To those who passed on Wednesday night’s concert at Spectrum Center because they think the Eagles absolutely aren’t the Eagles without Glenn Frey — that the magic simply cannot be there without the band’s late frontman — I can only say ... hmm, how do I put it nicely?
Let’s try this: Get over yourselves.
The show proved, unequivocally, that this incarnation of the Eagles can conjure up plenty of magic, even in the absence of Frey.
For one, the grizzled veterans remain terrific. Somehow, at 70 years old, founding member Don Henley sounds just about as good as he did when he was 35. Joe Walsh, also 70, maybe does not, but his flair for theatrics — from his over-the-top facial expressions to his kickass guitar licks and tricks, including that talk box, that wah-wah pedal and that good ol’ slide guitar — makes it really difficult to tear your eyes away anytime the dude starts wailing. Timothy B. Schmit (an Eagle since 1977) and Steuart Smith (since 2001) remain remarkably talented up-front players, with bassist Schmit particularly gifted at elevating the harmonies and Smith a great straight guitarist to Walsh’s wacko.
Yes, of course, Frey’s death in 2016 left some pretty big shoes to fill. Some might argue that that should have been that for the four-decades-old band. But you could just as easily contend that the two new additions to the band snap perfectly into his place.
Vince Gill, for starters. Though the introduction of the newest touring member as the lead vocalist on “Take It to the Limit” (the night’s fourth song, and one Frey usually handled) may have caused fans to hold their breath, they didn’t have to wait long to exhale — the Country Music Hall of Famer’s warm, airy voice wrapped itself beautifully around the lyrics.
In my notebook, I jotted down “honeyed” to describe his tenor. A friend later texted me: “His voice is ... dipped in creamy peanut butter.” Peanut butter, honey — either way, delicious. Though the songs he led on (including “Tequila Sunrise,” “Ol’ 55,” “Lyin’ Eyes,” “New Kid in Town,” “Heartache Tonight”) were studio-perfect arrangement-wise, Gill’s contribution made them feel fresh again.
Then there’s the 24-year-old with the shoulder-length brown hair and the slight goatee and the voice that, what do you know, sounds a heck of a lot like Glenn Frey’s.
To be honest, it shouldn’t work. The day the band replaced Glenn Frey with his son Deacon should have gone down in history as the day the Eagles jumped the shark. Yet here we are. It doesn’t feel like a gimmick. Or, OK, maybe it feels like one, a little bit; but it certainly doesn’t sound like one. It sounds ... well, it sounds like the Eagles are supposed to sound.
“Sadly, Glenn is not here with us in the flesh,” Henley told the sold-out crowd early in the show, after the younger Frey had already enthralled it (and haunted it — in a good way) with “Take It Easy.” “But he is here in this fine young man over here.”
And I think once fans got over their initial fears about whether the 2018 Eagles would measure up, it was just like old times.
The flashy Joe Walsh did his flashy Joe Walsh thing, sporting leather pants and contorting his face during solos on cuts like “In the City” into an expression you might see worn by someone tiptoeing across a floor covered with a cockroaches.
The low-key Timothy B. Schmit did his low-key Timothy B. Schmit thing, crooning through lush ballad “I Can’t Tell You Why” (from a seated position thanks to a leg injury he sustained after falling in the shower when the band was in Chicago).
Henley bounced back and forth between his drum kit and a guitar, shining brightest on 1. a bravura performance of “Hotel California” that got launched with a seductively jazzy trumpet solo and 2. the aching trademark finale: “Desperado,” which put a five-woman string section to wistfully magnificent use.
Now, full disclosure requires me to tell you that this was my first time ever seeing the Eagles in concert. I did see Glenn Frey perform solo at McGlohon Theater about six years ago at a Music With Friends show, then Joe Walsh solo with the same club in 2015. But I never got to see the full band when Frey was alive. (I mentioned my Frey and Walsh experiences to an old co-worker on Facebook who was trying to suggest the new band is inferior to the old band and, though he’s never seen the new one, he shot back: “I am sure that was great, but there was true magic with that group of guys.”)
Anyway, I realize my lack of experience with the “real” Eagles — or however the purists want to refer to them — may color your view of my opinions.
So don’t take it from me. Take it from Music With Friends founder Larry Farber, who happened to email me out of the blue during the show to get my impressions.
I felt it was more valuable to know what he thought of the show. After all, Farber says he’s seen 10 to 15 Eagles concerts in his lifetime.
“It is pretty damn close and in some ways better,” he told me when I asked him how this compared to the Glenn days. Then he referred to it as “a spiritual experience.”
To know what he meant, you had to be there Wednesday night, to see and hear Deacon Frey performance of “Peaceful Easy Feeling” (with vocals that once again sounded eerily like his dad’s), and to feel the gut punch at the end when the projectionist cast Glenn Frey’s image onto the giant screen above the rear of the stage.
In the image — and perhaps from even higher above — Glenn Frey was smiling.
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” (Joe Walsh song)
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. “Lyin’ Eyes”
14. “Love Will Keep Us Alive”
15. “New Kid in Town”
16. “Next Big Thing” (Vince Gill cover)
17. “Those Shoes”
18. “Already Gone”
19. “Victim of Love”
20. “Walk Away” (James Gang cover)
21. “Heartache Tonight”
22. “Life’s Been Good” (Joe Walsh song)
23. “Funk #49” (James Gang cover)
24. “Life in the Fast Lane”
25. “Hotel California”
26. “Rocky Mountain Way” (Joe Walsh song)