The Eagles Soar With “Hotel California” Concert at PPG Paints Arena
Just as most Eagles fans will probably never forget where they were the first time they heard the song “Hotel California”, those at PPG Paints Arena on Saturday night won’t soon forget the live version of the song that kicked off an in-concert of the entire “Hotel California” album.
The second half of the three-hour concert, including intermission, saw the Eagles empty an entire gift bag of their greatest hits, songs filled with five-part harmonies and searing guitar solos.
The Eagles became a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame band largely because of their country rock sound. But when “Hotel California” was recorded in 1976, it marked a rift, which reportedly caused founding member and Eagles guitarist Bernie Leadon to quit the band before recording sessions began.
The dark, creepy and cynical vibe of the title track – the first song on side one – sets the tone for the rest of the album.
Charley Walters of Rolling Stone wrote at the time that Don Henley’s voice expressed “a victim’s (or observer’s) weary disgust at the luxurious excess of the area.”
The album “Hotel California” went to No. 1 in January 1977. The single, which also topped the charts, won a Grammy Award for Record of the Year.
Today, “Hotel California” is the third best-selling American album in history, having been certified 26 times Platinum by the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA). Several of the songs on the album have not been performed since the original “Hotel California” tour.
Thus, the Eagles’ motivation was clear, and a sold-out crowd bought the moment the band, consisting of Henley, Joe Walsh (the only remaining members who played on the album), Vince Gill, Timothy B. Schmit and Longtime touring member Steuart Smith, took the stage in dark outfits to match the mood of the album. Deacon Frey, who joined the band a year after his father Glenn died in 2016, is not touring due to an undisclosed illness.
With a candelabra twinkling in the upper left corner of the stage, a white-haired Henley, now 75, began singing the opening words of “Hotel California” from behind the drums, his voice sounding pristine and like a while ago. 46 years old when the song was recorded.
Walsh and Smith exchanged thunder and thunderbolts during the song’s climax that might have surpassed those on the recording between Walsh and guitarist Don Felder.
And that was only the start of the evening.
The next song, “New Kid in Town”, featured lead vocals by Gill which blended in perfectly with the vocals of Glenn Frey’s songs.
Then came a raucous version of “Life in the Fast Lane,” with Henley switching to guitar and absolutely shredding a solo with an energetic Walsh.
On “Wasted Time” and “Reprise”, an orchestra appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, on a hydraulic lift behind the Eagles. It was the Pittsburgh Strings With Wings which added a beautiful layer to the delicate ballad. The orchestra will appear at various times throughout the rest of the concert along with the Carnegie Mellon University Choir.
Then it was on side two of the album which started with “Victim of Love” and more of Walsh’s amazing and underrated guitar work.
Walsh was eventually able to sing on “Pretty Maids All in a Row” which featured better orchestral backing.
‘Try and Love Again’, the album’s countryiest song, followed, then came the final track, ‘The Last Resort’, to which the orchestra and choir added an angelic layer.
With so many moving parts, this rendition of “Hotel California” could have gone completely off the rails. Instead, the Eagles and their guest artists succeeded.
When the Eagles’ performance of “Hotel California” was over, Don Henley stepped up to the microphone and said “that wraps up the ‘Hotel California’ part of the show because the albums were only 40 minutes at the time.”
Henley then recognized the orchestra and choir as the band members turned and applauded them. He encouraged the crowd to “support your local musicians”.
After an intermission, Henley opened the second half by addressing the crowd again.
“We are happy to be with you this evening. At this stage of the game, we’re pretty happy to be anywhere,” he said, prompting a huge response from the crowd. “We want to give you three hours of vacation tonight away from all the chaos and what’s going on in the world.
“There is a sad shadow over us tonight as we have lost one of our fellow musicians, Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters. We dedicate this show to him tonight.
The Eagles opened the second half with “Seven Bridges Road”, followed by one of the band’s early hits “Take it Easy”, with Gill singing lead and putting the country back in the band’s country rock sound.
This was followed by one of the Eagles’ most sultry songs, “One of These Nights”. The song featured another gripping guitar solo from Smith. And then came one of the most uplifting moments of the evening when the full-throated audience sang along with Gill during the anthem “Take It to the Limit.”
Other highlights of the second half include the mesmerizing harmony on “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and Joe Walsh’s wonderfully eccentric vocals and guitar on “In the City.”
Walsh also had the opportunity to tap into his collection of solo works, performing “Life’s Been Good” and “Rocky Mountain Way”, the latter released for the encore debut. The encore also included Henley’s hit single “The Boys of Summer,” which was a bit of an anti-climax to “Desperado,” and a Pittsburgh Strings With Wings comeback that elevated the song to new heights.
At one point Walsh, a Cleveland native, remarked that he loved Pittsburgh.
“Pittsburgh! I spent three days here one night.
Well Joe, Saturday night you and the rest of the Eagles played three days of great music.
Paul Guggenheimer is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or [email protected]