While a familiar face across the pond in the past decade – I saw him no less than three times at the Moondance Jam festival – Don Felder has to my knowledge not set foot in the UK since the end of his tenure in the Eagles.
It was a surprise to see him tour, but doubly so that the sole UK date was in the tiny, if beautifully ornate, Bush Hall, when he could easily have sold out somewhere like the nearby Shepherds Bush Empire. To add to the surreal surroundings, chairs were laid out in rows to make the capacity even smaller and giving the venue the air of a church hall.
After an intro tape extolling his career achievements, the youthful looking 71 year old came on stage to make a real statement of intent with an Eagles double. ‘Already Gone’ saw him harmonising with fellow guitarist David Myhre and when it was followed by ‘One Of These Nights’, my fellow gig reviewing buddies and I looked at each other with massive grins that mixed joy with disbelief.
The real revelation was his vocals which, if not perhaps the most distinctive, were perfectly pitched and handled the Henley and Frey songs with equal comfort, though he was aided by a band – including a keyboardist in Timothy Drury with plenty of practice assisting David Coverdale in Whitesnake – who, in addition to their musical pedigree, supported him with some rich vocal harmonies especially in the higher ranges.
It was less surprising that throughout the gig his work on a variety of guitars was immaculate with a precise and tasteful tone in a versatile array of styles – including the blues with a lively cover of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s ‘Pride And Joy’.
I expected this gig to be primarily a showcase for his recent, well-received album ‘American Rock n Roll’, not least as you could hardly call his solo career prolific. The name checking title track rocked convincingly with a slight ZZ Top groove, as did ‘Rock You’ later in the set, but surprisingly they were the only two played.
Instead the focus – as I remembered from those US show s- was very much on his Eagles legacy, including a couple of songs he had co-written and which bore his trademark, ‘Victim Of Love’ with he and David playing some very precise slide guitar in unison, and ‘Those Shoes’, complete with talk box. They were reminders that, together with Joe Walsh, his rockier guitar work steered the Eagles away from country rock into a more mainstream direction.
There was however a mid-song demonstration of the mellower side of the Eagles work in ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’, ‘Tequila Sunrise’, preceded by a well-worn anecdote about Jose Cuervo and dedicated to Glenn Frey’s memory, and some breathtaking group harmonies during ‘Seven Bridges Road’ which inspired a clapalong. It was like watching a very high-class version of the Eagles tribute acts playing the civic hall circuit, but minus the basket meals and with the added ingredient of a bona fide former Eagle.
Any bitterness at the manner of his exit from the band could neither be deduced from the setlist, nor from his jovial demeanour as he recounted his long career with pride. There was one more solo number, his title contribution to the film ‘Heavy Metal’, but then it was Eagles songs all the way and things were gradually getting rockier, with the twin guitars of ‘Witchy Woman’ – rather cheekily dedicated to women who had never had a song written about them – and ‘The Long Run’, with some great introductory slide from Don and David shining on the closing solo.
That was the cue for Don to invite the crowd to get off their seats for the best-known Eagles out-and-out rockers in ‘Heartache Tonight’ with both guitarists again superb on slide and ‘Life In The Fast Lane’ with the band relaxing with plenty of on stage interaction.
On such a cramped stage, rather than go off for the pretence of an encore, they continued with even bigger Eagles hits and there were big smiles on everyone’s faces during ‘Take it Easy’ (setting aside the fact it predated Don’s arrival in the band), but there was a huge sense of anticipation as that iconic white 12 string guitar was handed to him and his most famous co-write, ‘Hotel California’, was delivered note perfect including the closing twin lead guitar solo.
The 90 minutes had flown by at breakneck speed and to add to the air of unreality, he spent a good few minutes longer than he needed to, shaking hands and signing objects at the front of the stage, before heading to the dressing room. I really hope this is the prelude to a fuller UK tour, but it will be hard to top this night in an intimate venue which will be a contender for gig of the year.
Review and photos by Andy Nathan
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