Eagles: After the Thrill is Gone

Don Henley and Glenn Frey of the Eagles, San Jose, CA 30 April 2010Scanning the headlines at YahooNews, I came across a rather harsh review of a recent Eagles concert in San Jose by the Mercury NewsJim Harrington.   He begins with an interesting factoid:

The Eagles — whose leader, Don Henley, once famously proclaimed would get back together “when hell freezes over” — are still riding the reunion trail they embarked on back in 1994. At this point, the second incarnation of the band has been around longer than the first, which lasted from 1971 to 1980.

I watched the “Hell Freezes Over” reunion concert more than a dozen times back in the days when people watched television by flipping through the channels until they found something interesting.  But I was only vaguely aware that the band his remained together afterward.

At any rate, Harrington says, “Enough is enough.”

The spark was missing, particularly during a half-dozen of the band’s best-known hits, and the result was a mediocre performance that didn’t do justice to the Eagles’ legacy.

Some of that, of course, has to do with age. The Eagles’ youngest member, Glenn Frey, will turn 62 in November. Yet there’s no call to poke fun at their ages, especially since Frey has already beaten us to the punch (line).  “Check your tickets,” the Detroit native joked with the crowd. “This is the Eagles Assisted Living Tour.” This is a band, however, that should be applauded for its willingness to take risks, one of the few things that separates the Eagles from other classic rock acts.

Financially speaking, the group certainly didn’t need to put out an album of new material, given that its 29-times-platinum “Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975)” ties with Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” as the best-selling album in U.S. history.Still, the Eagles took a chance and recorded their first full-length studio album in 28 years, 2007’s “Long Road Out of Eden.” The gamble paid off handsomely, as the album hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts and sold millions of copies across the globe. That’s quite the accomplishment — most new studio offerings from the Eagles’ peer group, which includes Paul McCartney, Elton John and other multi-platinum classic rockers, are largely ignored by fans and don’t sniff the upper reaches of the charts.

But, alas, the band is competing with their young selves and the new tracks aren’t as compelling as the classics from three decades back. And, lo and behold, the geriatrics don’t sing as well as they once did.

None of the offerings, however, matched what you’ll find on the original records, mostly due to subpar lead vocals from all four band members.

The second set was much easier on the ears, but that had more to do with an adjusted sound system than anything actually happening onstage. Joe Walsh, who seemed to be on a coffee break for much of the first set, finally showed up in the nightcap and played some real lead guitar. He also was given plenty of turns on the microphone, but his voice — never his strong point — has deteriorated to the point where even such former gems as “Walk Away” and “Life’s Been Good” felt like wasted efforts.

The strongest moments of the night all came from Henley, which wasn’t a surprise. The Eagles could lose any of the other three members and probably still fill arenas and amphitheaters. Without Henley, however, they’d be playing county fairs.

For the most part, though, people don’t go to concerts for the music. I’ve been to quite a few and can’t recall one where the performance matched that of the studio recordings. Even if the artist could pull it off, the acoustics of the room and the clatter of the audience takes away from the sound. A concert is an experience.

That’s doubly true, I’d think, for a nostalgia act like the Eagles. Everyone there knows the hits by heart. And nobody wants to hear the new stuff, anyway. They’re there to see the old boys before it’s too late.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. steve says:

    “If memories were all I sang, I’d rather drive a truck.”


  2. James Joyner says:

    Indeed. Although, in fairness, Ricky Nelson didn’t have three decades of musical memories. Indeed, Nelson was only 32 when “Garden Party” was released and only lived to 45. Had he made it into his 60s, he might well have been pretty happy to sing memories.

  3. sam says:

    I was flipping through channels last night and landed on the 101 network (I have Direct TV). The network features a classic rock show, and was showing samples, Toto and Jethro Tull. I was never a big fan of either group, but JT’s music always struck me as interesting, even if I couldn’t get into it. What grabbed me, though, was how the bands looked. Old. In fact, I remarked to my wife that with JT’s lead singer it looked like Dress Like a Pirate Day at the old folks home. It was kinda depressing to tell the truth.

  4. Gerry W. says:

    I started to concert crazy when I was stationed in Frankfurt, Germany. The following I saw in Frankfurt.

    Diana Ross and the Supreme, Ray Conniff, The Beach Boys, Barry Ryan, Steppenwolf, Herb Alpert, Ten Years After, Eric Clapton, Ike and Tina Turner, Jose Feliciano, Engelbert Humperdinck, Santana, Rod Stewart and the Faces, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Ginger Baker’s Air Force, and John Mayall.

    There was a 3 day festival in Cologne in 1970 in which a band was playing all the time. When i got tired, I went back to the hotel, and when I awoke-went back to the festival.

    I continued on in civilian life in California saw, The Eagles and King Crimson, Mac Davis, Paul Anka, Dionne Warwick, The Spinners, and others.

    Lake Tahoe I saw Elvis and while I worked for Holiday Airlines, I put his bags on the plane.

    Las Vegas, Paul Anka again, The Righteous Brothers, Barry Manilow and other concerts, and Patricia Kaas

    Chicago, Patricia Kaas again

    Detroit, The Bee Gees

    Toledo, Barry Manilow again, Three Dog Night, The Lettermen, and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons several times.

    And finally in Quebec City, Natasha St. Pier

    I saw Rod Stewart when he was first starting out, and it was a small gymnasium like place in Frankfurt and he had striped bell bottoms on (dated for today). He started out singing a Beatles song and it started off a little off key, in my mind in the beginning, but going through the song he pulled it off with his rough voice. Sat on the floor 10 feet from him.

    I know I am missing some other names. It was all great times.

  5. PD Shaw says:

    Speaking of old rock ‘n roll geezers, I was amused to see Bill Wyman on BBC the other night watching the election returns. He’s a big Tory supporter !?!

  6. PD Shaw says:

    For the most part, though, people don’t go to concerts for the music. . . . That’s doubly true, I’d think, for a nostalgia act like the Eagles. Everyone there knows the hits by heart. And nobody wants to hear the new stuff, anyway.

    I actually go to hear the guy behind me sing Hotel California. It’s always an experience.

  7. LCB says:

    While not “technically” as good as a studio album, there is often a feel to live music you can’t get from a studio album. Maybe its the bands I follow, but I prefer the live albums of Rush & Yes to almost all of the studio work. On the other hand, I’ve heard live albums by other bands that sound like high school cover bands, like the Moody Blues. And some groups are in between, such as U2.

  8. TangoMan says:

    This Eagles scenario brings to mind what the the members of ABBA have told the press about a reunion tour, even one which involved the $1 billion guarantee – they knew that they would suck because they were now older and they didn’t want to let down their fans. They wanted people to remember them as they were in their prime.

    In terms of artistic integrity, that’s a position that’s hard to criticize. Too bad the Eagles couldn’t match that standard.

  9. Gustopher says:

    Sometimes it’s interesting to hear what a 50-60 year old man thinks of the 25 year old he was when he wrote the song.

    The live performance is continually evolving, and it incorporates the artist’s experiences in the lifetime between recording the original version and performing it again.

    Elvis Costello has been great that way, constantly changing the arrangements and the phrasings of his old hits. Deep Purple, not so much.