When Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey passed away in January of 2016, it was uncertain whether the band had the heart to continue on without him. As Don Henley put it in a statement at the time, “Glenn was the one who started it all. He was the spark plug, the man with the plan.” Even ten months later when I spoke with bass player Timothy B. Schmit, he was unsure how or even if The Eagles would converge back together and carry on: “I wouldn’t be surprised if we started talking about something but I don’t know what form that would take or what that something is,” he said. “We’re all still just processing everything and we’ll see what the future holds.”
In 2017, fans let out a big sigh of relief when it was announced that The Eagles still had another tour left in them and that Frey’s son Deacon and acclaimed country artist Vince Gill would sit in to help Henley, Schmit and Joe Walsh fill in the iconic gaps left open upon Frey’s death. But who knew the depth that these two humble gentlemen would bring into the band and the new life it would pulse into the soul of a group formed in 1971 by two members of Linda Ronstadt’s touring band. It was proven with a two and half hour, 26 song stop in New Orleans on Wednesday night, that The Eagles unexpectedly found a way to sound new, alive and fresh.
Perhaps some in the audience were expecting lackluster or sullen renditions of their biggest hits, the weight of Frey’s absence too heavy upon their shoulders; but with an arena full to the very ceiling of New Orleans’ Smoothie King Center on June 20th, in each nosebleed section down to the front, fans waited excitedly for those first notes that came out of the darkness, in silhouette, harmonizing those beginning lyrics to “Seven Bridges Road.” After that, they all rose to cheer as their fears were dismissed in those several synchronized notes.
The Eagles, although having the likes of James Taylor and Chris Stapleton open shows for them on their Evening With The Eagles Tour, only brought themselves to New Orleans, a city that Schmit told me they loved and had been to several times starting in the early 1970’s when they played the notorious Warehouse. “It’s really an understatement to say it’s a unique place,” stated Schmit. And from the looks of this crowd, they continue to love The Eagles as well, giving standing ovations for Deacon’s first lead on vocals during his father’s “Take It Easy,” the Walsh-Steuart Smith guitar solo on “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and Hotel California’s title track. They sang loudly during “New Kid In Town,” danced throughout “Walk Away” and aided “Life’s Been Good” with an energetic yell of “baloney” as Walsh had trained them to do before the start of the song. “On your way home you’re going to say, ‘I made a huge difference,’” Walsh surmised with a grin before cranking into the opening notes of his popular 1978 song.
With three huge screens behind them, showing scenes of deserts, highways, sunsets and the band themselves, everything seemed bigger than the last time they played in New Orleans back in 2014, when Bernie Leadon made special appearances during the show and both Frey and Henley were sick. Perhaps credit can be given to the new guys for bringing in a rejuvenating jolt or perhaps everyone has just had time to heal, in more ways than one. It was a wonderful show then and it was an even better show this time, even though the setlists were very, very similar.
Henley handled vocals, acoustic guitar, drums and percussion variously throughout the night while the others traded off between electric and acoustic guitars. Gill, noting that he was one of the new guys, saying with a laugh, “I’m the 61-year-old,” sang lead on “Lyin’ Eyes,” “Heartache Tonight,” “Take It To The Limit,” “Tequila Sunrise,” “New Kid In Town,” the Tom Waits “Ol’55” which The Eagles had recorded on their third album, On The Border, in 1974, and his own chart-topping 1992 single, “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away,” which fit perfectly into the nest of Eagles songs. It should also be noted what a fine guitar player Gill is, something non-country fans may not have known about previously.
Walsh, never one to let an evening go by without his cool dude quirky personality coming out, sang lead on “Life’s Been Good,” “Rocky Mountain Way” and “Walk Away,” while bringing his Fender to life on “Funk #49.” He added the talk box to “Those Shoes” and “Rocky Mountain Way,” and slide to the latter song and “Heartache Tonight.”
Schmit had the job of revving up the crowd by having them compete for loudest section and singing two songs, “Love Will Keep Us Alive” and “I Can’t Tell You Why,” which he noted as being “The first song I sang with these guys.”
Deacon Frey was a delight to see and hear. That apple certainly didn’t fall far from his father’s tree as he resembled his father in both 1970’s looks and vocals, with just a slight difference in tonality. He sang lead on “Take It Easy,” “Already Gone” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” at the end of which a photo of his father appeared on the screen behind him. He handled both electric and acoustic guitar during the night and told the crowd how much he enjoyed the food here: “There’s too much good food here I can’t eat it all.”
The Eagles surprised New Orleans with a special rendition of Fats Domino’s “Walking To New Orleans,” a song Henley recalled hearing back in his Texas youth on a New Orleans radio station he could pick up, “when the wind was just right.” Being that Domino passed away last October, it was a fitting tribute to one of our own and proved how far-reaching the piano player’s musical impact actually was. Henley began and ended the song, with Schmit and Gill each adding a verse in the middle, backed by a 5-piece horn section and 6-piece string ensemble.
Other notable highlights of the night included:
The moody loneliness of the Spanish-flavored trumpet intro to “Hotel California” provoked goosebumps.
The mesmerizing enchantment of the pedal steel on such songs as “Ol’55” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling.”
The two guitar solos in “Slippin’ Away,” the first from Walsh and the second from Gill.
The red-lighted ambiance of “Those Shoes,” Henley whipping away on a beautiful electric guitar during “Life InThe Fast Lane,” stepping out of his usual gentlemanly demeanor and looking much like he probably did as a kid when rock & roll was new and exciting.
The pulling out of J.D. Souther’s “How Long,” a once-favored part of their 1970’s live show, and finally recorded on their 2007 Long Road Out Of Eden, the band’s first full studio album since 1979’s The Long Run. “We don’t like to rush into things,” Henley deadpanned when introducing the song and their wide gap between records.
And finally, the single spotlight on Henley as he began “Desperado” after a moving piano intro by Michael Thompson, that brought all the emotions of the evening into one simple a cappella moment.
What happens after this tour is not known but Henley, Walsh and Schmit have solo careers, as does Gill; and certainly the younger Frey has so much potential that an album on his own really needs to come to light. But if they decide to live on in this incarnation, it will be welcomed with open arms for years to come.
There are still plenty of tour dates coming up, at least through November, so there is no excuse not to see this show. It is that satisfying.