he Eagles headlined the first night of The Classic West, which - with Fleetwood Mac topping the second night's bill - could have also accurately have been retitled The Dysfunctional Southern California Band Festival. Whereas Fleetwood Mac documented the fragile internal relational disintegration of personal relationships on a micro level with albums like "Rumors," the Eagles aimed with "Hotel California" (and other LPs) for a broader overview of societal breakdown. However, each band put bitter infighting behind it to survive these epic and public squabbles to return as festival headliners long after their respective commercial heydays.
The Eagles had the biggest recent emotional blow to overcome, as this concert represented its first live foray since the death of co-front man and significant songwriter, Glenn Frey. Deacon Frey, who is scarily a doppelganger for his father, stepped in to sing many of his father's more famous hits including "Take It Easy," which was the second song into the set, "Peaceful Easy Feeling" and "Already Gone." In much the same way closing your eyes during a Ziggy Marley concert these days might fool you into thinking you are at a resurrected Bob Marley show, Deacon sang these familiar songs with the same offhanded natural charm as his late dad did.
Country star Vince Gill was also an Eagle for an evening, lending his beautifully pure singing voice to "Take It to the Limit," "Tequila Sunrise" and others. Don Henley rightfully introduced Gill as one of the greatest singers, songwriters and guitarists America has produced. Gill's performance served to remind one and all that, at the end of the day, the Eagles is one fine country band.
The act's setlist can be broken down into two generalized categories. There were the peaceful easy feelings, complete with layered harmonies on more acoustically-accented songs like "Love Will Keep Us Alive" and "Best of My Love." And then there were more rocking moments where Joe Walsh's powerful electric guitar work took centerstage, whether with "Life in the Fast Lane" or solo numbers like "Funk #49." Although all Eagles members have solo catalogues, only Walsh drew liberally from his outside projects. And except for Bob Seger's raspy special guest take on the thumping "Heartache Tonight," this concert could have easily devolved into the mellow blahs. Walsh brought the noise, and the crowd loved it.
The night's best moment arrived when Henley sang the rarely performed "Last Resort," with the band augmented by horns and a string section. It was a lovely, sad song that took a slightly gentler look at Southern California's many times contradictory culture than predictable set closer, "Hotel California." Henley hinted during his between songs remarks at one point that this may well be the Eagles' last hurrah. And if Henley's prediction comes true, the group finished well.
Steely Dan preceded the Eagles with a tight set of jazz-rock hits. But just as the Eagles performed without a key member, vocalist/keyboardist Donald Fagen informed the audience early on that the other half of Steely Dan, Walter Becker, would not performing with the group due to illness. Jazz great guitarist Larry Carlton stepped in to fill his shoes and gave many familiar Steely Dan hits a pleasantly different feel. Opening with the snazzy jazz of "Bodhisattva," the large ensemble - including a healthy horn section and backing vocalists - found room for many hits, including "Josie" and "Reelin' in the Years."
Before the sun set, The Doobie Brothers took the stage and mainly stuck with rocking crowd-pleasers. "Takin' It To The Streets" just wasn't the same without Michael McDonald's lead vocals, though, and it was a good thing the group didn't attempt "What a Fool Believes." But the songs the group did perform, including "China Grove" and "Black Water," it did quite well.
Demographically, the audience for this first Classic West skewed toward the retired and pre-retirees; those with enough money to pay the pretty price for tickets, t-shirts and expensive alcoholic beverages. And while its lineup didn't measure up to the prestige of the recently inaugurated Desert Trip, the music was nevertheless high quality throughout, making this a worthy new date on the continually expanding Southern California festival calendar.