East Rutherford, NJ 2010

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photos by Mike Coppola


The Eagles bring their classic harmonies to New Meadowlands Stadium

By Tris McCall/The Star-Ledger

Nope, they don’t love each other. But they sure do listen to each other.

At New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford last night, the Eagles sometimes seemed like four castaways stranded together on a raft. Close quarters might make them uncomfortable, but they know they’d damned well better work together.

The vintage combo has so many hits they were able to burn two of their best, and best known, songs -- "Hotel California" and "Take It To The Limit" -- at the top of their two-hour set, secure in the knowledge that they had plenty of crowd-pleasers in reserve. And if each individual Eagle didn’t look completely engaged at every moment (Joe Walsh, for instance, didn’t seem too interested in Don Henley’s "The Boys Of Summer"), they hit their marks when they had to. Henley’s snare remains as crisp as a Granny Smith in autumn.

And the group’s harmonies still feel as inevitable as daybreak.

The Eagles do not make much eye contact onstage. But they do watch each other’s hands and feet, and to the 40,000 fans at the Stadium, that’s what mattered. While Walsh stepped into the spotlight to take the harmony solo on "Hotel California," Timothy B. Schmit and Glenn Frey stood together at the other side of the stage, hands moving synchronously on the necks of their instruments, making sure the backbone of the song was sturdy.

Bassist Schmit, lead guitarist Walsh, rhythm guitarist Frey and drummer Henley (everybody sings) have had some time to practice. They’ve been playing together, on and off, since the ‘70s. Last night, they were accompanied by a full horn section; an additional drummer who subbed for Henley when the eloquent songwriter took his turns at the front of the stage; two synth players; and a pianist at a concert grand.

The ringer, however, was guitarist Steuart Smith, who not only convincingly imitated guitar parts performed by exiled Eagles Bernie Leadon and Don Felder, but also replicated leads from Walsh and Henley solo tracks. For much of the first half of the show, Smith was virtually a fifth (or even third or fourth) Eagle, upstaging Walsh during the instrumental sections of early songs.

As it turned out, Walsh just had a long fuse. The former James Gang guitarist -- who was added to the Eagles in the late ’70s to give the band a needed shot of levity -- dominated the final third of the set. The rubber-faced axe-man barnstormed through several solo numbers, including "Walk Away," "Rocky Mountain Way," and hedonist anthem "Life’s Been Good." Unlike Henley and Frey, whose banter sometimes felt as forced as that of a CEO breaking the ice at a business meeting, Walsh’s giddiness seemed genuine. He remains a crucial part of the Eagles’s appeal: the class clown, anxious to provide comic relief.

Henley is the band’s sober-sided auteur, and he was given the last word: the often-covered "Desperado." Like many of Henley's songs, it concerns the inevitable consequences of bad behavior. Henley is no puritan, but he often looks the part -- in his buttoned-up shirt, under a mantle of gray hair, he sang to the middle-aged crowd about the maddening effect of life in the fast lane. His most vigorous performance, however, was saved for a solo song -- "Dirty Laundry," a denouncement of tabloid journalism, and one fully embodied and energetically delivered by this complicated and private man.

Rhythm guitarist Frey is, nominally, the bandleader; paradoxically, he’s the most inessential Eagle, something underscored, and painfully, by his solo career. His casual misogyny hasn’t faded, sad to say -- he still refers to his ex-wife as "plaintiff." It is, apparently, a joke he uses all the time; other, more litigious parts of the country might find it funnier than Jersey does.

But probably not. The Eagles do get girl-power points for turning over their main support slot to the Dixie Chicks, a group with a few choice, stinging words for misbehaving men. The trio took a few songs to warm up, but by the time they hit the middle of their hourlong set, they were flying: "Sin Wagon," "Cowboy, Take Me Away" and a radiant interpretation of Fleetwood Mac’s "Landslide". Controversial frontwoman Natalie Maines surprised the crowd with a close-cropped haircut; like Sinead O’Connor, she seemed to be demanding that the audience take her seriously as a musician rather than a Nashville pinup. Since denouncing then-President Bush after the outbreak of the Iraq War, Maines has gotten knocked around pretty badly, and not just in the so-called red states. A fiery reading of "Not Ready To Make Nice" made clear just how unrepentant she is. They might not dig it in Lubbock; in East Rutherford, she brought down the house.

Wary? Yes. Ready to Make Nice? Nope.


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — How best to foment a Dixie Chicks reappraisal in the country music world? Maybe they can tape a Funny or Die sketch with Toby Keith, their old sparring partner in cultural politics. Maybe Taylor Swift can start covering “Landslide” or “Not Ready to Make Nice” in concert. Maybe, simply, they can make great country songs, and play them.

At the moment, that seems like the least likely option. In the four years since their last album, “Taking the Long Way” (Columbia), the Dixie Chicks — Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire and Emily Robison — have been very careful about language: no, the group isn’t breaking up; these shows, part of the Eagles’ long march promoting their 2007 album, “Long Road Out of Eden” (ERC II), which arrived at the New Meadowlands Stadium here on Thursday, don’t constitute a farewell tour.

The reason for them is most likely far more mundane: “Any time the Chicks want to play, that takes precedence, because we can make a lot of money,” Ms. Maguire told The New York Times earlier this year. On Thursday night that meant a concise, predictable and invigorating one-hour set, early in the evening, under the threat of rain. By 8:30 it was over, with the group’s having neither updated its sound nor rebuked it.

Instead, the Dixie Chicks showed why they remain one of the most vital country acts today, even if “country” and “today” are loose concepts. Ms. Maines, whose hair was buzzed short to a knob crop, made a big stir, stomping ferociously at the center of the huge stage. She was especially sharp on rousers like “Truth No. 2” and “Sin Wagon,” less so on calmer songs like “Landslide” and “Easy Silence.”

The show’s peak was “Not Ready to Make Nice,” the arresting position statement from the group’s last album, their first following the 2003 brouhaha in which they criticized President George W. Bush, to the distaste of the country music establishment. It earned the biggest response of the night, especially from younger women in the audience, many of whom stood up in their seats and chanted along.

The song would have made for an ideal closer, ending the show in a gust of indignation, but the group quickly cut the mood with the jubilant “Ready to Run,” then closed with “Goodbye Earl,” its clever, sinister anti-domestic violence anthem.

That series highlighted the ambiguity that still shrouds the band. The group hasn’t toured since its last album, and in May Ms. Maguire and Ms. Robison, who are sisters, released a tepid album as Court Yard Hounds, on which Ms. Maines is nowhere to be found. In an “Access Hollywood” interview featured on the Dixie Chicks’ Web site, dixiechicks.com, Ms. Maines talked about not being ready to make new music: “I was very happy to be in sunny California, crafting and gardening.”

Onstage she betrayed only a whisper of regret about taking time away from songwriting. “Every once in a while a song comes along that you wish you had written, and this is one of those,” she said, introducing a rare Dixie Chicks cover version of a current hit. Would it be Katy Perry’s “California Gurls”? La Roux’s “Bulletproof”? Grimly, it was “Hey, Soul Sister,” by the adult-contemporary snoozers Train, who could learn something from how the Dixie Chicks added layers of complexity to the song.

It wasn’t hard to think that a proper Dixie Chicks version of that song, or any other, would be welcome. In the group’s absence, its sound — female-driven harmonies over pop-friendly country arrangements — has gained renewed currency. Little Big Town, Lady Antebellum, Sugarland and more, all groups who most likely grew up on the first two Dixie Chicks albums, are now, inadvertently, setting the table for the group’s possible return

“See y’all next time,” Ms. Maines said at the end of the show, and she almost sounded as if she meant it.

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