What does it mean to reckon with your legacy? Does confronting a creative achievement — even if it’s the product of decades past, when you were someone else entirely — constitute a form of capitulation, a shrugging acceptance that you’ve peaked and are merely coasting on the fumes of previous brilliance? Or is it an opportunity to consider a beloved artwork from a different perspective, applying all the life accrued in the interim to arrive at something that feels familiar, even as it continues to surprise?
Whatever side of the divide you come down on with regard to the Eagles, allow the band this much: Its Saturday night performance of 1977 magnum opus Hotel California was a thrilling showcase for one of rock music’s defining records.
The sprawling, nearly three-hour concert, split between a full-length rendition of the classic album and a second, hit-stuffed set, was a testament to an oft-maligned band’s ability to carve something timeless out of commonplace human experience: love and loss, lust and regret, hope and hard reality.
The capacity crowd inside American Airlines Center, filling the room for the band’s first of three shows (the Eagles played again Sunday and will return March 17 for a third and final gig), was ready for a full-bore blast of nostalgia, and the headliners were only too happy to indulge.
The Hotel California set featured a pair of “hotel employees” — one male, one female, and both attired in what could only be described as “high desert Goth chic” — walking the length of the stage to place a vinyl LP on a turntable, complete with a popping static sound effect to begin each “side” of the album-length showcase.
It was schtick, sure, but also drove home — in a way so many bands who undertake similar ventures do not — the cohesive statement at hand.
Making their first DFW appearance in two years following a 2018 stop at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium, the reconstituted Eagles, situated upon a stage dwarfed by video screens, were in fine feather throughout. The addition of Vince Gill and the late Glenn Frey’s son, Deacon, to the lineup has injected some fresh blood and invigorated the Eagles’ sound.
Along with Don Henley, Timothy B. Schmit and Joe Walsh, other longtime collaborators onstage included musical director Will Hollis, guitarist Steuart Smith, drummer/percussionist Scott Crago and keyboardist Michael Thompson.
At the time of its release in 1977, Henley positioned Hotel California as “a bicentennial statement” and a work preoccupied with, among other things, innocence, corruption, idealism and the eternal struggle between art and commerce. For those inclined to sift through its nine songs, there are certainly elements of those subjects to be gleaned. But the roughly 43-minute LP was ballooned to not quite 60 minutes Saturday night, and its brevity belies its enduring influence — which also functions, at face value, as a loose concept album about the journey from hopeful romantic to wounded but wiser lover. “New Kid in Town” connects to “Life in the Fast Lane” connects to “Victim of Love” connects to “Try and Love Again.”
Or perhaps it’s about something else entirely — such is the beauty of art.
The title track remains a nigh-impenetrable thicket of metaphors, allusions and imagery no less easily deciphered in the age of TikTok than it was during the disco era. The pink Champagne still sits on ice, she’s got a lot of pretty boys she calls friends, and mirrors remain on the ceiling — your guess is as good as mine.
For all the weight Hotel California carries, both within and without the band, Saturday’s performance was remarkably loose, light and vivid, those gossamer, five-part harmonies locked together like teeth in a zipper.
Sparkling moments abounded: Gill’s blue-sky tenor taking on “New Kid in Town,” which elicited appreciative cheers from the room; Henley delivering powerhouse vocal turns during “Wasted Time” and “The Last Resort”; the arresting blend of light and sound fueling “Victim of Love.”
Far from a museum piece, the Eagles seemed rejuvenated by having a track list to focus upon. Instead of a random assemblage of hits, there was a forward momentum and sense of purpose to the evening’s first half, augmented by a 44-piece orchestra conducted by Henley’s University of North Texas classmate Jim Ed Norman, and a 22-member choir, assembled from the University of Texas at Arlington.
Once Hotel California drew to a close, Henley stepped to the mike to offer the first thoughts of the evening: “We’re going to take a 20-minute break and then come back and play everything else we know,” he deadpanned. “We’re gonna wear your asses out.”
It was a joke that felt a bit like a threat, but also turned out to be true: As 11 p.m. came and went, it was difficult to imagine, gazing around the arena filled to the rafters with fans lost in blissful abandon, any Eagles fan feeling as though they’d been shortchanged.
The night’s second set comprised another 18 songs — weaving in and out of the Eagles catalog to incorporate solo ventures by Henley and Walsh — plus another four songs in the encore, bringing the total to more than 30
on the evening.
The whole of the Eagles’ kabillion-selling Greatest Hits album was heard, plus “newer” cuts like the 25-year-old “Love Will Keep Us Alive.” (Even taking into account time the band took off following Glenn Frey’s 2016 death, the Eagles have now been active, the second time around, for more than twice as long as they were in their initial heyday.)
It was likewise difficult not to be deeply moved by the sight and sound of 24-year-old Deacon Frey — looking for all the world like a carbon copy of his dad, circa Hotel California’s initial release — singing sun-dappled country-rock shuffles like “Peaceful Easy Feeling” or “Take It Easy.”
“We want to honor the legacy of our founder,” Henley said not long into the second set, a sentiment prompting a standing ovation. “It was Glenn who conceived of this band 49 years ago, and we are proud and delighted to have his son Deacon up here with us. He had big shoes to fill, and he stepped up like a champ — I know his papa is proud of him.”
That emotional undercurrent coursed beneath every note played Saturday and also underscored the tricky nature of what the Eagles accomplished. The band has been a going concern for the better part of four decades, and the shadows cast by its works are lengthy, now tinged as much by a sense of finality as remembrance. Endure long enough, however, and the weight of history becomes more pronounced.
This realization was made manifest in several ways Saturday: veteran musicians inspired by art from a lifetime ago; a son inheriting the career of a father; an aging fan base basking one more time in the sounds of its youth. (“Who knows if I’ll ever see the Eagles again?” I overheard one fan tell another during the intermission.)
Still, for an evening, the Eagles beat back those long shadows cast by the towering achievements of ambitious youth, finding fresh perspective in 43-year-old songs with the help of new voices, and reclaiming an evocative masterpiece from its multiplatinum pedestal. Call it reckoning with a legacy on their own terms.
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