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Review: The Eagles at American Airlines Center

Posted 10:32am on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013

History, it’s been said, is written by the victors.

Considering the Eagles’ current tour from that particular perspective, it’s not hard to see that Don Henley and Glenn Frey, the band’s twin engines of ego and creativity, are taking one more opportunity, after releasing the three-and-a-half hour documentary The History of the Eagles earlier this year, to present their definitive version of events.

Rock bands are rarely afforded the opportunity to define their legacy, as any number of factors can preclude an artist from having the final say. More often, a career will end, time will pass and the music will either rise in estimation or fall by the wayside, left to be appreciated by a small, fervent band of loyalists.

The Eagles, already one of the most successful bands of all time, aren’t taking any chances, however.

On the first evening of a sold-out, two night stand at the American Airlines Center, the band, returning to North Texas for the first time in three years, brought familiar faces back into the fold, attempted to put a fresh coat of paint on classic songs and convince themselves — and the audience — that despite advancing age, they can still make magic happen.

With a set list unfolding more or less in chronological order and spread over almost three hours, the evening began like an acoustic song pull or an early episode of VH1’s Storytellers, with Henley and Frey perched on amps, rambling about the early days in a “little shack” near a liquor store in the San Fernando Valley, where the pair would literally woodshed its music.

Gradually, the men were joined by the rest of the band, including guitarist Bernie Leadon, who hasn’t played with the Eagles full-time since 1975. His presence was more figurative than anything else — an occasional flourish here and there, particularly on the deep cut Train Leaves Here This Morning, but an otherwise bathetic figure.

The evening’s first half wasn’t without its struggles. Frey fought the upper register on Tequila Sunrise; Henley displayed a disquieting quaver on Best of My Love. The core band of Henley, Frey, Timothy B. Schmit and Joe Walsh, augmented by Leadon and touring musicians (Scott Crago, Richard Davis, Will Hollis, Steuart Smith and Michael Thompson), spun a few standards in interesting new directions — Peaceful Easy Feeling was rendered in its demo form, which helped the classic feel fresh — and managed a few moments of breathtaking harmony.

After a 15-minute intermission, the Eagles returned for a more confident second half, although there were still moments of highwire uncertainty —Schmit’s performance of Love Will Keep Us Alive threatened to tip over at any moment.

But, just as suddenly, a rejiggered Heartache Tonight had the crowd on its feet, and the loopy Walsh roared to life, doling out sizzling solos on In the City and Life’s Been Good. Despite battling some technical issues in the homestretch, the evening finished strong.

Five years ago, the last time I saw the Eagles, on the tour supporting their most recent studio album, Long Road Out of Eden, there was an energy almost wholly absent Friday. I ascribe that absence to the fact that this set list, a few lesser known tracks aside, is something these men could play in their sleep.

However much they try to attack the material from a different angle, it doesn’t change the fact that these are very well-known songs that have been performed many, many times over the course of their four-decade career.

There’s also the wear and tear of five more years of touring. All of the Eagles are now in their mid-to-late 60s, and time is beginning to take its toll. Those once bold voices, locked in gorgeous union, now struggle to scale the same heights as before.

Granted, no one enjoys contemplating mortality — of the literal or artistic variety — but knowing, as has been hinted in interviews, this could be the band’s final hurrah cast a poignant shadow over even the bumpiest moments.

Given a choice, everyone would like to write their own version of history, and define their time on Earth. Watching the Eagles attempt just such a feat Friday was a stark reminder that, sometimes, such an undertaking is far easier said than done.

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713 Twitter: @prestonjones

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