Review: Eagles offer hit-filled history lesson

The Eagles didn't just give fans a typical concert Friday at Time Warner Cable Arena. It gave generations of fans a musical history lesson from its 1971 formation to its 1994 reunion.

Prompted by Alison Eastwood’s acclaimed two-part documentary on the band (which airs on Showtime), The History of the Eagles Tour is part “Storytellers,” part “Behind the Music” and part greatest hits set with 27 songs that are practically all classic rock radio staples.

Don Henley and Glenn Frey started the show off modestly, seated on road cases at the front of the stage for a quiet, acoustic duet of “Saturday Night.” This simple setup, Henley explained, is how it all started. The show played a bit like musical theater early on as founding member Bernie Leadon, who left the band in 1975, joined them to sing “Train Leaves Here This Morning.” Longtime bassist Timothy B. Schmidt (who boarded the Eagles’ train in 1978) and Joe Walsh appeared for “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and “Witchy Woman,” respectively before the curtain behind them dropped in the darkness and a team of stage hands shuffled the equipment gathered at the front of the stage away to reveal a more typical Eagles’ stage setup. The band lined up in a row with touring guitarist Seuart Smith and Leadon as Henley alternated between drums, percussion, and guitar. Four additional musicians filled out the band.

Frey, Henley, and later Walsh and Schmidt shared stories about the songs live and via voiceovers. Frey singled out producer Bill Szymczyk in the crowd. Szymczyk lives in Little Switzerland, NC and, Frey says, has an apartment in Charlotte. Szymczyk produced the Eagles and introduced them to Walsh, with whom he has an even longer relationship. Frey said they’d told Szymczyk they wanted to rock as the group launched into “Already Gone.”

To the crowd’s delight Schmidt took the lead on “I Can’t Tell You Why” (with Frey on pedal steel and Walsh on keys) and the lone second act track “Love Will Keep Us Alive,” which was recorded for 1994’s “Hell Freezes Over.” The format of the show took a less “Storytellers,” more traditional concert direction after mention of the reunion. Instead of jumping further into the future with material from 2007’s “Long Road Out of Eden,” Walsh performed a handful of his own classic rock staples (“In the City,” “Life’s Been Good” and the James Gang’s “Funk #49).

Although he’d communicated solely with bluesy licks up to that point, Walsh came alive during this segment, dancing like a clown during the band introductions and goofing with Schmidt. He even approached Smith’s microphone during “Life’s Been Good” before darting for his own. The band cracked up. The crowd loved him. It was as if once the switch had been flipped, he couldn’t turn his personality off.

The set list consisted of all the hits you’d expect. There were a few surprises. Walsh kicked off the second half of the set (following a 20-minute intermission) with “Pretty Maids All in a Row.” With his Talk Box guitar the funky “Those Shoes” (which certainly hints at where Henley would go in his solo career) had the crowd up and moving.

Following the encore of “Hotel California,” Frey mentioned that this is their forty-second sell-out on this tour. That’s pretty impressive, but the Eagles’ catalog is pretty impressive. The group never even got to “Seven Bridges Road,” much to the disappointment of the drunk guy who was singing out-of-tune behind us all evening.

The crowd was anything but racially diverse, but it did span generations with music so familiar it seemed to bring families together. You could see daughters and fathers singing along together, young kids that knew the words as well as their parents.

Most of the crowd missed the opening set by JD & the Straight Shot, who went on stage right before the advertised door time. The band is best known for the theme song to AMC’s series “Hell on Wheels.” Frontman James Dolan introduced the songs with stories like one about writing the song “Midnight Run” for the film “Lawless.” The film’s producers loved the track, but wanted Willie Nelson to sing it.

The group had a classic sound that bridged soul, Southern boogie, and country rock punctuated by banjo, the occasional washboard, fiddle, and rich harmonies. It shares a manager with the Eagles and it turns out Dolan is no stranger to arenas. His day job includes running Madison Square Garden. He’s also the President/CEO of Cablevision and owner of New York's Knicks and Rangers, which explains why he could afford to give cds away in the lobby. It seemed strange that the 7-piece band was relegated to performing for such a small crowd, but what they didn’t know was some of the staff was clapping along while a couple was dancing in the concession area.