Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada 2010

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REVIEW: Eagles take it easy

That peaceful easy music coming from Canad Inns Stadium Tuesday was courtesy of the Eagles.

The rock ’n’ roll? Thank guitarist Joe Walsh for that.

With laid-back grooves, soulful harmonies and hits galore, the mellow California country-rockers can soar along nicely, but when they let secret weapon Walsh loose they truly take flight.

Making their second appearance in the city in just over a year, the veteran group — Walsh, singer-guitarist-keyboardist Glenn Frey, singer-guitarist-drummer Don Henley and singer-bassist Timothy B. Schmit — offered a similar set to their MTS Centre show last May, but instead of a three-hour concert filled with plenty of new material, it was a two-hour show of greatest hits and highlights from Walsh and Henley’s solo careers.

And, of course, it was immaculate with not a bum note to be heard. You want spontaneity? You want surprises? Not with the Eagles. This is a tight running machine. Everything was precise with nothing left to chance, almost to the point of it being sterile.

It’s hard to complain about, but equally hard to get too excited about. Even the production was sparse with three video screens.
But it’s not as though soft-rockers like Take it to the Limit, Peaceful Easy Feeling, Lying Eyes and One of These Nights leave much room to mess around with. That’s where Walsh comes in and throws some fun into the show with Walk Away and Funk #49 from his pre-Eagles outfit the James Gang; Rocky Mountain Way, Life’s Been Good and In the City, from the Warriors soundtrack. Can you dig it?

The crowd did, and Mother Nature even helped out. After a day of extreme weather warnings, the storm system missed the Polo Park area and the audience was treated to a warm night with no rain.

An official attendance figure wasn’t provided, but pre-show estimates of between 23,000 and 25,000 appeared to have held up.

The Eagles were backed by a five-piece band and four-member horn section whose numbers rose and fell depending on the song. The extra musicians added texture and punch to tunes like the trippy Hotel California — the dual harmonized guitar solo climax courtesy of Walsh and Stuart Smith was an early highlight — the Boys of Summer, Witchy Woman and Heartache Tonight.

The Eagles had a tough act to follow, too.

Country group the Dixie Chicks opened the show with a powerful one-hour set that proved they haven’t lost a step since taking a hiatus four years ago.

Lead vocalist Natalie Maines has shaved her head, offering a striking contrast to her bandmates, sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire.

The talented trio and their six-piece backing band opened their one hour set with the breezy Wide Open Spaces before the melodic Truth No. 2. They hit all the touchstones from their 12 years together, with almost every song a highlight, including the bluegrass rave-up Sin Wagon, a rockin’ version of Bob Dylan’s Mississippi and the twangy back porch banger Long Time Gone. They wrapped up their time with a defiant trio of the anthemic Not Ready to Make Nice, Ready to Run and murder/revenge fantasy Goodbye Earl.


Eagles don't soar

Bigger isn't always better.

Case in point: Tuesday's Eagles concert at Canad Inns Stadium. It was the California country-rockers' second visit to the city in little over a year. But next to the classy, career-spanning perfection of their superb three-hour performance at MTS Centre in 2009, this show didn't quite measure up.

Don't get me wrong. It's not like Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit laid an egg. They just didn't soar.

Maybe the problem was that they carved an hour off last year's set — essentially by tossing away new material to focus on hits.

Maybe it was that they played most of those hits in roughly the same order, and with identical arrangements, as last time.

Maybe it was that the rest of the production — from the graphics on the semicircular video screen behind them to the nine-member backing band — was also the same.

Maybe it was that Walsh wasn't quite as unhinged this time around (more on this in a minute).

Maybe it was that they were very nearly upstaged by their warmup act (ditto in a minute).

Maybe it was that their emphasis on musical precision and perfection over spontaneity works better when they're wearing suits in an arena than when they in casual duds in a stadium.

Or maybe — just maybe — it was because they've been working this reunion thing for so long that they've finally reached the point of diminishing returns. (That certainly seems the case where the box office is concerned; like many bands this year, Eagles have had trouble filling seats. Including here. Promoters refused to reveal the attendance at Tuesday's concert, but judging by the half-filled upper decks and empty pockets throughout the facility — I was in the first 20 rows on the floor and had 15 empty $225 seats beside me — plenty of tickets went unused. Whatever the head count was — between 20,000 and 25,000 seems about right — it clearly wasn't a number to brag about.)

But enough about what went wrong. Let's talk about what went right. The casually dressed rockers opened with the only new inclusion in this year's set: A gorgeous rendition of Seven Bridges Road buoyed by magnificent a cappella harmonies. They cruised through typically impeccable versions of How Long and Take it to the Limit, Peaceful Easy Feeling, Witchy Woman, Lyin' Eyes, One of These Nights and more, with nary a note out of place. Henley handled the drums with his usual solid simplicity. Frey was an affable frontman, offering up the usual welcomes and commenting on the good weather — dark storm clouds breezed over and around the stadium, but the predicted thunderstorms never broke. Schmit made the most of his turn in the spotlight, offering a plaintive version of I Can't Tell You Why that featured Frey on the Rhodes electric piano. Everybody's playing was stellar. Everyone's voice was on the money.

But the best moments of the night, as usual, belonged to Walsh. Part guitar hero, part comedy relief ("Familiar to law enforcement and hotel staff around the world ... he's never met a room he couldn't wreck," as Frey put it), and all-around MVP, Walsh once again injected some life into the band's far too peaceful, way too easy proceedings. After literally flexing his muscles during the dual-guitar harmonies of Hotel California (hired-gun guitarist Stuart Smith handled the other half of the workload, along with duplicating former member Don Felder's solos for the rest of the night), Walsh repeatedly cranked the set up a notch with blistering versions of solo hits and James Gang classics like Walk Away, In the City, Life's Been Good, Funk #49 and his signature song Rocky Mountain Way. (By contrast, Henley got two solo spots: Boys of Summer and Dirty Laundry. Sadly, Frey's The Heat is On still hasn't made it into the rotation. Fingers crossed for 2011, Glenn!)

But even though Walsh covered more stage and cracked more gags than all his bandmates combined, his antics were slightly subdued in comparison to last year, when he donned a helmet-cam for one tune and played his heart out on the rest. Really, he was fairly subdued on this night, barely cracking a smile or displaying much enthusiasm onstage. That's hardly unique in this band, of course; if anybody can make a stadium concert look like just another day at the office, it's these guys. (And even they were having more fun than the poor ushers, who spent their night fruitlessly trying to prevent people from standing up, taking pictures or lollygagging in the aisles.)

Thankfully, opening act Dixie Chicks were having enough fun for everybody. Although they've been on hiatus for several years, you never would have known it from their spirited, spot-on hour-long set, which switched between driving roots-rock like Sin Wagon, dreamy ballads like Easy Silence and Cowboy Take Me Away, and covers of everything from Bob Dylan's Mississippi to Train's Hey Soul Sister. Even the latter wasn't as freaky as frontwoman Natalie Maines' new Sinead-style buzzcut. Coupled with her denim cutoffs and plain white shirt, it gave her a punky look — especially next to the girlie outfits and ponytails of sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire.

Perhaps somebody still isn't ready to make nice.

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