In a week that saw performances from the most legendary names in British rock history- Paul McCartney at Glastonbury, Queen’s residency at the O2 and Elton John and the Stones on the preceding two nights in Hyde Park – it was the turn of an American classic in the Eagles to headline the Sunday of the first weekend of the British Summer Time series of shows.
Though their recorded body of work is relatively slim, there is an argument that the quality of the Eagles material makes them the greatest American band of the classic rock era, in the way they combined country, folk and rock to create a quintessentially American sound with vocal harmonies and slick musicianship.
A planned Wembley Stadium show playing ‘Hotel California’ in full with the added help of a choir and orchestra was postponed then cancelled as a result of the pandemic, but this show reverted to the tried and tested Greatest Hits, in a similar fashion to their 2019 Wembley show.
While disappointing for diehards hoping to hear something different and rare renditions of the ‘Last Resort’ and ‘Try and Love Again’, it was surely the right option for a laid back festival crowd basking in almost Californian sunshine, particularly as 2022 marks 50 years since the first album. Encouragingly it was an all-age crowd and not only the boomer generation.
As per the usual BST format, there was quite a large supporting cast of bands around the site and on the main stage, including two name acts, beginning with Little Big Town. Given the early Eagles sound and the presence of the great ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris in the crowd, it was appropriate that a country act supported- albeit one that have always crossed over into classic rock and pop influences. Indeed when my then American family members introduced them to me in the late 2000s they were likened to a countrified Fleetwood Mac.
On opener ‘Next to You’, and indeed most of the best moments of the set, the close vocal harmonies of the four band members were distinctly Eagles-esque, though the bulk of the songs were sung by individual band members. Karen Fairchild and Kimberley Rhoads – both glamorously dolled up to the nines as if they were leading an eighties-themed hen party - handled the majority, with the Taylor Swift-penned ‘Better Man’ standing out. However there were also lead vocal slots for their male bandmates Phillip Sweet on ‘Hell Yeah’ (considerably more downbeat and less rabble rousing than the title suggests) and Jimi Westbrook on the bro country sounding ‘ Wine Beer Whiskey’.
They were charismatic showmen and used the full width of the stage to work the crowd. Their backing band were also very tight, with some excellent countrified guitar work from Evan Weatherford , as shown on the swampy grooves of ‘Stay All Night’, though I found the material (the Jimmy Buffett like ‘Pontoon’ a case in point) a little more superficial than I’d remembered from following those earlier days. The only song from that period, ‘Boondocks’ closed the set with more of those great harmonies and typical country lyrics celebrating the simple pleasures of God fearing rural communities.
On this week of legends the main support was another bona fide rock god in Robert Plant, bringing his partnership with Alison Krauss back to the UK for the first time since the two resumed their partnership to make last year’s ‘Raise the Roof’ album. I only half jokingly turned to my partner and said ‘stand by for some weird stuff’ knowing the Led Zep frontman’s restless quest to bring all manner of musical influences into the spotlight meant this would be no classic rock nostalgia trip.
In this case, as on their albums, it was to explore traditional American musical forms ranging from bluegrass to acoustic blues to the birth of rock’n’roll. Though his singing partner rather lacked stage presence, motionless with a rather fixed expression, her voice intertwined quite beautifully with his, sometimes singing in harmony such as on openers ‘Rich Woman’ and ‘Can’t Let Go’ but at other times with one or other taking the lead- Robert on ‘Fortune Teller’ and Alison on ‘Trouble With My Lover’.
Clad in an electric blue cowboy shirt, the former moved slightly deliberately and gingerly but his voice had perfect pitch, projection and intonation and was an object lesson to other singers of his generation as to how to grow older with credibility.
The two were backed by a band of crack musicians from different parts of the USA, with the star of the show multi instrumentalist Stuart Duncan. Indeed when he picked up a fiddle we were entertained to a bluegrass-fied version of Rock and Roll, which somehow worked perfectly.
‘Please Read the Letter’ with Robert’s delicate delivery enlivened by Alison’s own fiddle playing, was a particular personal favourite. After a series of songs, most from their two albums together and including a couple of old Everley Bros songs in ‘The Price of Love’ and ‘Gone Gone Gone’ came a perfect climax to a set of just over an hour.
With mandolin playing and folky vocal harmonising ‘The Battle of Evermore’ was without doubt a most suitable Zeppelin song to adapt for this format, and the crowd spontaneously clapped along to the ‘bring it back’ passage. Twin fiddles then reinterpreted another Led Zep IV classic in ‘When the Levee Breaks’, the more restrained arrangement rendering Robert Plant’s vocals crystal clear.
This pair of songs was a perfect way to nod to his illustrious past while respecting his current musical integrity. At the end he modestly said ‘thanks for tuning in’ but he undersold a wonderful performance which perfectly suited this mellow, gentle early summer’s evening.
It struck me how the Eagles performance inverted all the received wisdom as to how to make a stadium sized show work. 15 minutes before the scheduled set time and with no fanfare of any description they sauntered onstage, opening with ‘Seven Bridges Road’ to show how those multi-part vocal harmonies are as tight as ever.
Then during ‘One Of These Nights’, as I craned my neck to see where those falsetto ad libs were coming from, I mused at a band with an already introverted stage presence (Joe Walsh aside) having their sole founder member and nearest to a recognised frontman spending some of the time behind a drumkit at the back. However this meant that, other than some spectacular and evocative backdrops of sunsets and deserts, the music spoke for itself, and how. . .
Adding Vince Gill to the line up has been a master stroke, as his smooth, mellifluous voice suited perfectly a series of songs originally sung by Glenn Frey or Randy Meisner – ‘New Kid in Town’, ‘Take It To The Limit’, ‘Lying Eyes’ and ‘Tequila Sunrise’. He was well supported by those harmonies and finely detailed country style guitar playing from the stooped figure of Steuart Smith- surely overdue elevation to full eagle status after over 20 years as their touring guitarist?
Don Henley, who stepped forward for ‘Witchy Woman’ and later a beautiful ‘Best Of My Love’ showed his bone dry humour on his intros and there were a feast of memories he could draw upon including recording their first album at Olympic Studios in Barnes (not strictly accurately described as being outside London) at the time of a coal strike.
For a while Joe Walsh had seemed almost superfluous, but burst into life on ‘In The City’ both with his singing and one of those underrated, original guitar solos. Timothy B. Schmit introduced his own showcase in ‘I Can’t Tell You Why’, his vocal rendered even smoother by another tasteful solo from Steuart, while the quality of the guitar work was maintained by Joe’s trademark slide on ‘Victim Of Love’, perhaps one of the less obvious set selections.
They then introduced a particularly surprising guest in Deacon Frey, not weeks after he had left the band. He fitted back in seamlessly, singing ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’, at the conclusion of which a simple but touching portrait photo of father Glenn looked down on the stage, then the crowd warmed up to ‘Take It Easy’, Deacon again leading those sun-kissed harmonies again and with Vince (unusually) and Joe sharing the solos.
Thus far the set had been quite mellow and countrified, but the dynamic changed when Joe took centre stage with his typical goofball humour ( ‘being 20 in the seventies was more fun than being 70 in the twenties’) and played ‘Life’s Been Good’- though the music was great and the song fun, his singing, always an acquired taste, seemed even more all over the shop than normal and he missed a few of the words.
‘Those Shoes’ – perhaps the surprise of the night though not a personal favourite- then saw him use a talkbox, while, dedicated to Taylor Hawkins, Don’s solo hit ‘Boys of Summer’ seemed to get the best response yet, before ‘Funk 49’ found Joe on better vocal form and jamming with Vince on a middle section.
The crowd really warmed up with the band’s two traditional main set rock outs in ‘Heartache Tonight’, sung by Vince and with a fine slide solo from Joe, and ‘Life In The Fast Lane’, the latter’s soloing on the outro proving that he adds a jagged unpredictability to those otherwise safely smooth songs.
At this point Don motioned to the rest of the band and said that they would drop the pretence of going off and again for an encore, not least as it was (expletive deleted) cold. As the backdrop of its parent album came up (the word iconic justified for once) ‘Hotel California’ was met by a sea of camera phones.
I was more transfixed by Steuart’s 12-string playing and that twin solo with him and Joe which never gets old, and which was ever so slightly embellished from the original. I’d momentarily forgotten Joe still had to play his trademark ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ with more superb slide guitar, before ‘Desperado’ was the usual and fitting closer, or so I thought.
Instead Don introduced some very special guests ‘from the East Coast of America’. I cannot have been alone in my pulse racing as momentarily I expected Bruce Springsteen, who had been with ‘Macca’ at Glasto the night before, but instead they were Mr and Mrs John McEnroe. ‘You cannot be serious’, I hear you say at this point, but as well as being in town for Wimbledon, the tennis great has been a guitar fanatic going way back to that ‘full metal racket’ single with Pat Cash and assorted musical celebs. Wife Patty Smyth meantime was someone who had long been on my bucket list to see.
(photo: Andy Nathan)
Sadly on this occasion her role was limited to backing vocals and the chance was missed to reprise her hit duet with Don Henley in ‘Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough’. Instead we had a fun canter through ‘Already Gone’, which I felt earlier in the set was needed to break up a preponderance of ballads and slow songs. With Deacon also coming back and Johnny Mac clearly having a ball jamming with them, it had a distinctly looser feel by the Eagles standards.
During the set, Don Henley had hinted this might be a UK farewell, ‘thank you, in case we don’t pass this way again’, and indeed some of the band seemed noticeably older even in the three years since the last tour. If that is the case, then this wonderful 2 hour plus demonstration of a legacy catalogue of great songs, delivered in a perfect setting and with a twist in the tale at the end, was a fitting way for these American treasures to bid goodbye to these shores.
Review by Andy Nathan
Photos by Paul Clampin
Album review/interview (Timothy B. Schmit – Day By Day, 2022)
Josh Taerk’s latest Sunday Session was streamed on Sunday 17 July.
Check out previous videos here: https://www.facebook.com/getreadytorockradio
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 GMT, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 31 July 2022.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020 and 2021 Finalist) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 GMT as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 2 August 2022.
How to Listen Live?
Click the programming image at the top of the page (top right of page if using desktop)
Get Ready to ROCK! Radio is also in iTunes under Internet Radio/Classic Rock
Listen in via the Tunein app and search for “Get Ready to ROCK!” and save as favourite.
More information and links at our radio website where you can listen again to shows via the presenter pages: getreadytorockradio.com
Power Plays w/c 8 August 2022 (Mon-Fri)
BORN LOST Take Time (Mouthpiece) (Revolver Records)
JAIME KYLE Driving With The Brakes On (Conquest Music)
SCARLET DORN Born To Suffer (SPV Recordings)
HOLDING ABSENCE Coffin (Sharptone Records)
TYRANNOSAURUS NEBULOUS Get Some (Echoed Past Records)
KROOKED TONGUE When The Beaches Bleed (indie)
SKYPILOT Knifed On The Beach (The Distortion Project)
Featured Albums w/c 8 August (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 LESSMAN VOSS Rock Is Our Religion (Atomic Fire Records)
12:00-13:00 H.E.A.T. Force Majeure (earMUSIC)
14:00-16:00 THE SLAMBOVIAN CIRCUS OF DREAMS A Very Unusual Head (indie)
Tweets by Get Ready to ROCK!