Rebooting Hotel California tour in a not-quite-post-pandemic world
Rebooting their Hotel California tour in a not-quite-post-pandemic world, the Eagles bring back their familiar hits into a world of uncertainty.
Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.
Act one of their show is the entirety of Hotel California, but it’s not your standard concert – using strategic stage craft and showmanship, they bring the narrative of the album to life, and sweep the audience into the gothic fantasy of the album.
Setting the mood before the curtains ever rise, Erik Satie’s “Gnossiennes No. 1” plays as everyone waits in anticipation for the legendary rock group. While using this type of music may seem out of place as an introduction to a group that, at one time, exemplified the excesses of “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll,” it is actually the perfect preface to Hotel California.
Satie’s “Gnossiennes” carries with it the same level of rebellious experimentation as the Eagles in ’76: Satie was experimenting with form and chordal structures while writing in free time, and the Eagles were fusing Southern-California’s Mexican music with Reggae. The song establishes the eerie vibe of the album, and hints at the grand orchestral elements to come.
By the time the Eagles wrote Hotel California in 1976, the stoner’s paradise of ‘72’s “Peaceful Easy Feeling” was long gone, and the vices (and liabilities) of fame had set in with the group. Hotel California ruminates on the pitfalls of the music industry from the perspective of rock stars stuck inside its luxurious confines. In the song, “Hotel California,” there are a couple of characters present: “the nightman” and the woman whose mind is “Tiffany-twisted.” On this tour, these two characters are theatrically manifested by way of vinyl record.
Creating the mysterious environment, mission bells chime as a night watchman dressed in nineteenth century garb walks across the stage, carrying a copy of Hotel California on vinyl. Placing the record on the turntable next to an antique candelabra, the curtain rises, and the hauntingly guitar intro begins.
Don Henley’s voice is still as nimble as ever as he sings: “On a dark desert highway / Cool wind in my hair.” While Henley and Joe Walsh are the only members of the band who were actually involved in the recording of the album, they are joined by a cast of later additions: Timothy B. Schmit, who replaced Randy Meisner for the Hotel California tour of 1977, and Steuart Smith who began touring with the group in 2001. Filling in for the legendary Glenn Frey are his son, Deacon Frey, and the Grammy Award-winning country great Vince Gill.
Opening their performance with “Hotel California” is like a rock ‘n’ roll rite of passage. With its cinematic lyrics, Walsh’s crowning guitar solo, and the group’s turn-of-the-century attire, the Eagles hand us our room keys – we are now in Hotel California.
There is no acknowledgement of the audience as the group goes through the album; the mellow “New Kid in Town,” is led by Gill’s smooth vocals, and Joe Walsh’s intricate guitar work drives the group through “Life in the Fast Lane.” During “Wasted Time,” the final song of side one, the back portion of the stage is illuminated to reveal a 36-piece orchestra, led by their original orchestral arranger, Jim Ed Norman. The orchestration of Hotel California garnered the group a lot of flak for “over-production” back in the day, but to experience the merging of a guitar band with an orchestra – live – adds an extra emotional layer, and brings a one-of-a-kind sophistication to their performance.
The only break in playing is when a woman in full “Old Hollywood” glamor walks across the stage to flip the record over – she is the embodiment of the female spirit in “Hotel California.” Opening the second side of the album with the instrumental reprise of “Wasted Time,” there is a brilliant juxtaposition between the softness of the ensemble and the rock-edge of Eagles’ “Victim of Love.”
Joe Walsh performs his first lead vocal with the most underrated Eagles song of all time, the melancholy piano-waltz, “Pretty Maids All in a Row.” When he was just 29, he wrote the lyrics, “Heroes they come and they go…Why do we give up our hearts to the past / And why must we grow up so fast?” Now, standing at 73 years old, his lyrics represent the nostalgia that the entire Eagles tour is fueled by. These are our musical heroes, fully grown – no longer racing towards their future, but now looking back into their past. With the orchestra behind him tugging gently at the heart strings, this song is one of the most sentimental moments in the entire concert.
After Vince Gill breaks the seriousness with the up-tempo tune, “Try and Love Again,” the Hotel California portion of the show is brought to a close with Henley’s poetic treatise on environmental conservation, “The Last Resort.”
Act two of their show opens with the southern-soaked harmonies of “Seven Bridges Road.” As the Eagles relax into their comfort clothes, the second half of their show is a performance the essentials from their Greatest Hits (1971-1976) album (the best-selling album of all-time), adding a couple of solo Henley and Walsh tracks along the way.
VIDEO: Fan footage of The Eagles performing “Take It Easy” with Deacon Frey on lead vocals
Deacon, who wears the ‘long hair, sun glasses, and blue jeans’ look as well as his dad, performs “Take It Easy,” “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” and “Already Gone.” While his father casts a long shadow, Deacon performs with a certain warmth that reaches the crowd; simultaneously reminding the audience of Glenn, while remaining his own person.
Vince Gill takes on the higher-pitched “Heartache Tonight” (a nod to his country & western roots), “Tequila Sunrise,” and “Take it to the Limit.” With a voice that reaches the heights of Randy Meisner’s original, the addition of the orchestra on “Take it to the Limit” proves to be a magical moment as the staccato notes from the chorus, “Take it – to the limit, one more time,” echo through the arena. Timothy B. Schmit also showcased his high-pitched vocals on “I Can’t Tell You Why,” from The Long Run, and “Love Will Keep Us Alive.”
As the heartbeat of the band, Don Henley’s vocal and percussion performance remain paramount throughout the entire show – especially on “One of These Nights” and “Witchy Woman.” In the light of a single spotlight, backed by a honky-tonk piano and the orchestra, Henley’s poetic prowess is fully manifest in “Desperado.” In the echoes of the closing lyric, “You better let somebody love you, before it’s too late,” there are noticeable sniffles from the audience members, both young and old.
Joe Walsh’s larger-than-life character brings an expected irreverence to the rock concert. With his tongue-in-cheek style, he slightly updates his lyrics to “Life’s Been Good,” in keeping with the times: “I’m makin’ records, my fans they can’t wait / They write me emails, tell me I’m great.” Throwing in some James Gang with “Funk #49,” and introducing his talk box in “Rocky Mountain Way,” Walsh puts his signature stamp on the second half of the concert.
Bringing their entire show to a close, the Eagles reach back to 1974 with their first number one hit, “Best of My Love.” With the lyrics, “I’m going back in time and it’s a sweet dream,” their seamless harmonies sum up the basis for their performance: time-blurring nostalgia.