We’re kind of light on the metal at NCS this weekend, and I’m about to explain why.
At the beginning of the summer my wife and I watched a documentary about a band. My wife, to put it mildly, is not into metal, so it was more a question of me going along on her ride than me being behind the wheel. The movie was History of the Eagles. In a word, it was superb.
I suppose it helps to like The Eagles’ music, which I do, but as a look at the rise and fall and resurrection of an unlikely group of very talented and collectively dysfunctional singers, songwriters, and musicians over a 40-year period, the movie is a fascinating story in its own right. (Did you know that The Eagles, Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975, which was released in 1976, was the best-selling album of the 20th Century in the U.S.? True story.)
Right after we finished watching the movie, my wife asked if we could find out whether the Eagles were touring again — and of course, they are. Because she and I almost never hear live music together and because we haven’t taken even a short vacation together in quite a while, I splurged on a very pricey pair of tickets to an Eagles show in Vancouver, BC, which finally took place two nights ago on September 6, 2013. We hit the road from Seattle that morning.
With five hours of the indie rock and alt-folk favored by my wife blasting in the car on the round trip and a long evening of The Eagles in between, the closest I got to metal until arriving home again last night was driving past The Rickshaw venue on the way into downtown Vancouver. But I couldn’t help thinking about the contrasts with metal that the weekend revealed.
The drive north turned out to be very cool, the GPS surprisingly taking us off I-5 at Burlington and routing us along the scenically beautiful Chuckanut Drive (State Route 11), with spectacular views of the Puget Sound and the San Juan islands, and through old-town Bellingham, before reaching the less-trafficked Pacific Highway border crossing into Canada. The wait there was less than 20 minutes, and before long we were headed into Vancouver — where the GPS misguided us into a ridiculously slow off-highway crawl into downtown.
We had time for drinks and an early dinner before walking to the Rogers Arena for the show. Home of the Vancouver Canucks hockey team, that place holds more than 20,000 people with seating installed on the floor for a show like this one. It was sold out. It’s been so long since I’ve been to any kind of arena show that my mind boggled at the sight.
I mentioned that I spent a small fortune for the tickets: Our seats were dead-center on the fourth row. Best seats I’ve ever had for any show in a venue of this size, and man, it was quite an experience.
The show was about three hours long, with a short intermission. No opening acts, just The Eagles singing their own songs (plus one by The James Gang and a few from the solo albums of guitarist Joe Walsh — who stole the show on several occasions during the night). It didn’t drag, it never got dull, even for someone with my own extreme tastes in music.
I go to 2 or 3 metal shows a month on average, usually in small, crusty clubs with no seating, where I’m used to standing for hours on end, my shoes velcro-ed to the floor by unthinkable fluids and grime. At this one, I remained comfortably seated for the whole thing until everyone got on their feet for the main set’s closer, “Life In the Fast Lane”, and the four songs performed during the two encores — “Hotel California”, “Take It Easy”, Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way”, and “Desperado”.
At the shows I go to, I’m surrounded by 20- and 30-somethings. At this one, the place was packed mainly with middle-aged folks, though enough blunts were fired up around us during the concert that even the stage got hazy with smoke at a few points.
But for a metalhead like me the most stunning aspect of the whole extravaganza was . . . the whole extravaganza. Immense video screens were segmented behind the band and angled out above the stage at the top, and they were in constant use, showing a wide variety of images and even videos. Between almost every song, the stage would go dark and an army of helpers would race out and swap out guitars with the musicians and/or change the stage layout.
Everything was expertly choreographed, including the selection and ordering of the songs and the between-song stage banter. It was structured like a history of the band, starting with just Don Henley and Glenn Frey on acoustic guitars, singing a country-rock ballad called “Saturday Night.” Slowly they were joined, from song to song, by the rest of the band (including, surprisingly, original guitarist Bernie Leadon) and the cadre of five other musicians who have been backing the band members for their post-reunion tours. They traveled through a big chunk of their discography, and it was a vivid reminder of how many fuckin’ hits this band had.
These old farts can still really sing, both individually and when combining in an amazing array of vocal harmonies. And Joe Walsh can still play some mean, high-energy licks. Besides him, most of the more difficult guitar leads and solos, including the double-necked guitar solo on “Hotel California”, were handled by the very capable Steuart Smith, who fills the role of former guitarist Don Felder.
At some point after the show, I wondered about how many people are involved in making a thing of this scale and audio-visual extravagance happen without a hitch every night. I wondered about how much the whole thing costs to put on, including the travel and lodging for what must be an army of roadies, tech people, and other fellow travelers in the entourage, not to mention the expense of the mountain of gear and other equipment used in the show.
I wondered how much money the tour brings in every night (including the revenue from $40 t-shirts and $80 hoodies). I thought about how many DIY metal bands could be supported for a whole year by the money a show like this one must generate on a single night. I wondered, but I have no idea.
I guess there are shows similar in scale to this one happening in many decent-sized U.S. cities every month, put on mainly by pop music performers I wouldn’t listen to even at gunpoint. It’s a different world, an alien world, a world I haven’t visited in a long time. But I have to say, I really enjoyed myself. Just finding a live music event that my spouse and I could attend together was a prize, but the show itself was damned cool, too, even making allowances for the influence of nostalgia.
Video recording and photo-taking with more than point-and-shoot devices was prohibited, so I did the best I could with snaps on my iPod. The best of the pics I took are what you see as illustrations for this post.
We’ll get back to metal soon.
P.S. Later on the day when I posted this piece, my blog brother BadWolf linked me to one of the best things I’ve read in a good while — a very long but completely worthwhile commentary about History of the Eagles. Loaded with quotes from the movie and the author’s own brilliant and highly entertaining commentary, it makes a very good case for this statement, with which I certainly agree: “In my humble opinion, it’s the finest documentary ever made about the rise and fall of a memorable rock band, as well as a superb commentary on the dangers of fame and excess.”
P.P.S. Thinking about BadWolf made me remember this line from Glenn Frey during Friday night’s show. There were other good lines, but this one was right up near the top: “I’m from Detroit, where ‘mother’ is half a word.”