Maybe the Eagles aren’t so bad

by Ryan Snyder

One of North Carolina’s best-loved sons, psychobilly musician and pop culture pundit Mojo Nixon once posited, “You and your kind are killing rock and roll/ It’s not because you are O-L-D/ It’s ‘cause you ain’t got no soul.” Of course, he was referring to Eagles’ drummer, singer and songwriter Don Henley in his song “Don Henley Must Die.” It’s one of the earliest documented instances of Eagles-loathing in mainstream media, but certainly not the last. Jeff Bridges immortalized his stance on their music as the Dude in the Coen Brothers’ classic The Big Lebowski and it was arguably then that hating on the Eagles exploded as a cult phenomenon and consequently, a part of our national zeitgeist. They still have plenty of loyal fans, however, and their sold-out show at the Greensboro Coliseum on Jan. 17 was a firm testament to that fact. But what could it be about the band that would cause such a contentious outcry among the faces of various hipster segments over several decades? Many argue that their songs are one bland, wistful homage to self-indulgence after another in the guise of laid-back country rock. Others say that Henley is just an arrogant, unlikable jackass and, based purely on anecdotal evidence, I don’t find the latter to be too farfetched. An acquaintance once told me of an Eagles meet-and-great where guests were specifically instructed not to speak to Henley. It seems that he possesses all of the self-importance of Bono, minus the acute sense of the absurd.

I’ll admit that I came into the show with many of these very preconceived notions regarding the Eagles, despite being a casual fan for a good part of my late teens and early twenties. But after seeing them live for the first time, I’m obligated to acknowledge that they really know how to put on a high-quality show. They’re certainly notorious for their exorbitant ticket prices, with the best seats going for over $190. The consumer gouging didn’t stop at the box office, however. The Greensboro Coliseum was asking a ridiculous $15 to park in the complex lot. No signs were posted stating such impending thievery until cars were practically in the lot and even then it was too late to turn around because of the enormous swell of traffic pouring into the venue. Not that there were any other parking options, with the Coliseum being located in one of the most crime-ridden areas of town and all. Fortunately, savvy (and broke) attendees could have abused an unstated barter system upon entrance. Don’t have $15? Just give them what you have. It’s not like there’s anywhere else to go but forward. With much of the crowd stuck in the traffic outside, the band opened the show with four rather unremarkable tracks from their latest, Long Road Out of Eden. Quite prescient on their part, knowing that the only people who came to hear them would be in their seats an hour before tip-off. The four principles of the band — Henley, Glen Frey, Timothy V. Schmidt and the great Joe Walsh — came dressed like the cast of Reservoir Dogs; slickly tailored dark suits with skinny ties, the nine-piece backing ensemble each in their own dark attire. They are apparently dressing their age nowadays, with Frey even joking that the fans had come to see the Eagles Assisted Living Tour. Mercifully, they spared the audience just about any tension involved in building up to “Hotel California” by getting it out of the way only five songs into the show. There’s a reason why Googling the phrase “Hotel California sucks” returns nearly 300,000 search results. But of all of the supposedly disagreeable qualities that the band is said to exhibit, its undeniable that they boast the best harmonies this side of the Beach Boys and they remain nearly perfectly intact to this day. Each member possesses their own distinctive singing style, though I could completely do without pieces that feature Schmidt’s countertenor whine. He is an integral part of their overall dynamic, however, and it was fun to hear him tease the crowd with an a cappella “Tempted by the Fruit of Another.” Frey took the point in audience interaction and came across as sincere and genuinely funny. He smirked just before “Take It to the Limit” — one of my personal favorites — that it was the one his wife called “The Credit Card Song.” He even went as far to say that “Lyin’ Eyes” was dedicated to his first wife, also known to him as “Plaintiff.” Just after an outstanding “You Belong to the City” and “Long Run,” Frey noted that they would be back to play after the break for a very long time. He could have easily said that they’d play a very long song, however, as “Long Road Out of Eden” seemed to drag endlessly. He was correct about the length of the show, however, as the performance time clocked in at over three hours and 30 songs. Say what you will about the ticket price, but that should be well worth it for the true fans. The band didn’t limit the set list to strictly Eagles hits, however. The crowd heard several solo hits from Henley and Walsh, along with a few James Gang classics. “Boys of Summer,” “Dirty Laundry,” “All She Wants to Do Is Dance,” Funk #49,” “Walk Away,” “Life’s Been Good” and “Rocky Mountain Way” all found their way into the show. Walsh drew a lot of laughter with the improvised line of “They send me e-mails/ Tell me Glen’s great.” I was holding my breath in anticipation of hearing their harmonic rendition of the Tom Waits’ classic “’Ol 55,” but was sadly disappointed. They didn’t play “Seven Bridges Road” either. They closed the exhausting two sets with “Take It to the Limit” and the classic “Desperado,” featuring Henley solo under a spotlight. The four amigos proceeded to take a walk around the stage, bowing to fans on all three sides. It was a good night for them and all in attendance and maybe I don’t hate them as much as the Dude told me I should.