At a packed Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Friday, the Eagles opened the Canadian leg of their Hotel California tour. The concert’s first set was dedicated to that landmark 1976 rock album, one of the top selling LPs of all time. It was played in its entirety, front to back. It was a well-received revisit – an audience murmured along to lyrics about lost dreams, last resorts, the warm smell of colitas, and a new kid in town.
Hopeless romantics, here we go again.
The tour comes at a time when countless legacy acts are hitting the road, with concert ticket pricing in the news. Earlier this summer, Bruce Springsteen fans united in spit takes over the high cost of seats for his 2023 tour. The furor was fierce enough that Ticketmaster felt obliged to put out a statement explaining that artists and promoters set ticket prices, not Ticketmaster.
Of course, Ticketmaster is owned by Live Nation Entertainment, which just happens to also own concert promotion behemoth Live Nation. The oft-maligned seat-sellers supplied statistics to suggest outrage over the “dynamic pricing” system that pushed VIP packages well into four figures was unwarranted. According to Ticketmaster, the high-priced “platinum” tickets, with variable (surge) pricing based on demand, represented a small fraction of the Springsteen tickets sold on the first day of sale. The company said 88 per cent of tickets were sold at set prices, ranging from US$60 to $US399 (before taxes and fees).
When it comes to the current accusations of rock ‘n’ roll price gouging, the Eagles must be yawning at hubbub. Back in 1994, the just-reunited band had fans and the press clutching pearls by setting prices for its When Hell Freezes Over tour that broke the US$100 barrier for the most expensive seats.
Now, $100 wouldn’t get you into the building for the Eagles in Toronto, where nosebleed seats went for $125 and lower-bowl accommodation cost more than twice as much – standard fares for an act of the Eagles’ stature.
Drummer and singer-songwriter Don Henley has said the Hotel California album was a comment on the souring of sixties ideals of peace, love and understanding, and the rise of rock ‘n’ roll greed and hedonism in the Southern California seventies. Self-criticism? From the Eagles? Probably not. More likely, Henley had mistaken a mirror for a window.
Themes that run through the Hotel California include loss of innocence and the cost of naiveté. But if there are any lifelong fans of the fractious, mercenary Eagles who still have any innocence left when it comes to this band, they were never paying attention in the first place.
Speaking to Rolling Stone magazine in 1979, Eagles manager Irving Azoff said the band’s motto when dealing with concert promoters and record labels was to be paid now, and then paid more again later. “Figure out a fair price, add a third, and that’s what we get in our contracts,” he said.
This is the band whose songwriters took a particularly bottom-line approach to the art of composing music. One Eagle would suggest a minor change in a song being written by two others, thus gaining partial credit for the lucrative publishing royalties: “Change a word, gain a third” is what they called it.
At Scotiabank, during a long second set of greatest hits, the Eagles performed Take it Easy. Fact is, these guys always took what they could get, ruthless for that extra thirty-three and a third.
Historically, as a live band, the Eagles have never really been worth a premium. They barely acknowledged their audiences and didn’t get along with each other, either. The glaring lack of camaraderie was a drag. Harmony for the Eagles was a pretty vocal technique, not an ethos.
I’d previously been disappointed with the Eagles bland, corporate onstage demeanour. The late Glenn Frey in particular was ill-equipped for front man duties. In later years, when he took on more of an emcee role, his stiff, scripted banter was painful to endure.
But the band at Scotiabank Arena seemed revitalized. The celebration of their greatest album gives a sense of purpose to an act that has released just one studio album in the past 43 years. Frey, who died in 2016, has been replaced by country singer-songwriter and guitarist Vince Gill, with Frey’s son Deacon Frey providing guest lead vocals on Take It Easy, Peaceful Easy Feeling and Already Gone.
Joe Walsh, who first joined the band for the recording of Hotel California 46 years ago, was a lively, weird-uncle presence as ever, whether on Eagles material or on his own Life’s Been Good and James Gang numbers Funk #49 and Rocky Mountain Way. Walsh rips guitar solos and rallies the crowd for the same reason he dyes his hair blond: to please us.
The group, with longtime bassist Timothy B. Schmit, played nearly three hours flawlessly, with a local choir and orchestra contributing on a number of the 26 songs performed. After the Hotel California set, Henley said the band would be back after an intermission to wear us out. They did, in the best possible way.
Buy the ticket, take the ride and smell the colitas. The Eagles are finally giving fans their money’s worth.
The Eagles Hotel California tour continues to Ottawa, Sept. 13; Winnipeg, Sept. 16; Saskatoon, Sept. 18; Edmonton, Sept. 20; Vancouver, Sept. 22.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Glenn Frey died of cancer.