EAGLES @ PEPSI CENTER | 10/5/13 The Eagles' current tour is titled "The History of the Eagles," and this performance at the Pepsi Center did a great job of living up to that title with side lessons about Linda Ronstadt's old touring band, the country-rock stylings of Poco in the 1970s, and the musical innovations of the Flying Burrito Brothers. The main focus of the survey, of course, was the Eagles, and the lessons came in the form of stories and songs delivered by the iconic band. Despite the scope of the venue, the show felt both intimate and immediate.
When the lights dimmed at around 8 p.m., the stage looked downright bare. Four pairs of lights hung above a bare stage, and a length of dark curtain was the sole backdrop. Glenn Frey and Don Henley emerged from different sides of the stage to little ceremony, and they headed to a pair of stools and picked up acoustic guitars. Neither offered any introduction to "Saturday Night," a tune from the pair's first collaborations in 1971. It was only after the two wrapped up their straightforward take on the harmony-laden song in waltz time that Frey formally greeted the audience.
After the obligatory shout-out to Colorado, Frey explained that "Saturday Night" was written when "we were just putting this band together" in the late summer of 1971. They'd penned the song in a little shack in the San Fernando Valley, after Frey and Henley decided to quit Linda Rondstadt's backup band and strike out on their own.
Frey casually recalled that Rondstadt had recommended a lead guitarist named Bernie Leadon, a talented songwriter who also played banjo and sang lead. On cue, Bernie Leadon emerged from behind the black curtain and strapped on a six-string. Decked out in a Jim 'N Nick's BBQ T-Shirt, Leadon led the trio in a version of "Train Leaves," a country blues number he wrote in the early days of the band.
Frey continued to recount the early days of the group, and each recollection ended with the appearance of another member. Bassist Timothy B. Schmit came out to play on a stripped-down version of "Peaceful Easy Feeling," while Joe Walsh entered for a version of "Witchy Woman" that saw Don Henley playing a small drum kit with lush five-part harmonies.
The stagecraft remained minimal for these first songs, and it felt like this coliseum show could easily fit into a smaller venue. But then a video interview with Don Henley started on one of the screens, and the curtains went up to reveal a sprawling set. The Eagles hadn't lost their flair for large-scale theatrics.
As the band shifted into tunes from Desperado, background screens lit up with old footage of the band and high-res prairie and cowboy scenes. A full backup band, including guitarist Steuart Smith, Richard Davis, Will Hollis, Scott Crago and Michael Thompson rounded out the group's stadium sound.
Still, the focus of the setlist remained rooted in the group's history. A video clip of Glenn Frey preceded a suite of songs from the group's third record from 1974, On the Border, a selection that included the band's first number-one single, "Best of My Love." Selections from 1975's One of These Nights followed, as did the colorful animations and vintage footage beamed on the rectangular screens.
By the time the group exited for intermission, the structure of the show was starting to feel predictable. This was a jog down memory lane for devoted Eagles fans. At every mini-history lesson from the band, fans in the front rows nodded and offered loud recollections about what they were doing when every album came out.
But the Eagles are still an experienced touring rock band, and they still know how to deliver a large-scale stadium show. The second half of the set veered from the chronological, story-song formula. Timothy B. Schmidt sang a tune from 1994's reunion album Hell Freezes Over, while Joe Walsh performed the vocal/guitar effects on "Those Shoes" before taking the spotlight for a rendition of his solo tune "Life's Been Good." He killed it on the high-energy version of "Funk #49."
As the set progressed, it became more and more obvious that the band's linear walk through their catalog that the outfit purposefully left out some their biggest crowd pleasers. They saved those for the end of the show. While this tour may have the mood and feel of a history lesson, the Eagles haven't forgotten the power of a good encore. The band waited until its first encore to deliver "Hotel California" to a frenzied crowd, and followed that up with a second encore appearance of a trio of their most treasured songs -- "Take It Easy," "Rocky Mountain Way" and "Desperado."
That ending added the feel of an old-school rock show to the band's formal attempt at summing up its own story. Despite the lectures and despite the structure, this wasn't a college course on classic rock. At its heart, the performance was an arena rock show, a spectacle that the Eagles can still pull off masterfully after more than forty years.
The Eagles Pepsi Center - Denver, CO 10/5/13
01. Saturday Night 02. Train Leaves Here This Morning 03. Peaceful, Easy Feeling 04. Witchy Woman 05. Doolin Dalton 06. Tequila Sunrise 07. Doolin' Dalton (reprise) 08. Already Gone 09. The Best of My Love 10. Lyin' Eyes 11. One of These Nights 12. Take It to the Limit 13. Pretty Maids All in a Row 14. I Cant Tell You Why 15. New Kid in Town 16. Love Will Keep Us Alive 17. Heartache Tonight 18. Those Shoes 19. In the City 20. Life's Been Good 21. The Long Run 22. Funk #49 23. Life in the Fast Lane
24. Hotel California 25. Take It Easy 26. Rocky Mountain Way 27. Desperado
Personal bias: Forget "Hotel California" and "Heartache Tonight." I was thrilled to hear "Long Run," a track from the band's final album. Seeing Don Henley break into falsetto vocals and summon his best James Brown was a highlight of the night. Random Note: Before breaking for intermission, Glenn Frey declared, "Guys our age have to go to the bathroom." By the Way: Frey's a consummate joker, it seems. During the band introductions, he paid tribute to his hometown of Detroit, "the city that gave you Ted Negent and won't take him back."