Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 20, 2005)
Ever since hell froze over in 1994, the Eagles have continued to chug along at a sporadic pace. Following that big mid-Nineties reunion, they regrouped occasionally before they started a “new” tour in 2003. That year saw a major tour facetiously referred to as “Farewell I” as well as “Hole in the World”, the band’s first new tune in nine years.
When the Eagles unveiled “Hole” in May 2003, they promised a full album of fresh tracks would soon follow. Two years later, we’re still waiting for that release, but this doesn’t mean the band isn’t active. “Farewell I” continues. The Eagles did a mix of east coast dates in the spring of 2005 and will hit the other side of the country in the summer. With many dollars to be made, I don’t foresee a final Eagles farewell for quite some time - if ever.
At least June 2005 offers some new Eagles product in the form of this DVD. Taken from the band’s November 2004 shows in Melbourne, Australia, Farewell Tour I presents an entire concert. This includes 29 songs that span the band’s career as well as solo work. Of course, that means the majority come from their salad days between 1972 and 1980. In addition to 2003’s single “Hole in the World”, we get “Love Will Keep Us Alive” from 1994’s Hell Freezes Over. Two unreleased songs appear as well: “One Day at a Time” and “No More Cloudy Days”.
When we delve into the Eagles catalog, their 1972 debut presents two tunes via “Take It Easy” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling”. In addition to its title track, 1973’s Desperado provides “Tequila Sunrise”, while we get “Already Gone” from 1974’s On the Border. Off of 1975’s One of These Nights, we hear the title song as well as “Lyin’ Eyes” and “Take It to the Limit”. Another title track comes from 1976’s mega-smash Hotel California along with “New Kid in Town”, “Life In the Fast Lane”, and “Wasted Time”. Finally, 1980’s The Long Run features yet another title song as well as “I Can’t Tell You Why”, “Heartache Tonight” and “In the City”.
Farewell I also delves deeply into the solo works of the various members. Bassist Timothy B. Schmit gets no non-Eagle spotlight, and guitarist Glenn Frey does only one solo hit: 1985’s “You Belong to the City”. Drummer Don Henley receives much more of a non-Eagle focus with his hits “The Boys of Summer”, “Sunset Grill”, “Dirty Laundry” and “All She Wants to Do Is Dance”. Guitarist Joe Walsh benefits most from the solo section. Although he sings on only two of the concert’s Eagles songs - “In the City” and the new “One Day at a Time” - Walsh does four solo hits: “Rocky Mountain Way”, “Walk Away”, “Funk #49” and “Life’s Been Good”.
In general, I can’t say I’m wild about the focus on solo material, as non-Eagle tunes make up almost a third of the concert. The band has such a substantial catalog that it seems odd to spotlight so much work done outside of the group’s confines, especially since all the members tour on their own. That should give them an outlet to do these songs. Most bands keep solo work off-limits during group concerts, so it comes as something of a surprise that the Eagles so heavily deviate from that pattern.
That said, I appreciate the solo tunes for one reason: they give Walsh more time to shine. Always a rather somber band, without Walsh, the Eagles might become insufferably earnest and subdued. Yeah, Frey tosses out the occasional quip during the show, but otherwise, things usually remain low-key.
When Walsh takes the spotlight, he doesn’t exactly light up the stage, but he brings a looseness not present the rest of the time. Sure, Walsh’s stoner moron persona seems affected - no one could be as stupid as Walsh pretends to be - but he contrasts well with his bland bandmates, and his songs lighten up the show considerably.
Despite a lot of solid music, the concert’s first segment drags due to its subdued nature. Essentially Farewell I presents a three-act show. The first portion spans 11 songs; it concludes with “Already Gone”. After a short intermission, the second act includes 13 numbers. (The DVD counts the introductory interlude “Silent Spring” as a song but I don’t - it’s just a brief instrumental snippet.) Finally, the three encores occupy the show’s final segment, and they include five tracks.
Bright spots are somewhat few and far between during the first act. Don’t take that as a reflection of the music itself. As I mentioned, the Eagles play a number of good numbers during the opening segment. “One of These Nights”, “Lyin’ Eyes”, “In the City” and “Already Gone” act as highlights in the musical realm. However, the low-key nature of this segment makes the opening set drag at times. The music comes across as enjoyable, but except for a few exceptions, the concert lacks much pep and spirit.
One new song pops up here: Walsh’s “One Day at a Time”. A paean to the guitarist’s newfound sobriety, it sounds like the president of Alcoholics Anonymous wrote it. A bland tune with simplistic lyrics, it’s a clunker. If this is the kind of music Walsh creates without alcohol, fans will hope he falls off the wagon.
After the intermission, Act 2 starts about the same way. The set opens well with “Tequila Sunrise” but takes a dive when the band does a sit-down acoustic set. This includes two of their all-time weakest songs: the insipid “Love Will Keep Us Alive” and the simplistic “Hole in the World”. Sandwiched in between we find another new track, Frey’s “No More Cloudy Days”. It beats “Hole” but not by a lot, as it provides an anonymous, lackluster number.
Once we get past those low notes, matters start to rebound. Although Frey’s probably the least appropriate singer for “Take It to the Limit” - departed bassist Randy Meisner did it originally - the song still works well. (One Internet wag joked that he could see a thought balloon over Schmit’s head that said “Why aren’t I singing this?” He had a point, as Schmit - and Henley and Walsh - all have voices better suited to the number than Frey.)
From that point through the final notes of “Desperado”, the concert cranks along quite nicely. Not that some lulls don’t occur. Frey’s “You Belong to the City” sucked 20 years ago and it hasn’t improved with age. Henley’s “Sunset Grill” isn’t exactly a classic either.
Otherwise, the show lives up to its potential during its final act. Henley’s “Dirty Laundry” and “All She Wants to Do Is Dance” aren’t great songs, but they work well in a live setting and add vivacity to the concert. Walsh’s four solo tracks - “Walk Away”, “Life’s Been Good”, “Funk #49” and “Rocky Mountain Way” - provide some much-needed rock to the evening. Sure, they’re old warhorses, but at an Eagles show, almost every song’s an old warhorse, and these still trot with the best of them.
The biggest complaint I have is that after “Limit”, eight of the show’s last 13 cuts are solo songs. I don’t know what that says about the Eagles’ legacy as a rock band when they need to rely on non-Eagles tunes to bring life to the show, but honestly, I don’t care. The smattering of Eagles songs we do hear fit in well and are very lively.
Director Carol Dodds delivers the concert with admirable restraint. Too many live DVDs suffer from excessive music video style quick-cuts; see ”McCartney, P. for the most egregious examples of this trend. Since the Eagles put on such a low-key visual performance, there must be a temptation to jazz things up with funky effects and rapid edits.
Happily, Dodds presents absolutely none of that. This is a tasteful way to depict the concert. We see the action onstage first and foremost, with frequent but unobtrusive glimpses of the audience. We get a nice feel for the show that accentuates the performances. Frankly, the Eagles are a little boring to watch, and that comes across here. Don’t blame the director, though, as that’s just the way it is at an Eagles concert.
Despite that, Farewell I offers a very good piece of work. Though without visual sparkle, the Eagles put on a solid, honest concert that comes through well in the home medium. Farewell I is a nice representation of a show.
Concert footnote 1: Before the band plays “Hole in the World”, Henley tells a story about the song’s composition and mentions how 9/11 affected it. Normally when Henley comments about 9/11, a hush comes over the crowd. However, during one show in northern New Jersey - maybe five miles from Manhattan - more than a few goobers cheered when Henley made this remark.
The odd reaction clearly threw Henley, who paused for a moment. He then said, “ooookay” and made a comment about how life can be a riddle. I had to agree. In any US venue, cheers for a somber reflection on 9/11 would be mystifying, but given the show’s proximity to Ground Zero, the reaction made even less sense. I assume too much beer was responsible, but who knows?
Concert footnote 2: At the same show, I sat in a section right next to the portal the band used to come onstage. This meant some fans rushed to the side to watch the musicians enter. One guy loved Walsh, as he incessantly yelped, “Joe! Joey! Joe Walsh!” whenever the guitarist came or went.
Walsh ignored the screeching so the dude enacted an alternate tactic. Eventually he shouted, “Joe! Joe Walsh! I like big tits!” a few times. Probably in an attempt to finally shut up this moron, Walsh yelled back, “So do I!” This didn’t cause the fan to clam up, as he continued to pester Walsh for the rest of the show.
Concert footnote 3: Henley’s “Hole in the World” story stands as one of the show’s few slightly extended chats. In contrast, during his solo shows, Henley tells a number of fairly long stories about his tunes. I saw him in Portsmouth Virginia over Labor Day weekend 2004, and apparently some members of the audience didn’t appreciate this. The crowd seemed better suited for a Jimmy Buffett concert, as they came ready to party. This meant the stories weren’t all that well-received, and one yahoo made his displeasure known. In the middle of one Henley anecdote, some guy behind me shouted, “Play ball!” I don’t think Henley heard him, which was too bad, as I’d have loved to hear his response.
DVD footnote 1: if you stick it out through the end credits, you’ll get some interview outtakes with Frey, Walsh and Henley. In the best part, Frey discusses ways they could rework song titles to match their advancing age. Normally I hate those gags - like ones about the Stones’ Steel Wheelchairs - but some of these are funny. We also see an amusing bit in which Henley appears to enter the senescence about which Frey jokes, as Don doesn’t know whose guitar he holds. (It’s his own.)
DVD footnote 2: Disc One runs 99 minutes and two seconds, while Disc Two lasts 65 minutes and five seconds. Personal gripe: I really think DVD One’s segment should have ended after “Already Gone” since that was the concert’s intermission point. This occurs 57 minutes into the show, which means DVD Two would have held 107 minutes of concert. That’s an amount easily fit onto a dual-layer disc, and it would have made the DVD much better match the original event.