First Night: The Eagles, Indigo2, London

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The Independent Culture

The Eagles have never done anything by halves. They may have started out as Linda Ronstadt's backing band but Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975), the compilation of soft-rock classics – 'Take It To The Limit', 'Tequila Sunrise' and 'Best Of My Love' to name three they could have played but left out of their 2 hour set last night – released in 1976, remains the best selling album of all time in the US, with sales nearing the 30 million mark in that country alone (that's one copy for every ten American citizens). Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Joni Mitchell, and Eagles associate Jackson Browne may have epitomized the freewheeling Laurel Canyon scene of the late sixties and early seventies but the group lead by Glenn Frey and Don Henley took the Byrds' folk-rock laced with gorgeous harmonies and a dash of country template and became American rock royalty, with only their friends, the Anglo-American group Fleetwood Mac, in the same AOR league. Like the Mac and British superstars Elton John, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, the Eagles travelled in their own Lear jet, Almost Famous-style, and when they didn't like the look of the local groupies, they flew in their own from the Golden State. Wrongly tagged a supergroup, they only became one as guitar hero Joe Walsh (of The James Gang) and bassist Timothy B. Schmit (of Poco) replaced original members Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner, in the second half of the seventies. Their acrimonious separation lasted so long that when the Eagles returned from their "14-year vacation" in 1994, they called the accompanying collection Hell Freezes Over. They've taken nearly as long – 13 years, punctuated by three highly lucrative world tours and the departure of Don Felder, another long-standing member, who recently settled his differences with Eagles Inc. out of court – to complete a new album and, of course, it's a double CD set. And this "intimate" performance at Indigo2, the bijou venue nuzzling next to the 02, was by way of reintroducing themselves to the European media and to a music industry hoping their return with Long Road Out Of Eden will drive customers back to the stores.

They opened with 'How Long', the lead-off single from the new album, written by their occasional collaborator J.D. Souther, with Frey and Henley trading verses and everyone joining in on the trademark harmonies, climaxing with a blissful 'BababababaByebye baby, rock yourself to sleep." 'Busy Being Fabulous', the next newie, was one of those typically wry comments on the lifestyle of the rich and famous Henley and Frey embraced long ago but can't help making fun of. You might call it nibbling at the hand that feeds, since the Eagles have never had that ferocious a bite, apart from when they criticize each other. They've often called on outside writers and Schmit acknowledged the presence of Paul Carrack before performing 'I Don't Want To Hear It Any More', composed by the British musician. Walsh did the same, praising Frankie Miller, also present, before playing blistering slide on 'Guilty of The Crime', which raised the temperature somewhat. Schmit and Walsh remain very much the George and Ringo to the other two's Lennon and McCartney, the guitarist in particular delivering sterling versions of his signature song 'Life's Been Good' and 'Funk 49', a tune which goes all the way back to his days fronting the James Gang. But, rather cruelly, after opening with four new songs, the Eagles never went back to their new album, ignoring the title track and other controversial material like 'I Dreamed There Was No War'. From an audience-pleasing 'Hotel California' to the inevitable double Americana helping of 'Take It Easy' and 'Desperado' at the end, the rest of the show was basically a rerun of the greatest hits set you might have seen them perform at any point since 1994. With no Frey solo songs but plenty of Henley's own repertoire, including 'The Boys Of Summer', the ultimate eighties guilty pleasure track, which finally saw the four main Eagles interact with each other (and Frey singing "I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac" to himself as if admitting that Henley can deliver one hell of a lyric). For a group who rely on harmonies so much, they made precious little eye contact. Frey still looked like he'd walked straight off the set of Miami Vice but it was Henley and his keening voice who made the women swoon. The Eagles' catalogue remains a radio staple but they'd better start learning some of the 17 new tracks they didn't perform last night. That's the least they owe their long-standing fans.

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