CLEVELAND, Ohio – They’re some of the most iconic opening chords in the history of rock and roll. And on Thursday night, the sounds of “Hotel California” marked the start of a three-hour odyssey in downtown Cleveland celebrating the Eagles’ 50-year career as well as guitarist Joe Walsh’s solo highlights.
It was the “Hotel California 2020 Tour.” But it was also St. Patrick’s Day, which didn’t slip past the mind of Don Henley. “Some of you are probably hungover already,” the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer said about halfway through the show. He probably wasn’t wrong.
Drinks were in full force at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. There was some spilled beer and a few spilled bodies.
The night began with atmospheric music filling the arena as the signature sign for “Hotel California” lit up stage-left. A mysterious male figure emerged, walking across the stage to put a vinyl copy of the Eagles’ landmark 1976 album on a record player.
The curtain lifted and the crowd – a near sold-out sea of green – roared. The cheers only got louder as Walsh, whose career took off as a member of Cleveland’s James Gang in the late 1960s and early 1970s, appeared on the big screen for his portion of “Hotel California’s” legendary guitar solo.
Leading the way was Henley on drums. His voice sounded immaculate, not just for a 74-year-old but for any point in his career.
Henley wasn’t without help, however. Bassist Timothy B. Schmit and county music legend Vince Gill (who’s been with the Eagles since 2017) were also in fine form (guitarist Deacon Frey, son of the late Glenn Frey, is absent from the tour due to an undisclosed illness).
Bands have played historic albums live in their entirety thousands of times. But hearing one of the most popular records in the history of music never gets old. What made the “Hotel California” portion of Thursday’s set so stunning was just how airtight the Eagles sounded.
Gill’s took center stage during “New Kid in Town.” His voice’s elegance and richness would prove to be a spectacle throughout the evening. Walsh then fired up his guitar for the much-anticipated opening of “Life in the Fast Lane,” which brought out the Baby Boomer dance moves in the crowd.
The night’s first surprise came during “Wasted Time” when an orchestra emerged from behind the band. The group was led by composer/conductor Jim Ed Norman, who handled the string arrangements for the Eagles’ most iconic albums, including “Hotel California.” The orchestra was made up of local musicians Henley dubbed the “Cleveland Rock Orchestra.”
A beautiful blonde woman would arrive after “Wasted Time” to appropriately flip the record over to side-two, where Walsh once again took center stage. His slide guitar playing on “Victim of Love” was mesmerizing, while Walsh’s off-kilter yet endearing vocals took hold on “Pretty Maids All in a Row.”
The orchestra, along with a choir, would arrive again for “The Last Resort,” adding a new level of beauty to “Hotel California’s” epic closer that previously seemed impossible.
The “Hotel California” portion of the set was near perfection – a tight, 50-minute showcase of musicality that would have been worth the hefty price of admission alone. But the night was far from over.
The Eagles took a short break before returning to perform the hits (or “everything we know” as Henley put it). While the first part of Thursday’s set felt like formal commitment to the Eagles’ greatest album, the second half was far more celebratory (It helped that the brief intermission gave attendees a moment to refill their drinks).
Virtually every song intro from that point on drew a roar from the crowd, from the blissful opening of “Seven Bridges Road” and the funky guitars of “One of These Nights” to the acoustic chords of “Take It Easy” and “Tequila Sunrise .”
Every member of the band got their chance to shine. Gill’s voice drew oohs and aahs from the crowd on “Take It to the Limit.” He earned every second of the standing ovation that followed.
Schmit would slow things down a bit on lead for “I Can’t Tell You Why,” a single from 1979′s “The Long Run.” Guitarist Steuart Smith would also step into the spotlight on the song, his smooth style serving as a complement to Walsh’s fiery playing.
Speaking of which, the night’s best moment was surprisingly not originally an Eagles song. It was Walsh’s incendiary performance on “In the City” (a Walsh original later recorded with the Eagles), delivering a guitar solo for the ages. Walsh would follow up a few songs later with “Life’s Been Good,” sporting a Kent State University T-shirt (his alma mater) and dedicating the track to local music legends Glenn Schwartz and Michael Stanley.
Henley – the driving force of the “Hotel California” portion of the show – remained in the background for much of the night’s biggest hits. Yet, he would take center stage once again during an encore that featured “Desperado,” Henley’s solo hit “Boys of Summer” and “Best of My Love.” Henley’s vocals sounded just as amazing as they did at the onset of “Hotel California” nearly three hours earlier.
Thursday’s concert was a fun way to close out one of the biggest party nights of the year. Henley called it a “three-hour vacation.” It was a mix of class and carouse that surely had everyone in the arena feeling quite lucky.