Welcome to the band the Eagles. Members can check out anytime, but the Eagles can never leave.
Five years after the death of co-founder Glenn Frey, four years after returning to the road with additions Vince Gill and Deacon Frey (Glenn's kid), and 50 years after they started, the Eagles are on tour celebrating their two biggest albums.
On Friday, the first of two nights at Xcel Center in St. Paul, the Eagles re-created two of the 10 bestselling albums of all time — 1976's "Hotel California" in its entirety, and every track from "Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975" (though not in order), plus odds and ends from Don Henley's and Joe Walsh's non-Eagles work.
It was a long, satisfyingly nostalgic evening filled with painstakingly precise sounds, gorgeous vocal harmonies and enough guitar fireworks to make you think the Eagles rock. Well, Joe Walsh does.
The night started with a watchman putting a vinyl copy of "Hotel California" on a turntable, dropping the needle and then the Eagles emerged from behind a curtain, with Henley at the drum kit braying, "On a dark desert highway/ Cool wind in my hair." Dressed like extras from TV's "Deadwood" series, he and a supporting cast of eight musicians visited "Hotel California," a musical treatise on the disillusionment of the American dream from the perspective of jet-setting rock stars who became one percenters.
There were no words between songs. The only real break was when a tall blonde woman slinked across the stage and flipped the LP over, setting up a three-dozen-piece string section, conducted by Jim Ed Norman (who arranged some Eagles songs) doing the instrumental reprise of "Wasted Time," which kicks off Side 2.
Finally, after the closing number, the epic "The Last Resort," Henley spoke, calling the album "our monument to mirage." He thanked the string players and a choir of what appeared to be 20-somethings, saying, "Their grandparents are big fans of ours."
The usually cynical Henley used to leave the glib comments to the sardonic Frey. The lone original Eagle showed more emotion in his conversation than usual, praising Deacon for doing a great job filling big shoes. "It's a healing thing to watch him grow into this role," he said sincerely. Then he cracked, "Only in your 20s can you wear a shirt like that [loud black-and-white patterned] and get away with it."
With 19 hits from the Eagles, Walsh and Henley catalogs, the post-intermission set showcased the depth and versatility of the nine musicians onstage. Deacon Frey, 28, sounded just like his pop on "Take It Easy." Gill, 64, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, sang other Frey tunes, including "Take It to the Limit" with wistful sincerity. Henley's burred tenor was consistently impressive, peaking on the encore of his 1984 solo smash "The Boys of Summer," an ode to the glory days of youth which resonates differently when delivered by a 74-year-old.
While Henley is now the major-domo of the Eagles, just as he was in 2018 at Target Field, you would not get the best of the Eagles without Walsh. The resident live wire since 1976, he brought animation, personality and joy to the nearly three-hour program. And great guitar work. He was nasty and uplifting at the same time during "Life's Been Good," his tongue-in-cheek solo smash. He had some ferocious guitar exchanges with Gill during "Funk #49" and several collaborations with guitarist Steuart Smith, the Eagles touring secret weapon since 2001, including twangy intertwining on "Peaceful Easy Feeling" and a talk-box conversation on "Those Shoes."
"It was more fun being 20 in the '70s than it is being 70 in the '20s," joked the 73-year-old.
A crowd of 13,000 mostly baby boomers probably would agree. You can leave your 20s, but you can't ever forget them, especially when you have a chance to enjoy a live version of the soundtrack of the 1970s for white middle-class America.
Twitter: @JonBream • 612-673-1719