When the Classic West and East, two two-day concerts in Los Angeles and New York headlined by the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, were announced earlier this year, comparisons to last year’s wildly successful Desert Trip were immediate and inevitable. Like that once in a lifetime bill bringing together six iconic acts of one era, Classic West and East featured six bands from one era, in this case the ‘70s, joining together for a special bill.
That is really where the comparisons end though. Unlike Desert Trip, which was much more about the event, night one of Classic West, held at Dodger Stadium last night (July 15), was all about the headliner, the Eagles, in their first full-scale performance since the death of Glenn Frey in January of 2016.
Don Henley had said in March of 2016 the band would never perform again without Frey, calling their Grammy Awards tribute to their fallen band mate “A fitting farewell.” Indeed, it might have been a fitting farewell for the band.
But one thing that was missing for a performer so much a part of popular culture for the last four decades was a proper memorial for the fans. Frey and the Eagles were not just one of the most commercially successful rock acts of all time with over 150 million albums sold, they were the soundtrack of millions of lives, especially in Southern California, where they are a massive part of the community and culture.
Last night, though, at Dodger Stadium, Frey was given the moving and compelling sendoff the fans who loved his music clearly wanted. The band, joined by Frey’s son, Deacon, and country star Vince Gill, both of whom fit in superbly, took the stage at around 8:45, opening with a harmonious “Seven Bridges Road.”
Immediately after, Henley spoke of his late band mate. “This one’s for you, Glenn. You’re in our hearts tonight and the music goes on,” he said, introducing Frey’s signature song, “Take It Easy.”
The Eagles, famously over the years, have been criticized for how perfectly their live sound replicates the albums. Henley once joked with me about the lambasting, commenting, “It’s not easy to do.” This is a band that strives for virtual audio perfection on stage. So there was little doubt that musically, with Frey’s son Deacon and Gill, the band would strike the right chords. And, as expected, musically it was almost perfect throughout the night.
There were countless highlights, led by a rare version of the epic “The Last Resort,” the sweeping closing track of Hotel California. But that was just one standout moment. Joe Walsh’s guitar work on “Life’s Been Good” and “Rocky Mountain Way” ignited the crowd. Timothy B. Schmidt leading the soulful “I Can’t Tell You Why” was a beautiful moment. Whether it was “Best Of My Love,” “Life In The Fast Lane,” “Tequila Sunrise,” “New Kid In Town,” or “In The City,” practically every song was a hit.
While Henley rightly said the fans were there for the songs, it was the between songs moments that made this night so poignant. It was impossible not to be swept up in emotion when Deacon Frey, clad in a Dodgers jersey, introduced “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” “This is unbelievable,” he said, remarkably composed for a 23-year-old playing his father’s songs in front of 50,000 plus fans. “The last few years have been rough. The only remedy for that is love and I’m feeling it from you tonight. This is my medicine.”
Then during the song, which he delivered with precision, he said, “Anyone out there miss my dad?” The huge cheer that greeted a large photo of his father on the video screen behind him answered the question with a resounding and heartfelt yes.
The elder Frey was also honored when surprise guest Bob Seger, who recorded “Rambling Gambling Man” with Frey in 1968, came out to a massive ovation and took lead vocals on “Heartache Tonight.” The introduction of Seger, who Henley called, “One of the most beloved figures in rock,” of course injected the crowd with a burst of adrenaline.
As much as the show felt like a celebration of Frey at times, it was still a concert, and the Eagles did a superb job of balancing the two, making the emotion part of the show instead of letting it override the night.
That was never more evident than in the closing moment, “Desperado.” Following a rousing encore of “Hotel California,” which of course had the whole stadium singing and featured more stellar guitar by Walsh, and “Rocky Mountain Way,” the opening notes of “Desperado” played.
One of the most beautiful and touching songs ever written in rock, it took on so much added depth tonight. Early in the night, Henley addressed the fact this might be the band’s last hometown show. “In case this is our last dance, we want to thank all the fans in Southern California,” he said. “It all started here in Los Angeles.” And if tonight was indeed the finale in Los Angeles, which I doubt even the band knows at this point, so caught up in emotion, then there was no more perfect way for one of Los Angeles’ greatest bands ever to go out than singing in front of a hometown crowd, “You better let somebody love you before it’s too late.”
With that line, they took a final curtain call and walked off the stage, having said, perhaps, the goodbye that the band and fans had earned after more than four incredible decades together.
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