Early into last night's three-hour Eagles marathon at Rupp Arena, Glenn Frey seemed pleased with both the veteran California band's return to its country-folk roots as well as the attentive enthusiasm with which the crowd of 17,000 greeted the initial tunes.
"Not bad for a bunch of 40-year-olds," he said.
The joke, of course, was on no one. The Eagles are emeritus members of a vibrant West Coast scene from the ‘70s. Such an alliance automatically added a few more decades onto the ages of its members as well as a good number of the fans that showed up last night.
But if you consider the remark was instead directed at the songs themselves, then it was spot on. With only one exception, the entire program, billed majestically as History of the Eagles, focused on material from the six studio albums the band issued between 1972 and 1979. The lone outsider was the Timothy B. Schmit-sung Love Will Keep Us Alive from the 1994 reunion record Hell Freezes Over. With apparently little interest in bringing its history lesson to the comparative present, the 2007 double album Long Road Out of Eden was ignored completely.
Presented in more or less chronological order, the 27 or so songs making up the concert were split into sets. The first was devoted to its flagship country-folk sound while the second was predominantly rock 'n' roll produced when the Eagles fully embraced their ‘70s rock star celebrity status.
The first set was understandably more reserved, but it also offered more surprises as it didn't rely strictly on hits. Band founders Frey and Don Henley entered from opposite sides of the stage to begin the evening, appropriately, with Saturday Night, a forgotten piece of harmony rich pop-folk from the Eagles' 1973 album Desperado. Then came the evening's most welcome surprise – the addition of original Eagle Bernie Leadon, who offered a nice homage to the great Dillard & Clark duo by singing Train Left Here This Morning, a lovely country meditation refashioned for the Eagles' self-titled debut album from 1972.
Leadon remained onstage for the rest of the first set, which carried the band through tunes from 1975's One of the These Nights (his last album with the Eagles). Following Henley's keen reading of the Western outlaw saga Doolin Dalton, the show essentially became a hit parade, although the teaming of Leadon with his replacement, Joe Walsh, and the expansive guitar support of Steuart Smith nicely bolstered Already Gone and the set closing Take It to the Limit. The later placed Frey on vocals in place of the absent Randy Meisner, who reportedly declined an invitation to rejoin the band for this tour due to health reasons (he left the Eagles in 1977 and was replaced by Schmit).
The second set was perhaps less enchanting mostly because the two albums it drew from, Hotel California and The Long Run, largely jettisoned the country-rock sensibilities of the earlier recordings. But this was also the part of the program that unleashed Walsh, the only band member last night that steered outside of the Eagles catalog to revisit his own hits. Playfulness abounded during his 1970 James Gang gem Funk #49, as well as 1978's Life's Been Good, which ruled radio during the three-year gap between Hotel California and The Long Run.
Walsh also goosed some of the more stoic Eagles originals during the second set, particularly The Long Run's Those Shoes, with the same talk-box guitar effects that have distinguished his own work.
Saved for encores, Hotel California's title tune and Take It Easy were performed, as was the entire concert, with a relaxed and ageless efficiency. Yes, the Eagle elders held up well during their first Rupp showing in two decades. But in the end, it was the 40-year-olds that truly kept the crowd happy and involved.