Eagles | First Direct Arena | Leeds | 23 Jun 2014

Eagles land in Leeds...

For a band that famously said they would only get back together when “hell freezes over”, the Eagles (not The Eagles, apparently) seem to tour so regularly that some form of major climatic event is clearly long overdue. The band are currently coming towards the end of a fairly lengthy jaunt around the UK and Ireland and, fresh from a four night stint at London’s O2, appeared on Monday evening on the stage of the relatively intimate 13,500 capacity First Direct Arena in Leeds.

This tour is billed as the History Of The Eagles, and it pretty much lives up to that billing with a couple of exceptions, more of which later. The twenty-seven song set list is a good career retrospective, and the performance was as flawless as you might expect from such a skilled bunch of old pros.

The evening started in a low key way with chief Eagles Don Henley and Glenn Frey ambling on stage, picking up a couple of acoustic guitars and making themselves comfortable on an equipment crate and stool before playing a lovely version of “Saturday Night” from 1973’s “Desperado” album. As the cheers died down they were joined on stage by Bernie Leadon who left the band in 1975, but happily is guesting throughout the current dates. Leadon’s familiar fair, curly locks may have long gone, but his voice is still sweet - as he evidenced on the second number “Train Leaves Here This Morning”- and his guitar playing remains classy.

The early part of the first set suffered a little as video interview clips were shown which didn’t help the early rhythm of the show, but in hindsight these were probably deemed necessary to fill some time as additional band members wandered on stage, pieces of kit were introduced and the stage set grew. Bassist Timothy B Schmit joined Henley, Frey and Leadon for “Peaceful Easy Feeling” before Henley took a seat at a small drum kit stage left and the band started “Witchy Woman” while Joe Walsh wandered on unannounced from stage left. Four songs in and the five Eagles were finally present and correct. The remainder of the first set comprised “Doolin’Dalton/Desperado (Reprise)”, “Already Gone” (which featured superb lead playing from Leadon), “Best Of My Love”, “Lyin’ Eyes” (dedicated by Frey to his first wife, “plaintiff”), “One Of These Nights” and “Take It To The Limit”.

During this first set Walsh looked rather subdued, perhaps as the songs predated his joining the band but he seemed content to remain low key on these tracks and leave the bulk of the playing to Frey, Leadon and additional guitarist Steuart Smith who throughout the evening contributed a significant amount of excellent guitar work, including a note perfect rendition of Don Felder’s parts of “Hotel California”, on a double neck guitar, naturally. Throughout the evening Walsh worked his way through a staggering array of guitars which pleased the axe-nerds in my area of the crowd as he seemingly changed guitar every song.

The ebullient and wisecracking Frey - sample: “I’m from Detroit where mother is a half a word” – announced a short interval with the excuse that with such a lengthy set the band were required a bathroom break to get through it. The interval also saw the last of Leadon’s contributions until the encores.

Post interval the journey through the band’s history continued with “Pretty Maids All In A Row”, Walsh’s first vocal lead of the evening. Walsh's vocals may be fragile but they are endearing, and really it's his guitar playing that people particularly want to hear and the last third of the set is where he comes to the fore, cutting loose on “Life’s Been Good”, the old James Gang song “Funk #49” and an encore of “Rocky Mountain Way” where the backdrop showed Joe dressed as superman flying across the Rockies as the real Joe dazzled us with his Talk Box and some gonzo riffing.

Timothy B Schmit provided gorgeous vocals on “I Can’t Tell You Why” and “Love Will Keep Us Alive” but the vocal star of the Eagles remains Don Henley, possessor of one of the great American voices. His singing on such numbers as “The Best Of My Love”, “Desperado”, “One Of These Nights” and “The Long Run” were simply sublime. Before “In The City” Frey thanked the audience for their respect in remaining seated through the slower ballads but advised that they could now feel free to express themselves. Most didn’t however, and remained seated although the band didn’t seem to mind.

The set list was pretty much perfect - although perhaps I'm alone in finding it strange that the “Long Road Out Of Eden” album was ignored entirely throughout the evening’s walk through the band’s history. Not their finest work, but I’d quite like to have heard “Waiting In The Weeds” for example at the expense of “Those Shoes”. The band was augmented by five additional musicians - they were excellent and deserve to be name checked so take a bow Steuart Smith, Scott Crago, Richard Davis, Will Hollis and Michael Thompson.

When all is said and done, it has to be said that it was a damn good show. The sound was immaculate throughout with every individual instrument crystal clear. Some may criticise the slickness or predictability of the performance but with ticket prices so high the audience has a right to expect a professional show. The band’s request that audience members remain seated during much of the performance seemed to suit most people, and, it has to be said, their somewhat controversial and often ridiculed “strictly no photography” edict meant that you saw most of the show first hand rather than though the screen of the cell phone of the person in front of you, and this made a surprisingly welcome change. Including the interval and video segments the performance lasted around three hours, which contrasted significantly with Eric Clapton's miserly eighty five minute performance at the same venue the night before.

There was a sour note to the evening though, and something of a jarring omission. The tour is billed as the History Of The Eagles and while former member Randy Meisner was given a respectful shout out by Frey during the introduction to “Take It To The Limit”, Don Felder's contribution to the band was studiously and, to my mind, rather pettily ignored altogether. His airbrushing from this history seems so Stalinist that it was almost a surprise to see him still appearing in the photos used in the programme and not as a silhouette. To me this reflected poorly on Frey and Henley, who had they name checked Felder, admitted that they had had their differences, but acknowledged that he too was part of their history they would have looked much more gracious, and bigger people.

Setlist: Saturday Night, Train Leaves Here This Morning, Peaceful Easy Feeling, Witchy Woman, Doolin-Dalton, Tequila Sunrise, Doolin'-Dalton/Desperado (Reprise) , Already Gone, The Best Of My Love, Lyin' Eyes, One Of These Nights, Take It To The Limit, Pretty Maids All In A Row, I Can't Tell You Why, New Kid In Town, Love Will Keep Us Alive, Heartache Tonight, Those Shoes, In The City, Life's Been Good, The Long Run, Funk #49, Life In The Fast Lane, Hotel California, Take It Easy, Rocky Mountain Way, Desperado

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