Going to an Eagles concert these days is not unlike watching Jurassic Park for the 20th time. Sure, those dinosaurs will always be cool, no matter how well-worn and familiar, but at this point, the befanged thrills have dulled to knowing smiles. And yes, Joe Walsh would be T. rex in this analogy.
But hey, there's something to be said for comfort in these turbulent times, and thus a sold-out, if mellow, crowd of 16,113 packed the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Wednesday to hear Don Henley, Glenn Frey and the '70s-stuck SoCal crew work through a three-hours-plus (!) show of songs you know like the back of your wrinkling hand. Do I detect the warm smell of colitas? Or is that Bengay?
Okay, enough with the jokes. After all, the country-rockin' vets could totally whip the Rolling Stones in a game of pickup hoops. (Discuss.) And for all the gazillions these once-sparring fellas are earning for hitting the road yet again — so much for hell freezing over, huh? — they're perfectionists for sure, the sound system pure, the vocals still awash in lonely desert harmonies.
Who knows? Maybe all that Eagles bashing in The Big Lebowski has sparked the band. The show was carefully, lovingly crafted, History of the Eagles being the tour title; the set list unveiled from the start, way back in 1971, when the young scruffs were backing up Linda Ronstadt. Henley, now 66, and Frey, 65, took to a spare stage at first, just the two of them, one of the most vital, but volatile songwriting duos in rockdom, sharing old acoustic tune Saturday Night. Henley's voice, especially that falsetto, was particularly potent.
Then, one by one — banjo ace Bernie Leadon, bassist Timothy B. Schmit, gunslinger Walsh — they expanded along with the size of the hits: Peaceful Easy Feeling, Witchy Woman, which was slowed to a blues-boogie, Walsh's serpentine licks adding a nice update.
Soon enough, the stage got bigger with screens, lights, cheesy videos, an extra backing band for oomph, a welcome largeness to go along with the story of a rock band that became one of the biggest on the planet. Chummy stories were tucked 'tween songs — Tequila Sunrise, Already Gone, Lyin' Eyes — the night casual and comforting, if not exactly wild like ye olden days.
After an intermission, Schmit, always the group's most tender voice, cooed I Can't Tell You Why and Love Will Keep Us Alive. Frey credited Beach Boy Brian Wilson, another Los Angeles stalwart, as the inspiration for Heartache Tonight, the first time the crowd truly came alive (relatively). Then it was time for birthday boy Walsh (how did this guy make it to 66?!) to keep the energy up: In the City, the absolutely sublime Life's Been Good.
Okay, full disclosure: It was probably 1997, perhaps on a Wednesday, when I realized I didn't need to hear the Eagles anymore. John and Mary Daly raised me on this stuff; the Eagles are ingrained in my DNA. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't do a press box shimmy to a still-blazing Life in the Fast Lane or instinctively caterwaul along to Hotel California. After all, a boy never truly outgrows his love of dinosaurs.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.