Like the mournful dawn that crosses the sky during the Eagles’ 1973 mellow, moody “Tequila Sunrise,” a goodbye is always imminent. With that, after nearly six decades of countrified ballads, California sun-kissed soft rockers and harmony-driven pop tunes, co-founding drummer Don Henley, longtime members Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit, and latter-day guitarists Vince Gill and Deacon Frey (jointly subbing for late cofounder Glenn Frey) have decided to call it a day.
Someday. Starting with Thursday night’s show at Madison Square Garden, their “The Long Goodbye” tour, with openers Steely Dan, is expected to continue into 2025. In Eagles’ speak, a “long run” such as theirs, one as mired in past criticism (how dare rockers play country with such heart and authenticity) as it is adoration (thank you for playing country with such heart and authenticity) can’t come to a quick stop. They have to take it easy.
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To that end, across a 23-song set, yhe Eagles (and their countless guitar techs) divided their two hour-plus time on MSG’s stage between pastoral country songs written by Henley, Frey and one-time bandmember Bernie Leadon (truly, the countriest of all Eagles) and grungy rockers whose cheerful weirdness emanated from the mischievous Walsh.
Starting their tight, two-hour-plus show lined up and bathed by stark white light, the Eagles’ vocalists (including longtime touring guitarist Steuart Smith, the evening’s MVP) harmonized in pristine unison to the righteous, folky “Seven Bridges Road” before Deacon Frey took center stage for “Take It Easy.” Looking even more like his old man, circa 1972 – porn stache, wavy hair – young Frey emulated dad’s buttery, high-plains-via-Michigan baritone to perfection, and did so again, later in the show, to the two-stepping victory song “Already Gone” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling.”
Stepping from behind his drum kit early in the set, a white-haired Henley celebrated the late Glenn Frey, as well as original Eagles bassist Randy Meisner (“we will miss him”) who died in July. Later in the show, Henley took his time to commemorate “dear friend” Jimmy Buffett, who died September 2. “He’s having cheeseburgers with Glenn and Randy,” said Henley of his fellow “’70s survivor” before paying tribute to Buffett — with Schmit soulfully singing “Come Monday,” and Walsh donning a Parrothead hat for his dippy version of “Fins.”
Whether acting as genial host (“hush,” he said, gently, to the noisiest of fans) or singing in a flawless falsetto, Henley was the model of Texan gentlemanly perfection. It was as if his arc-angelic vocals were dipped in honey as he crooned through the grooving pulse and cross-cutting guitars of “One of These Nights,” the wispy menace of “Witchy Woman” and the showy, honky-tonk balladry of “Desperado.” So precise was Henley’s lead voice’s crystalline tone at age 76 – to say nothing of his harmonies behind Schmit, Gill, Frey and Walsh – that you can’t imagine him stopping while so clearly on top of his game.
Gill is still a godsend to the Eagles, having joined with Henley and company after Glenn Frey’s death. While beloved as a guitarist and for his role as part of the legendary Pure Prairie League, Gill’s time as an Eagle has been filled with finding the soul of Frey’s roaming country heart, as defined at MSG with his takes on the shushing acoustic “Take it to the Limit,” a brushed-denim “Lyin’ Eyes” and the hopelessly romantic “New Kid in Town,” complete with its gentle Mexicali twitches. Though Gill got out a few awesome licks, so much of the winsome, high lonesome, manic, magic guitar work during Thursday’s show came down to Smith – the forever touring Eagles member who played as part of Rodney Crowell’s band, Cicadas – whose every lick was wiry, bold and inventive. Though his mastery of the slow finger slide on songs such as “Best of My Love” was impeccable, Smith made the old school double neck guitar that filled the ringing “Hotel California” look as good as it sounded.
Which leaves us with Joe Walsh. Since 1975, the manic, good-natured wild card of the Eagles has been its most vivacious showman – mugging, shuffling, bark-singing. For that, Walsh got the lion’s share of the standing applause and whoops-and-hollers of the MSG crowd for… well, frankly just being Joe Walsh. That meant playing crisply psychedelic, fuzzily rhythmic and slippery slide solos on big-beating cuts such as “Heartache Tonight,” joining in with Smith on the guitar-army tone of “Hotel California,” and singing his way through marvelous Eagles moments (a heartily harmonious “In the City”) as well as soulful career highlights such as the jiving “Life’s Been Good” and the snorting “Funk #49,” talk-box-bit and all.
With a first show so tasty and memorably laden with hit after hit – and this doesn’t even touch on the oddly complementary rhythm and blues jazz of Donald Fagen’s Steely Dan – the Eagles’ farewell easily competes with the likes of Taylor Swift and Beyoncé for tour of the year.
The Eagles’ “The Long Goodbye” setlist, Madison Square Garden, NYC, September 7, 2023
“Seven Bridges Road”
“Take It Easy”
“One of These Nights”
“Take It to the Limit”
“Best of My Love”
“Peaceful Easy Feeling”
“In the City”
“I Can’t Tell You Why”
“New Kid in Town”
“Life’s Been Good”
“Come Monday” (Jimmy Buffett cover)
“Fins” (Jimmy Buffett cover)
“The Boys of Summer”
“Life in the Fast Lane”
“Rocky Mountain Way”
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