The Eagles have always been so synonymous with California it might seem strange to call the rock group’s sold-out concert Friday night at downtown Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena a homecoming.
But a homecoming it was. The three-hour songfest, dubbed History of the Eagles, traced the group’s history from its beginnings as Linda Ronstadt’s backing band at Los Angeles’ famed Troubadour club in 1971 to its 1994 “resumption” tour, Hell Freezes Over. Nearly the entire second set, which included songs from Hotel California and The Long Run, and three songs in the first set from the One of These Nights album featured music the Eagles recorded at North Miami’s Criteria Studios and Coconut Grove’s Bayshore Recording Studio from 1975 to 1979.
The point wasn’t lost on founding members Don Henley and Glenn Frey who repeatedly referenced the Sunshine State that gave Hotel California and the others life. There were shout-outs to the Miami Heat from bassist Timothy B. Schmit and to its team president, Pat Riley, from Frey who went on to thank Riley, one of the more than 15,000 people in attendance, for coaching the Los Angeles Lakers in the ’80s.
“This song was recorded here in Miami in 1978. That’s what they told me, anyway. Thank God for Cuban coffee,” Henley, 66, quipped in introduction of the Memphis soul-inspired title track from 1979’s The Long Run.
That album, a bracing, slashing, cynical denoument of lives lived in the fast lane and the bills that would come due led to a 14-year split between Henley, Frey, Joe Walsh and Schmit. Don Felder, the brilliant guitarist who came up with the music for Hotel California would not make it in the long run. He was fired by Frey and Henley in 2001. His replacement, sideman Steuart Smith, slipped out of the shadows and did a fine job delivering Felder’s classic rock landmark twin-guitar solo in Hotel California. But since this was a History tour, complete with video footage from the recent TV documentary and the return of co-founder Bernie Leadon, it would have been nice to have Felder on board. (Randy Meisner, another co-founder, was invited back for this tour but health issues forced him to decline. Frey sang Meisner’s signature hit for the Eagles, Take It to the Limit.)
The concert started low-key, with Frey and Henley alone on stools with acoustic guitars on Saturday Night. Gainesville-bred Leadon, 66, who left the Eagles 38 years ago, soon joined on Train Leaves Here This Morning. One-by-one the others — Schmit, Walsh, and backing musicians — delivered Tequila Sunrise, Lyin’ Eyes (Frey dedicated that nasty kiss-off to his first wife, “Plaintiff”) and Doolin-Dalton.
The harmonies — pristine, soaring and spot-on —uncannily have remained as peerless as they were on the original recordings. Henley’s soulful rasp, in particular, has aged incredibly well. He hasn’t lost his high range on the R&B-inspired One of These Nights and the first set’s highlight, a bluesy reworking of 1972’s Witchy Woman.
But the peaceful, easy feeling lingered a bit too long with one ballad following another as the second set opened slowly with Pretty Maids All in a Row, a Walsh filler-tune from Hotel California. Schmit’s nasal voice shows the most wear and his pretty, but bland Love Will Keep Us Alive should have been scrapped. For a tour meant to serve as Eagles History 101 an important chunk of the story went untold through the omission of material from the 2007 double-album Long Road Out of Eden.
Frey seemed to apologize for the string of “melodic” songs and promised to rock, which led to the first song to jolt fans, Heartache Tonight. Walsh’s incendiary In the City and its guitar heroics, along with his amusing antics and “master of ceremonies” showmanship on Funk #49, Life’s Been Good and Rocky Mountain Way proved that while chief songwriters Henley and Frey are the Eagles’ CEOs, Walsh is the group’s MVP.