. There also will be a grand year-end Eagles celebration, when the band will be among the Kennedy Center honorees.
After that, who's to say? The Eagles' self-proclaimed Farewell I tour commenced, literally, a decade ago. At that rate, the touring history of one of the most enduring acts could be indefinite, even though a review of a Hartford concert last week quoted Henley as referring to this leg of the tour as a "final lap."
That rekindles the sentiments of that 1979 song that spoke so encouragingly of the future. Yep, it's a long run — and then some.