At 8:10 p.m. Thursday, a spooky looking guy dressed in a black cape ambled onto the stage at KeyBank Center and put a vinyl copy of the Hotel California album on a record player.
As he set the needle on the record, a ruffled curtain rose, and for the next three hours, a full house of rock fans became lost in the music of the Eagles and their classic 1976 album.
Joined by a 38-piece orchestra made up of local musicians and a choir from the Westminster Presbyterian Church, the Eagles rendered a truly amazing, note-by-note re-creation of one of the biggest-selling albums in rock music history. That was followed by a set presenting the band’s greatest hits – ranging from sweet ballads like “Peaceful Easy Feeling” to fierce rockers like “Funk 49” and “In The City.”
The Eagles’ co-founder, Don Henley, is well into his 70s, and so are his two longtime collaborators, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit. The newest Eagle, Vince Gill, is 65, but the Eagles can still fire up a concert hall.
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“I’d rather be in my twenties in the ’70s than in my seventies in the ’20s,” Walsh lamented at one point, but he and the rest of the Eagles performed like young bucks before a very appreciative audience.
It was a soulful, technically brilliant concert, with state-of-the-art sound engineering, wonderful performances and beautiful visuals presented on a giant screen behind the musicians.
Ticket prices were sky-high – well above $100 (including fees) for every seat – but I didn’t see anyone who looked like they felt cheated.
The Eagles can still step up to their microphones and deliver the harmonies that made them one of America’s most successful rock acts. By my count, they played 27 songs, including the nine that make up the “Hotel California” album.
The show started with a bang, the title track from “Hotel California” and arguably, the band’s best-known song.
I’ve heard it well over 100 times over the decades, but the guitar duel that ends the song never fails to blow me away. Walsh and the talented Steuart Smith played it to perfection.
I enjoyed the entire “Hotel California” set, but especially the final song, “The Last Resort,” a great Henley ballad about lost innocence and excess. The orchestra and choir took the song to an entirely new level. Henley seemed genuinely moved by the audience response.
You won’t find many rock bands with three great lead guitarists, but the Eagles have such a trio in Walsh, Smith and Gill. All three shined on “Life In The Fast Lane,” a loud and jarring rocker that the late Glenn Frey wrote after a 90 mph ride with a crazed drug dealer. Later, Walsh and Gill traded blistering solos on “Funk 49,” a song that brought the house down. Another guitar highlight was “Victim of Love,” also from “Hotel California.”
Gill, as it turns out, may have been the best possible replacement for the beloved Frey, who died of an illness in early 2016.
A country-rock legend long before he answered the Eagles’ call, Gill has really settled into his role as one of the band’s lead singers.
His soaring, dramatic vocal on “Take It To The Limit,” with 18,000 Buffalo voices backing him on the chorus, would have put a huge smile on Frey’s face. So would Gill’s sweet and earnest vocals on “Tequila Sunrise,” “Lying Eyes” and “New Kid In Town.”
Gill, Schmit, Walsh and Henley were very strong on vocal harmony, which has been one of the main ingredients of the band’s runaway success for 50 years now.
Schmit was quietly solid throughout the night, enjoying his chance to shine on “I Can’t Tell You Why,” one of the prettiest ballads in the band’s setlist.
And Walsh, wild and zany as ever, clearly had a blast playing his hits, including “Rocky Mountain Way.” He is a true rock star.
Eagles’ fans in Buffalo have been lucky in recent years. Thursday’s show was the band’s third appearance in the same arena since July 2015. That 2015 show turned out to be the second-last concert performance for Frey, who founded the band with Henley and died in early 2016.
After Frey’s death, the band brought in Gill and Frey’s son, Deacon. Deacon Frey recently left the band to chase his own musical dreams.
“No fireworks, no choreography, no wind machines,” Henley said, describing the band’s music. “Just a bunch of guys playing guitars.”
Will the aging, very wealthy Eagles ever play Buffalo again?
Thursday was my sixth Eagles concert, dating back to 1973. If they come again, I’ll be there, whether I’m paying through the nose for a ticket or getting paid by The Buffalo News to review it.