The Eagles had already performed luminous versions of “Seven Bridges Road,” “Take It Easy” and “One of These Nights” before Don Henley welcomed the loudly cheering, sold-out audience of 41,941 fans at Petco Park Saturday night.
“We’re going to play about 2½ hour’s worth of music for you tonight — because we can,” said the goateed singer, drummer and rhythm guitarist. He is now the sole original member in this legendary band’s re-animated and expanded lineup.
If Texas native Henley sounded both proud and a bit smug, well, who can blame him?
The Eagles, which he co-founded in 1971 with Detroit-bred singer-guitarist Glenn Frey, has been part of America’s musical firmament for decades.
Last month, “Eagles — Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975” became the top-selling album in history, with sales and streams of more than 38 million. The band’s 1976 classic, “Hotel California,” is the third highest-selling album of all time, with sales and streams of more than 26 million, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.
Accordingly, five of the first six songs the band performed here Saturday appear on their “Greatest Hits 1971-1975” collection. “Best of My Love” was the only one of the 10 songs from that album not included in their Petco Park concert. (The complete set list appears below.)
Frey, the Eagles’ leader, died in early 2016. He was 67. Now, against major odds, his former band seems bigger than ever. And, as its 23-song, three-encore concert Saturday vividly attested, the Eagles are sounding better than ever, too.
Credit for this goes to the band’s remarkably durable songs and to the two gifted singer-guitarists who joined last year, after Henley changed his mind about retiring the band in the wake of Frey’s death. So give a hand to Frey’s son, Deacon, 25, and country-music mainstay Vince Gill, who introduced himself to the Petco Park audience as the group’s “61-year-old new guy.”
Gill and the younger Frey both held their own on guitar and singing classics originally performed by Frey’s late father, injecting fresh vitality into the music. In turn, their enthusiasm seems to have inspired Henley, bassist/singer Timothy B. Schmit and guitarist/singer (and former Encinitas resident) Joe Walsh.
Such songs as “Witchy Woman,” one of several to feature a five-piece brass section, were delivered with welcome new punch. And ballads, such as “”Tequila Sunrise” and “Lyin’ Eyes,” were enhanced by the Eagles’ expanded front line of singers. They received additional vocal support from touring keyboardists Will Hollis and San Diego’s Michael Thompson.
The result was an evening of first-rate music, performed with the impeccable precision that has long been an Eagles’ hallmark.
That precision was just as evident when the band performed its final San Diego concert with Glenn Frey at San Diego State University in late 2014. But that show lacked the spark and infectious charm the revamped band brought to Petco Park, where many in the multi-generational crowd often sang along under a near full-moon, on the first night of autumn..
“My dad played the Eagles my whole life growing up. They’re timeless,” said Drew Walworth, a 25-year-old software salesman, who was seated 18 rows from the stage on the stadium field. He flew in from San Francisco with his girlfriend to attend Saturday’s concert here.
Richard Gomez, 80, was similarly effusive.
“It was fabulous. I would go any place to hear the Eagles,” said the retired civil-rights administrator for public schools in Utah.
He flew in for Saturday’s concert from Salt Lake City with his daughter, Felicia Gomez Boothe, 55, her two brothers and sister-in-law. They sat in the upper decks of Petco Park, behind third base, and marveled at the clarity of the sound and at how well the three enormous LED screens above the stage captured the musicians’ every move.
“As a little girl, my dad taught me to dance — with my feet on top of his — to the Eagles’ ‘New Kid in Town’,” Gomez Boothe recalled. “This was an amazing concert — beyond expectations.”
Whether by accident or design, Saturday’s Petco Park performance also included a locally tinged musical double-header, so to speak.
Near the concert’s mid-point, Deacon Frey ably handled lead vocals on the Jack Tempchin-penned “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” (The huge black-and-white photo of Glenn Frey shown at the number’s conclusion earned a sustained ovation.) Gill then sang “Ol’ 55,” an early gem by Tom Waits.
Waits grew up here. Tempchin is a San Diego native. He was a longtime friend and musical collaborator of Glenn Frey’s and in the early 1970s co-wrote a song, “Tijuana,” with Waits that they only performed live together a single time..
“It was quite a moment for me when Deacon Frey sang ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’ and I saw the whole stadium, in my hometown, singing my song,” Tempchin said. “It’s amazing where life takes us.”
The pacing of the concert, which concluded with an encore of “Desperado” and featured opening sets by the Doobie Brothers and the Zac Brown Band, was virtually flawless.
The Eagles were equally potent whether delivering tender love songs, ripping through “Life in the Fast Lane” and Walsh’s charged 1973 solo hit, “Rocky Mountain Way,” or exuberantly soaring through the country-rocking “How Long” and “Already Gone” (the latter co-written by Tempchin).
The performance also mixed in songs from outside the band’s repertoire. These included Henley’s “Boys of Summer,” Walsh’s reggae-inflected “Life’s Been Good” and Gill’s “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away,” the only number on which he was given room to demonstrate his guitar prowess.
Then again, between Walsh and 17-year Eagles’ veteran Steuart Smith, who performed with exquisite taste whenever called upon, featuring more of Gill’s six-string work would probably have cluttered things up. (Gill’s former band, Pure Prairie League — it’s worth noting — was one of many to benefit from the country-rock boom the Eagles helped fuel in the first half of the 1970s.)
With Gill and Deacon Frey on board, and the band’s veteran members clearly reinvigorated, the Eagles are back in orbit. Long may they fly.
Eagles set list, Petco Park, Sept. 22, 2019
“Seven Bridges Road”
“Take It Easy”
“One of These Nights”
“Take It to the Limit”
“In the City”
“I Can’t Tell You Why”
“New Kid in Town”
“Peaceful Easy Feeling”
“Love Will Keep Us Alive”
“Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away”
“Life’s Been Good”
“The Boys of Summer”
“Life in the Fast Lane”
“Rocky Mountain Way”