Hotel California: Such a Lovely Place

Written by Brad

Those of you who are regular readers of Donna’s blog know she and I are lovers of music, especially live music. But even Donna was surprised when I asked her, very last minute, if she was up for trying to see The Eagles on Saturday. She was only returning from the west coast Friday night when I hit her with the request. The Eagles have been one of my bucket-list bands forever, and here they were, last night of their 13-show tour, just 90 minutes away. I mean, come on! It’s The Eagles. The band who has sold 150 million albums, has six number one albums, won six Grammy awards, members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and they are playing Hotel California, their crowning achievement, the third best-selling album of all time front to back. Neither of us had ever seen them, so needless to say, it didn’t take much convincing. The next day we were on our way to Baltimore.

When the lights went down in the arena the excitement was palpable. Then a single spotlight illuminated a mysterious man (the captain, programmed to receive?) slowly sauntering across the stage with the Hotel California album tucked under his arm. As he reached the edge of the stage, he theatrically removed the vinyl, and blew on it (something those of us of a certain age recall doing hundreds of times), placed it on the turntable and gently lowered the needle, the memorable sound of needle on vinyl filling our ears for brief seconds before the familiar opening chords of The Eagles’ iconic masterpiece Hotel California filled the air, the curtain rising to the delight of everyone, making the album come alive. And as Don Henley began “down a dark desert highway” I swore I could smell the colitas, my eyes misty as I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the song’s epic story of gluttony, greed and hedonism, and the nostalgia of my youth. This is a song that has been one of my favorites since the first time I heard it 47 years ago and it was breathtaking to see and hear the pristine performance live. The band launched into New Kid in Town next, with the golden-throated Vince Gill singing lead vocals. Followed by the rollicking Life in the Fast Lane, showcasing Joe Walsh’s raucous guitar solo, and Wasted Time.

After another dramatic flip on the album to side two, the crowd was treated to the addition of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra joining the band onstage for the Wasted Time Reprise. Amazingly, as Donna and I drove to Baltimore and we listened to the Hotel California CD (yes, we’re old, we still own and play CDs!), we discussed what they would do for the reprise and wondered aloud if they would have an orchestra. The beautifully arranged strings gave way to the sharp, hard intro of Victim of Love. The album was played in its entirety, without a spoken word. The last track, The Last Resort, featuring not only the orchestra but also a choir from Morgan State University. It was consummately performed, the songs aging well. Henley’s voice was strong and rich, with his trademark huskiness, still able to hit high notes. It was a showcase of musical artistry, the 40 minutes of the front to back album was worth the price of admission on its own. When the album ended and Henley addressed the crowd to announce a short intermission, he said we’ll be right back to play everything else we know and did they ever!

From there it was a breathtaking greatest hits set that lasted nearly three hours, including not only Eagles hits from all their albums, but also solo hits from Don Henley and Joe Walsh. It was soulful, robust and a treat for the senses, technically brilliant staging and beautiful visuals keeping the crowd on its feet throughout, swaying and singing, each song ending with riotous applause. Don Henley promised a 3-hour vacation from all the craziness in the world, and the band delivered that and more.

The second set started with the rich, glowing wall of five-part harmony of Seven Bridges Road. When we thought it couldn’t be any more magical, the band welcomed Deacon Frey to the stage, the son of the late Eagles great, Glenn Frey. Deacon took the mic to utter delight of the crowd, singing his father’s words as the band launched into Take it Easy and Peaceful Easy Feeling.

To end the exhilarating night, Henley took the mic one last time. I’m going to paraphrase, but he said this last song is from 1974, and he had the privilege of writing it with Deacon’s dad and JD Souther. It’s a song about a couple’s break-up originally, but tonight he wanted to dedicate it to America and all its insanity and glory. He asked the crowd to sing it with him, so we could do something with unity.

With that, The Eagles wowed us once again with the beautiful Best of My Love. We had reached rarified air. This is a band that transcends generations and genres, true musical icons. It was an emotional end of an amazing show, breathtaking and exhilarating. Their talent and relentless pursuit of perfection is clearly evident, even after 51 years. The Eagles are truly legendary: they could easily check out any time they like, but we hope they never leave.

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