Concert Review by Colin Jacobson (September 29, 2015)
Over his career, Joe Walsh scored the “musical hat trick”: famous songs via three different incarnations. Walsh first gained notoriety as a member of the James Gang before he branched off into a solo career. Eventually Walsh would reach an even bigger audience as a member of the Eagles.
These days, Walsh spends much of his time on tour with the Eagles, but he still indulges his solo career. 2012 brought Analog Man, Walsh’s first solo album in 20 years, and 2015 took Walsh on the road for 15-date tour.
I took in the fifth show of this 2015 trek, a concert that took place at DC’s Warner Theater on September 23. Armed with a new band, Walsh covered a mix of music across his career. From his James Gang days, Walsh played that band’s two most famous tracks: “Funk #49” (from 1970’s James Gang Rides Again) and “Walk Away” (from 1971’s Thirds). The James Gang also accounted for "The Bomber: Closet Queen"/ "Boléro"/ "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" (from Rides Again). In addition, we got three songs from Walsh’s Eagles career: “In the City”, “Pretty Maids All In a Row” and “Life in the Fast Lane”.
The remaining seven numbers came from various stages of Walsh’s solo career. “Mother Says” came from 1972’s Barnstorm. 1973’s The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get delivered “Rocky Mountain Way”, and 1974’s So What brought us “Turn to Stone”. 1978’s But Seriously, Folks offered “Life’s Been Good” and “Over and Over”.
“A Life of Illusion” came from 1981’s There Goes the Neighborhood. Finally, 2012’s Analog Man produced its title song.
(Nitpicky footnotes: technically Barnstorm was an album by a band of the same name, but it’s generally credited as a Walsh solo release. Also, “In the City” first came into existence as a Walsh solo song for the soundtrack to 1979’s The Warriors. However, the Eagles re-recorded it for that same year’s The Long Run. That’s the better-known version, so I credited the track to the Eagles, not solo.)
I was surprised to see Walsh tour when he did, mainly because I just saw him play with the Eagles in July. The band did a month-long stint in Australia across February/March before they played North American dates from mid-May to late July.
Since Walsh’s solo tour started mid-September, that left him about six weeks to prep – all with what Walsh described as a new band. While some members have known Walsh for years – drummer Joe Vitale goes back to Barnstorm – apparently many were new to Walsh. To put a point on this, Walsh actually needed a sheet with musicians’ names to make sure he got them correct!
This didn’t impact the show much, as the band came together well. It felt a little weird to observe Walsh on his own, though. As I mentioned, I’ve only seen him with the Eagles, a band I’ve taken in multiple times. At Eagles concerts, Walsh gets a handful of “spotlight moments”, but he’s not asked to carry the show.
Not that I worried Walsh wouldn’t handle the gig. Even though he spends most of his time with the Eagles, he clearly has tons of experience as a solo artist, so he knows how to work a crowd.
In terms of demeanor and chit-chat, Walsh tended toward his usual “clown prince” persona. This seemed toned down compared to the goofy personality he favors at Eagles shows, though, and that makes sense. With the Eagles, Walsh acts as a counterpoint to the self-serious tone exhibited by the other band members, whereas on his own, he needs to come across as a bit more in control.
For the most part, Walsh let the music speak for him. He chatted with the audience on occasion, though the most memorable comment came before he played “Funk #49”. Walsh stated that if he knew he’d have to play it the rest of his life, he would’ve written something else. Some of this seemed meant for comedic effect, but I suspect Walsh probably isn’t that fond of the song and wishes he could bail on it.
Since it’s one of his best-known tracks, Walsh seems to be stuck with “Funk #49” – and that’s fine with me, as I really like the song. Honestly, you’d be hard-pressed to find a clunker in the setlist, as Walsh spread out the show with a good mix of tunes. Without a new album to promote, Walsh provided a concert for the general audience, and the selections went over well. Of course, numbers like “Life’s Been Good”, “Rocky Mountain Way” and the apparently-reviled “Funk #49” went over best, but all the others got a good reception as well.
As noted, the concert featured a new band, and occasionally I sensed a somewhat tentative feel to the show. There wasn’t the level of interaction/interplay one would expect from a group who knew each other well.
This was probably impacted by the size of the band, too. With backing singers and multiple musicians, I counted 10 people on stage in addition to Walsh, so attempts to meld all those folks will take a while.
Despite a mild lack of connection, I thought the band played the tracks well, and Walsh himself seemed to be in good form. Despite his well-known issues with substance abuse, Walsh continues to sing and play well. Indeed, his voice has barely lost any range from his younger days, so he continues to sound good.
I will admit I thought it was surprising that he closed with “Life in the Fast Lane”, mainly because he didn’t sing lead on the Eagles’ version; that was a Don Henley lead. However, Walsh did co-write the song, and apparently he’s used it in solo sets for years, so its presence makes sense – and sure seems more logical than Henley’s choice to conclude a 2004 concert I saw with a cover of Tears for Fear’s “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”!
All in all, my experience with Joe Walsh live pleased me. Walsh delivered 90 solid minutes of hits and popular tracks in a tight, compelling manner. I enjoyed the show and will check out Walsh solo again when I get the chance.