The Eagles Soar and Perform 'Hotel California' in Its Entirety For the First Time in Las Vegas

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Don Henley of the Eagles performs at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Sept. 27, 2019 in Las Vegas.

It’s impossible to state how monumental an album the Eagles’ Hotel California was following its 1976 release. It spawned two No. 1 songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 and spent eight weeks atop the Billboard 200. The RIAA has certified it for sales of more than 26 million copies in the U.S.

But its significance came from far more than its sales success. Though not officially positioned as a concept album, its eight songs (and one instrumental reprise) nevertheless served as an unfettered, often cinematic, look at American disillusionment, especially when -- as “Life in the Fast Lane” declares -- “everything, all the time” becomes a personal manifesto. Don Henley has said the iconic title track is about the shift from “innocence to experience,” and while he may have been talking about a person, it also appropriately described America in its bicentennial year. Eleven years before Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko uttered “greed is good” in Wall Street, the Eagles already understood the corrosive forces at play when our baser instincts go unchecked and narcissism runs rampant.

Remarkably, until Friday night (Sept. 27), the Eagles had never played the album all the way through. In the first of three shows at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena, the band performed the album from front to back, following with a blazing greatest hits set that had the audience at the sold-out, 13,000-seat arena constantly on its feet. While the Eagles have not announced any plans to play the album in its entirety on a tour, hopefully the overwhelming positive reception will tilt them toward at least considering some more dates.  

Below, some of the highlights from the show:

Hearing Hotel California 

A little while ago, there was a challenge going around Twitter to name an album that had the greatest opening trio of songs. You’d be hard pressed to beat Hotel California, which moves from the title track into “New Kid in Town” and “Life in the Fast Lane.” While those may have been the album’s biggest hits, there’s very little filler on the set. “Wasted Time” remains one of the Eagles’ best and most unappreciated songs. The haunting lament about a lost relationship foretells themes Henley would explore in greater depth on 1989's The End of Innocence, including the magnificent “The Heart of the Matter.” Album closer “The Last Resort” serves as Henley’s first song to tackle man’s inexplicable need to destroy his environment. Friday night marked the first time the Eagles had played “Try and Love Again” since Randy Meisner, who sang lead on the track, left the band in 1977. Adding to the authenticity of the evening, Jim Ed Norman, who wrote the string arrangements and conducted the orchestra on Hotel California (most noteworthy on the instrumental “Wasted Time” reprise that opens side two and on “Last Resort”) filled the same role Friday night, leading a 46-piece orchestra and 22-member choir from UNLV.

In an amusing  nod to the album era, the show opened with a mysterious, caped man striding across the stage and placing a Hotel California disc onto a turntable. When it came time to flip the album, a woman dressed in a cigarette girl costume came and did the honors.

Vince Gill and Deacon Frey 

They first played with the band in July 2017 at the Eagles’ first gigs following Glenn Frey’s 2016 death -- the official band is listed as "Don Henley, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit, with Deacon Frey and Vince Gill” -- and in the subsequent two years, they have grown fully comfortable with their roles on stage while remaining appropriately deferential to Frey’s memory. Between Gill’s angelic vocal ability (he easily handled Meisner’s lead vocals on “Try and Love Again” and “Take It to the Limit” and Frey’s on “New Kid in Town” and “Lyin’ Eyes” ), his otherworldly harmonies with Henley (they are among the best harmony singers out there) and his guitar prowess, it feels like he should have always been an Eagle. Deacon Frey carries his father’s legacy lightly on his shoulders, never trying to imitate him on tracks like “Take It Easy” or “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” but instead bringing his own earthy, rootsy vocals. Together, they’ve brought a new warmth to the band. 

The Enduring Quality Of The Music 

At the conclusion of Hotel California, Henley spoke his first words to the audience: “We’re going to take a 20-minute break, put our heads back together and play you everything we know.” He wasn’t far from the truth. What followed was a 23-song set of solid hits (including Walsh's solo and James Gang tunes) that make up the soundtrack of any Baby Boomer or Gen X’ers lives. With no exception, the songs have aged well, but how could they fail with the Eagles’ five-part harmony and five guitar-approach (and not-so-secret weapon, guitarist Steuart Smith). There’s a reason they’re one of the top selling American bands ever with more than 150 million albums sold.

The Exuberance On Stage

Exuberance is not a word usually associated with an Eagles performance, and maybe it’s a bit strong to use here, but between Joe Walsh’s endearing goofiness (really, who else could get an arena full of people to scream “Ah, baloney” during “Life’s Been Good,” telling them if they do so, “On your way home, you’re going to think to yourself, ‘I made a huge difference today’”), sweet smiles between Walsh and Frey whenever they jammed together or the usually reserved Henley declaring “We are crusty old veterans, but you have touched our hearts,” they came pretty darn close to it Friday night. Further proof they were having a blast? The show clocked in at a little over 3 hours and 20 minutes (including intermission) making it one of the longest -- if not the longest -- shows they’ve ever played.

Don Henley’s voice

Henley always carries a significant vocal load, but Hotel California ups the ante. He does the heavy lifting on the album, singing lead on five of the eight vocal tracks. Add his other lead vocals, falsettos and harmonies on songs like “One of These Nights,” “Witchy Woman" and “Best of My Love,” and that he’s alternating between drumming and playing guitar and percussion, and it’s quite the juggling act. Not to mention he has to keep enough gas in the tank to get through the aching “Desperado” in the encore, a song with a high degree of vocal difficulty. Friday night, his voice sounded as strong and pliant as it ever has, easily hitting the highest of notes, while retaining his trademark huskiness.

SET LIST

“Hotel California”
“New Kid in Town"
“Life in the Fast Lane”
“Wasted Time” 
“Wasted Time” (Reprise)
“Victim of Love”
“Pretty Maids All in a Row”
“Try and Love Again”
“The Last Resort”

(Intermission)

“Seven Bridges Road”
“Take It Easy”
“One of These Nights”
“Take It To The Limit”
“Tequila Sunrise”
“Witchy Woman”
“In the City”
“I Can’t Tell You Why”
“Lyin’ Eyes”
“Best of My Love”
“Peaceful Easy Feeling”
“Love Will Keep Us Alive”
“Walk Away”
“Those Shoes”
“Life’s Been Good”
“Boys of Summer”
“Funk 49”
“Already Gone”
“Heartache Tonight”

(First Encore)

“Rocky Mountain Way”
“Desperado”

(Second Encore)

“The Long Run”
“Hotel California” (Reprise)


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