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Reliving history, a night with the Eagles

I was 12 or so when I was first introduced to the Eagles, riding shotgun in my high school brother Dan’s Datsun. He had an eight-track player (who didn’t in 1975?) and the album “Desperado” was plugged in. I immediately loved those cowboy-desert-country-rock songs, and man, those guys sang awesome.

I soon hustled off to the Sound Cellar in downtown Madras and bought that vinyl “Desperado,” plus their “On the Border” album and later that year the “One of These Nights” LP. I wasn’t unique. In the mid-‘70s, the Eagles dominated the airwaves. In early 1976, the Eagles put out their Greatest Hits album. I bought it, and I force-fed it to my buddies, playing it loud and repeatedly as we shot pool in my basement on hot summer days. That album, to this day, is the largest selling album of all time.

My deep fandom of the Eagles carried throughout high school. Their epic “Hotel California” album came out when I was in eighth grade, and “The Long Run” when I was a junior. While others my age liked Kiss, Van Halen, Boston or Lynyrd Skynyrd, my band was the Eagles.

I never got to see them perform live, though. They broke up in 1980. They regrouped for a tour is ’94, and put out a new album in 2007. But like asking the still-great Paul McCartney to do something now as good as the Beatles in 1967, the still-great Eagles haven’t recaptured 1975 with any of their rare newer songs.

But last Wednesday, Aug. 27, nearly 40 years after listening to that eight-track, I drug my wife to Portland because the Eagles were in town.

We hit the Moda Center early as I wanted to be sure to spread out the experience. My first thought: wow, I feel young. That doesn’t happen often at age 51.The median age of attendees had to be 65 or so. From the second level, we leaned on a rail and watched from above as long lines of these “experienced”?folks formed, all waiting to shell out $40 or so on an Eagles concert T-shirt. The funniest thing, to me, was that many would immediately put them on over what they were wearing, something a 12-year-old girl might do at the upcoming Katy Perry concert. Maybe I wasn’t the fan I thought I was.

“No way would I pay 40 bucks for one of those shirts,” I said, ever the pragmatic cheapskate, to my wife. Then I went to stand in another long line of old guys like me, waiting to pay $8 for 12 ounces of craft beer.

Heck, frugality and this night went out the door way back in March, when we bought these tickets online at $180 per. Oh well, this was a bucket list concert, so we pulled the trigger. The seats were pretty good, two levels from the floor, but three levels from the rail and on the aisle. Before the show started, we noticed three guys were sitting in rail seats and that at least one of them was hearing challenged, as his two fellow concert-goers were flashing him sign language. We thought it odd that a hearing-impaired person would want to attend a concert (Eagles haters can insert joke here). But when the show started, a somewhat large guy (in keeping with the theme, somewhere in his 60s) appeared on a platform before him (probably 10 feet from us) and he energetically sign-languaged the entire show.

I initially, selfishly, thought this pantomime act would spoil the event for me. And, at first, it was irritatingly attention stealing. But as I watched him out of the corner of my eye, I saw how much enthusiasm and emotion he put into it. He would mouth all the words to every song, act the sentiment of the song, and fully try to perform it. He was eventually spelled by a lady who put even more emotion behind her service. She actually cried during a number or two. By the end of the night, I viewed their work as a bonus to the concert.

Back to the show. The tour is a nostalgia-fest, in fact it’s called History of the Eagles. If you like the Eagles, then you like their lone two original members, Glenn Frey and Don Henley. The show started with them walking on stage from different sides, meeting in the middle, and singing some of their early country-rock classics.

The band was established in the summer of ’71, when Henley and Frey met while working in the backup band to singer Linda Ronstadt. In early ’72, their debut album, “The Eagles,” was released. Henley and Frey were in their mid-20s.

Frey’s voice is not one of those classic, amazing voices, certainly not appreciated by all rock critics. To me, though, it’s like the sound of your best friend calling from across the street, urging you to hang out and go find some fun. Who doesn’t love the sound of their best friend calling? His is the voice behind Eagles’ songs like “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” “Take it Easy,” “Already Gone,” “Lyin’ Eyes,” “New Kid is Town,” and “Heartache Tonight.” Frey has always been the spokesman for, and the leader of, the group, for better or worse. The worse, for me, was that he was the key figure behind Randy Meisner (an original member and the amazing high voice harmony singer and lead vocalist of “Take if to the Limit”) and Don Felder (the lead guitarist behind classic rockers “One of These Nights” and “Hotel California”) leaving the band.

I guess even your best friend isn’t perfect.

Henley, though, his voice is inarguably one of the greatest in rock history. The stoic-faced Texan, Henley always seemed like a mad — both in the slightly crazy version of the word, but mostly in the just grumpy sense — professor. Now, at age 67, he looks more like a grumpy grandpa … but one who can still swing drum sticks while singing “Life in the Fast Lane,” and send lady signers to tears with “Best of My Love.”

Along with that song, the band’s first No. 1 hit, Henley is the voice behind tunes like “Desperado,” “One of These Nights,” “Hotel California,” “The Long Run,” plus a ton of tremendous solo work in the ‘80s, like “Boys of Summer” and “End of the Innocence.”

For about three hours, those guys pounded out hit after hit, from those excellent ballads to those Joe Walsh-guitar-driven rockers. When Henley ended the show, on the third encore, as the only Eagle on stage and perfectly singing “Desperado,” the band and the rest of us old folks were ready to call it a night, a very good night.

About a year or so ago, “60 Minutes” did a profile on the Eagles, and when asked why the band was so successful and still so popular, Frey started just reeling off song titles, chronologically. It struck me as an arrogant answer at the time, an attitude that has kept many critics from giving the band its due, but it was the most honest answer. They didn’t become famous because of their looks or personality, face painting or hair teasing, or flaunting their drug use (though that certainly played a big role in their breaking up). While most everyone has heard of the Eagles in some vein, and everyone everywhere knows their songs, I’d venture that more than 90 percent of Americans wouldn’t recognize a picture of Henley or Frey.

The Eagles are one of the greatest American rock bands foremost and simply because of those great, accessible songs. The Eagles helped escort popular music through the post-psychedelic ‘70s with those early desert rock tunes to their slick LA rock songs of the “The Long Run.” I contend they are the greatest American rock band of not only the ‘70s but of all time, if the measuring stick is quality and quantity of songs, sales, timelessness and long-ranging influence.

During the concert, Frey noted that the Beach Boys were “pioneers” of harmony rock, so to speak, while the Eagles were merely “settlers.” Sure, but settlers who developed the dusty town into a thriving, shining city.

Driving back over Mount Hood at about 1:30 a.m. or so, listening to Eagles songs on CD, a thought came to my sleepy brain:?Thank goodness my brother wasn’t driving around with a Bay City Rollers tape in the eight-track back in ’75.



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