Two songs into the Eagles's Orange Bowl concert Sunday, guitarist-singer Glenn Frey stepped up to the mike, grinned boyishly, and said, "We're baaaaaaacccck." Depending on how you feel about stadium shows in general and the Eagles in particular -- and somewhat incidentally, depending on whether you saw Poltergeist II, on which Frey was riffing -- you could take his line as a blessing or a curse.
From the air-conditioned aerie of the Orange Bowl press box, which looks down on the 50-yard line, the view obscured, in this case, by thousands of hooting, whooping, and occasionally quietly appreciative Eagles fans, it seemed a moot point. Way, way, way up there, the flesh-and-blood Eagles were gnat-size, although their likenesses were blown up to Brobdingnagian proportions and broadcast on two video screens, one to the left and one to the right of the stage, which the band and its set designer had framed with looming fake mountains.
Way, way, way up there, with a panoramic view, the spectacle resembled a choreographed-to-the-nanosecond Democratic or GOP national rally as much as it did an arena rock show. Checking in at approximately two-and-one-half hours -- 28 songs, or speeches, if you will -- the concert took on a conventionlike monotony, punctuated by the infrequent riveting moment.
There were, as I've mentioned, the figures of the stage's occupants reproduced in utter gargantuanness on video screens, just as they are at the two parties' quadrennial clambakes. There were sporadic floor -- in this case, "field" -- demonstrations by the gathered delegates (fans). And at least one group of people unfurled and proudly displayed a "Walsh for President" banner when guitarist-singer Joe Walsh took over the frontman's spot for the first time, singing his dreary "Pretty Maids All in a Row." (Devotees of fruitcake presidential candidates and inveterate Walsh followers no doubt recall the geezer guitarist's goofball run for the Oval Office A or did he vie for vice president? -- in 1992.) At no time, however, did balloons fall from the ceiling.
"We want to welcome you to our resumption," Frey deadpanned coyly after Walsh sang "Pretty Maids," the show's fifth song. "It's not a reunion, it's a resumption."
Call it what you will, but the Eagles -- Frey, Walsh, drummer-singer Don Henley, bassist-singer Timothy B. Schmit, and guitarist Don Felder -- the foremost purveyors of the insipid Seventies genre generically labeled "the California sound," a whiny rock-pop-country hybrid that lacked the most appealing elements of all three of those musical pigeonholes, have returned to the stage and studio after a fourteen-year absence. Currently they're in the midst of a 50-plus-date national tour, and this fall, according to Frey, who served as the band's designated between-songs patterer, they'll release a live album that also contains four new songs, all of which they played at the Orange Bowl.
For those who didn't attend -- and for those of you who genuinely care about such things -- the Eagles put on a professional, likable, and, for the most part, passionless performance, pretty much what you'd expect from a group of professional, likable, and, for the most part, passionless middle-age musicians. They deftly mixed their Seventies smashes with solo successes and the quartet of new songs, opening with perhaps their biggest hit, 1977's "Hotel California," and closing with their first hit, 1972's "Take It Easy." Augmented by four hired hands on keyboards, percussion-drums, and sax-violin, the Eagles executed a well-paced show, giving, as the Kinks once winkingly put it, the people what they wanted.
That included a heaping helping of the band's signature mellower-than-thou midtempo acoustic country, notably "Lyin' Eyes," "Tequila Sunrise," "New Kid in Town," and "I Can't Tell You Why," as well as such controlled rockers as "Heartache Tonight," "One of These Nights," "Victim of Love," and "Life in the Fast Lane." And they piled on their solo stuff, especially during the second half of the show: Henley's "Dirty Laundry," "Boys of Summer," "Heart of the Matter," and "All She Wants to Do Is Dance"; Frey's "You Belong to the City" and "Smuggler's Blues"; and Walsh's "Life's Been Good" and "Rocky Mountain Way," plus "Funk 49" from his pre-Eagles days as frontman for the lumpen-proletariat-rocking James Gang.
Unflinchingly democratic, Henley, Frey, and Walsh shared lead vocals, while Schmit, who has the prettiest A if least distinguished A voice in the band, sang lead on the comatose "I Can't Tell You Why" and one of the group's two new ballads, the gag-inducing "Love Will Keep Us Alive." (Just so you know, the other new ballad, "Help Me Through the Night," which Walsh sang, was equally gag-inducing. Both songs' titles accurately represent their innate drivel quotient.) Felder simply peeled off yeomanlike lead lines on his guitar, occasionally contributing "oohhhhhhh/aaaahhhhh" backup harmonies.
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Henley's reedy voice remains the most distinctive of the bunch, and he sang with the most confidence, whether sitting behind his drum kit, as he did during the show's first hour, or strapping on a guitar to join the other four, as he did periodically during the second hour-plus. Frey sometimes sounded tentative, particularly early in the show on "New Kid in Town" and the new "Girl from Yesterday," which he described as "a country song" -- meaning Felder played steel guitar. Walsh, as always has been the case, made the most of his limited mosquito-in-heat whine. And speaking of whines, the band's trademark high-pitched five-part harmonies sounded as overweening as ever, especially on the unspeakably treacly "Lyin' Eyes."
Until the second half of the second half of the show, the Eagles exuded a static, almost stately stage presence, with the exception of Walsh donning a red-and-white-striped Dr. Seuss funnel hat to jive his way through the dippy "Ordinary Average Guy." Late in the show, however, after lulling the crowd into a peaceful, queasy feeling with four consecutive ballads, the Eagles showed vital signs. Frey, Walsh, Schmit, and Henley gathered to perform a little in-line pogo while Felder played the lead break in "Dirty Laundry"; Walsh, Schmit, and Felder mimed a Diana-Mary-Flo shuffle as Frey sang "Smuggler's Blues" ("a song from the bad old days," Frey announced at its outset, "a song about this great city"); and somewhat pathetically, all five periodically paired off for some Keith Richards/Ronnie Wood lean-into-each-other-as-we-bend-over-our-guitars bonding.
They closed the second half of the show with 1977's "Life in the Fast Lane," their surprisingly prescient skewering of late Seventies-early Eighties excess, then encored with what they hope will be their comeback single, "Get Over It," which Henley described as being "about the age we live in, the age of whining, the age of victimhood." Like "Fast Lane," it evinces social commentary by chronicling human foibles, in this case Geraldo/Sally Jessy/Donahue/Oprah-like confessionals that blame everyone else for one's personal problems. It rocks moderately, with "commercial appeal" written all over it. Expect to hear it ad nauseam this fall.
Yes, Henley sang "Desperado" during the second encore, predictably pausing for dramatic effect before the song's last line while the crowd worked itself into a mild lather. No, they didn't do "Witchy Woman," "Peaceful Easy Feeling," "Best of My Love," "The Long Run," or "Take It to the Limit." And in case there was any uncertainty about the show being over after the Eagles played "Take It Easy" as their third encore, production credits for the concert rolled on the two megascreens as the band left the stage, just as if it had been an MTV special, which, come to think of it, it already is scheduled to be this fall.