5 reasons the Eagles may have already played the year’s best concert
Joe Walsh and Vince Gill elevate band at Bankers Life Fieldhouse
The Eagles, a band reimagined and rejuvenated in its 47th year, may turn out to be the biggest concert story of 2018.
With greetings of "Good morning" from Joe Walsh and "Howdy, Hoosiers" from Don Henley, the Eagles' 53-date tour kicked off Monday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The two-hour, 40-minute show presented countless musical reminders of Glenn Frey, the co-founding Eagle who died in January 2016.
But it wouldn't be accurate to describe the performance as a memorial for Frey, which seemed to be the spirit of eight concerts the band played last year.
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On Monday, Henley mentioned his former partner when introducing "Best of My Love" — the Eagles' first No. 1 hit back in 1974.
And that was it, aside from Deacon Frey, Glenn's son, giving a heartfelt introduction to "Peaceful Easy Feeling": "Here's one my dad used to sing."
The big headlines on opening night belonged to Joe Walsh, an archetypal rock 'n' roll survivor who's rested and ready, and hired-gun vocalist-guitarist Vince Gill.
This duo will put a charge in stadium crowds when the Eagles share bills with Jimmy Buffett, Chris Stapleton and James Taylor this summer.
Walsh summed it up nicely when revising a line from his 1978 classic "Life's Been Good": "I'm making records, my fans they can't wait. They write me emails, tell me Vince is great."
Check out five reasons the year in concerts can belong to the Eagles:
1. The legacy
Deacon Frey is a singer-guitarist in his mid-20s who had limited experience playing in public before last summer. It's not reasonable to expect him to be an equal of Henley, Walsh and Gill, but this tour will give him ample chance to grow as a performer. For now, his defining trait is closed eyes when singing "Take It Easy," "How Long," "Peaceful Easy Feeling" and "Already Gone." Monday's audience heard a snippet of Deacon replicating his father's natural vocal phrasing during "How Long," a J.D. Souther tune the Eagles played in the early and late stages of the Glenn Frey era. To Deacon's credit, he realizes he's among friends. "Keep that energy coming," he told the packed house. "It's helping me out."
2. Super-sized show
Indianapolis was treated to 28 songs from the Eagles, an expanded program when compared to the standard 23 tunes performed in 2017. Rarities included Gill's rendition of "Ol' '55," a Tom Waits song adopted by the Eagles (the B-side to the "Best of My Love" single, for trivia buffs). According to online concert database Setlist.fm, the band last played "Ol' '55" in 1999. Setlist.fm also reports 16 years passed between the last live version of "Victim of Love" and Monday's. A five-member horn section added cinematic accents to "Witchy Woman," and the horn arrangement on "Funk #49" was as intricate and advanced as anything you'll catch at a rock show.
3. Vince Gill
This 21-time Grammy Award winner and Country Music Hall of Famer mentioned his "hillbilly" roots during Monday's show. It's difficult to imagine a better fit for the band that made country-rock a mainstream sensation in the '70s. Gill covered Timothy B. Schmit's "I Can't Tell You Why" for Nashville compilation "Common Thread" in 1993. Schmit handled that tune himself Monday, but Gill supplied a goosebumps moment when singing the high notes of "Take It to the Limit" — a 1975 Eagles smash originally sung by former bass player Randy Meisner. Another Gill highlight arrived when he sang "Lyin' Eyes," one of the best theater-of-the-mind songs from the pre-MTV days.
4. Guitar brigade
With Walsh, Gill and Steuart Smith (who succeeded Don Felder in the band's live lineup in 2001) onstage, you're guaranteed a parade of beautiful guitars played by masters. Walsh combines brute force and a can't-miss element of joy in his technique. Smith, meanwhile, is a chameleon who's skilled at seemingly all styles and tones. On "Those Shoes," Walsh and Smith executed a rarely seen "talk box" duel in which the guitarists modified their sound using their mouths and plastic tubes. Gill traded acoustic licks with Smith on show-opener "Seven Bridges Road," and he picked staccato Telecaster notes in tandem with Walsh on "Take It Easy."
5. The vets
Henley, Walsh and Schmit are each 70 years old (but that doesn't mean Walsh is too old to wear black leather pants onstage). For uninhibited performances of "Rocky Mountain Way," "Walk Away" and "In the City," Walsh is worthy of "national treasure" status. It wouldn't be an Eagles show without Schmit singing "I Can't Tell You Why," and he dotes on fans more than any other member of the band. Henley stumbled out of the gate with a shaky rendition of "One of These Nights," and he took a breather or two when Walsh had the spotlight. But he flexed his underappreciated soul-man vocals on "Witchy Woman." And Henley appropriately had the last word of the evening when singing get-your-life-right anthem "Desperado."
The Eagles showcased material ranging from their debut 1972 album (“Take It Easy,” “Witchy Woman” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling”) to the band’s last studio recording, 2007’s “Long Road Out of Eden” (“How Long” and “I Don’t Want to Hear Any More”).
Monday's set list:
1. “Seven Bridges Road” (Steve Young cover)
2. “Take It Easy”
3. “One of These Nights”
4. “Take It to the Limit”
5. “Tequila Sunrise”
6. "Witchy Woman”
7. “In the City”
8. “I Can’t Tell You Why”
9. “How Long” (J.D. Souther cover)
10. “Ol’ ’55” (Tom Waits cover)
11. “Peaceful Easy Feeling”
12. “Best of My Love”
13. “New Kid in Town”
14. “Love Will Keep Us Alive”
15. “Lyin’ Eyes”
16. “Next Big Thing” (Vince Gill song)
17. “I Don’t Want to Hear Any More”
18. “Those Shoes”
19. “Already Gone”
20. “Victim of Love”
21. “Walk Away” (James Gang song)
22. “Heartache Tonight”
23. “Life’s Been Good” (Joe Walsh song)
24. “Funk #49” (James Gang song)
25. “Life in the Fast Lane”
26. “Hotel California”
27. “Rocky Mountain Way” (Joe Walsh song)
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Call IndyStar reporter David Lindquist at (317) 444-6404. Follow him on Twitter: @317Lindquist.