There is no logical reason for the Eagles to be playing onstage to a stadium crowd of tens of thousands of people each night in 2018. The seminal rock band has been through breakups, disputes, lawsuits, and, most critically, the untimely death of founding member and integral songwriter Glenn Frey in January 2016.
After Frey's death, drummer Don Henley stated publicly he did not think the band would tour ever tour again, but the Eagles rebounded, bringing in famed country musician Vince Gill and Frey's son Deacon to fill in on the late Eagle's guitar and vocals.
Before the Hard Rock Stadium audience could evaluate how the new blood would fare, opener Jimmy Buffett played up his eternal conch-retiree schtick in front a sea of Parrotheads. I attended my first Ultra Music Festival this year, but odds are that nothing I see at a concert this year will top watching a middle-aged man in khakis and a tropical button-up shirt doing three bumps of cocaine on the floor at a Jimmy Buffett concert. Buffett and the Eagles were long ago branded with the millennial "dad rock" stamp of disapproval, but apparently, these dads come to party hard. Buffett, barefoot and sweating through his T-shirt, shouted out every tropical paradise destination from Islamorada to Surfside — "I didn't see too many sharks, but I did see some land sharks" — as stock footage of glistening moonlit beaches shone behind him. The most surprising thing about a Buffett concert is that no one tries to sell you a timeshare at the end. His fans formed the shape of a fin above their heads and hulaed side-to-side for "Fins," with full-fledged tropical dioramas of palm trees, sharks, parrots, and beer planted on their heads and Hawaiian and tie-dyed shirts to complete their looks. Maybe that dad was snorting beach sand?
The air lost its Party City paradise feel once the Eagles hit the stage, opening with "Seven Bridges Road" before introducing the late Frey's 24-year-old son, who looks all of 15. He took the lead on "Take It Easy," doing an admirable job at mirroring his father's vocals on this and many other songs. Less successful was "Peaceful Easy Feeling," which lacked some kick and sounded more like a cover with Deacon Frey at the helm. Still, it is remarkable to watch a young man rise to the occasion and sing in front of more than 60,000 people with the ease that he does, and he can take comfort in knowing this is only the beginning of his career in music.
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Vince Gill did a masterful job at filling in on "Take It to the Limit," though the crowd's singing almost drowned him out in what was the first of many sing-alongs. Gill called himself "the 61-year-old new guy in the band" and said he'd been just as big a fan as everyone sitting in the audience before he was asked to join the group last year. The Eagles' set was an apt reminder of why Gill and tens of thousands of fans filled the stands Saturday night. A seemingly endless stream of hits — "Tequila Sunrise," "Witchy Woman," "I Can't Tell You Why," "Lyin' Eyes," "Life in the Fast Lane," and, of course, the one you've had stuck in your head since you began reading this review — were reminders of why this band persists in an era of irony and cynicism, when earnest cowboy songs are perceived as decidedly uncool. Even the most hardened cynic would be impressed by the sheer number of rock 'n' roll canon songs written by the individually prolific members of the band, and especially by Joe Walsh, who still murders every solo, including on his own hit "Life's Been Good."
Never has the encore fake-out been less convincing than when the Eagles left the stage before playing "Hotel California." Rather than cheering, clapping, and stomping, the audience calmly lit the stands with cell-phone flashlights. They didn't have to persuade any bandmates to come back. They knew the Eagles wouldn't leave without playing it. The high-five from Joe Walsh to Steuart Smith on the 12-string guitar proves they still get a kick out of playing it after 47 years.