It was 2009. At 7 p.m., the crowd shuffled into the MTS Centre in Winnipeg.
There was no hollering. No hoots of irreverence. No rebellious acts. No storming the doors. Those days were gone.
We were a quiet group, baby boomers with grey and white hair, dyed hair, bald scalps, pot bellies, sore hips and copious amounts of makeup, mostly to shield the effects of aging – a 45-to-60-year-old crowd full of grandmas and grandpas, all waiting to see the Eagles (at 236 bucks a pop) return to Winnipeg for the first time in 30 years. That’s a lot of coin to see a concert. But that’s the price baby boomers will pay to relive the past.
In the summer of 1978, I’d attended my first Eagles concert in the ’Peg. My ticket cost $15. I recall putting my $2 red parking pass on the inside of the windshield of my blue Gremlin and parking on a grassy field at the Assiniboia Downs racetrack on the outskirts of town.
It was a different time. I remember a large gang of fans rushing the south fence, knocking it down, trampling one another in the mud and overwhelming the security guards. Liquor and, uh, other odd smells filled the venue. My inebriated buddy was rolled in a Porta-Potty. A parachutist landed badly in the middle of the crowd.
At the end of the concert, finding my car was an adventure. My antenna had been ripped off. No problem, I had a rockin’ Sound Barrier stereo – didn’t need that antenna anyway.
The 1978 Eagles looked like real rockers: long, tangled hair, ill-kept beards and loose clothing hung on taut bodies. It was the age of Hotel California – excessive living, self-destruction and life in the fast lane.
We sat on a grassy patch, all 30,000 of us, and marvelled at the two huge speakers, each covered with a translucent Hotel California album cover. We went nuts when the mournful opening instrumental began. Quite the bargain for 15 bucks.
Those young Eagles said virtually nothing to the crowd. The only line I remember Glenn Frey uttering was, after someone threw a firecracker on the stage, “We don’t want nobody getting hurt at no Eagles concert.” They paid little attention to us. They were Grammy winning rock gods, after all.
In 2009, the baby boomer Eagles were all dressed in suits. With ties.
Timothy Schmidt retained his signature long hair, although it was really grey. Joe Walsh, with a considerable spare tire and hair gelled back, looked as respectable as a wild man could, I suppose. Don Henley and Frey were trimmed and combed. It looked like they had finally all taken their mothers’ advice to dress nicely.
The Man must have sat down with these Eagles before the concert to make sure they promoted their latest two-disc record. (Does anyone use the word “record” any more?) Did I really hear the chatty Frey encourage us to buy their latest record? Marketing? Promotion? Salesmanship? What happened to irreverence for all things corporate? The take-my-art-or-leave-it attitude?
Wanton wildness – meandering about, swilling indiscreetly, searching for something to break or knock down, running from security, excessive F-sharps – was not tolerated in this fancy MTS Centre.
A couple to my left, standing too long and obscuring the view to the stage for others, was pulled aside by security and firmly told to sit down. These boomers were ready to rock like it was 1978, and a scuffle ensued.
They were escorted out to the main concourse, MTS’s equivalent of Orwell’s Room 101. Later, they returned to sit, quietly and obediently. Perhaps it was the right thing to do. The concert was three hours long, and not everyone could stand that long any more. There were more than a couple of replaced hips in this crowd.
These older Eagles sounded perfect at times, as if I were listening to my Eagles records on my old Sony turntable in my parents’ basement. (Whatever happened to that turntable?) At other times, their faces resembled collapsing stars as they strained to hit some notes.
During One of These Nights, the shrill melodic scream in the original ending was simply omitted. Aging voices do become less malleable over time. Heck, who screams like that any more, anyway?
If the 1978 concert demonstrated the Eagles’ aloofness to fans, the 2009 one affirmed a need to connect with those wizened, experienced boomers. We enjoyed Schmidt’s sensitivity, Frey’s quirky humour, Walsh’s zaniness and Henley’s straightness. They allowed us in, when they never did before. The human connectivity brought artist and fan together in a way that felt strangely necessary. We revelled in a night of reaching back for a bit of the old magic, as if there wouldn’t be many more opportunities.
When Henley ended the show with his signature Desperado, a haunting song about loving yourself and others, we felt the pain of our imminent parting.
Both singers and fans were desperados this night, grasping at lost youth and a break from a drawn-out recession.
At 11:40 p.m., the well-behaved crowd were in their cars and headed home.
And a good thing, too. My hip was killing me.
Adriano Magnifico lives Winnipeg