- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 13, 2003

Joe Walsh, the platinum-blond ‘70s guitar-rock legend, gave a triumphant performance Friday night at the MCI Center, delighting the boomer-filled audience to hits like “Rocky Mountain Way,” “Life’s Been Good” and, from his James Gang days, “Funk #49” and “Walk Away.”

Coincidentally, he just happened to be playing with the Eagles, the re-formed supergroup on its “Farewell” tour — as much a showcase for each member’s solo work as for the band’s own hits.

I could stand the Don Henley suite (“Boys of Summer,” “All She Wants to Do Is Dance,” “Dirty Laundry” and “Sunset Grill”), but did we really need Glenn Frey’s “You Belong to the City”? Still, the madcap Mr. Walsh and his bluesily melodic soloing managed even to rescue that nugget from tumbling too far down the ‘80s lite-FM drain.

By the way, I put “Farewell” in arch quotes because the band seems to want it that way. “Welcome to our ‘Farewell I,’” Mr. Frey announced tongue-in-cheekily. And Mr. Henley said the band is slowly but surely working on a new studio album, which would be the Eagles’ first in almost 25 years.

Clearly, this wasn’t a band headed for the rock ‘n’ roll stud farm. Actually, the boomer generation’s unslakable — and fortune-generating-appetite for reliving the soundtrack of its youth — has ensured that no such stud farm need exist. And the Eagles, one of the best-selling groups of all time, have a secure chunk of that soundtrack.

The synthetic-sounding “Hole in the World” doesn’t bode well for the forthcoming record, but that was beside the point Friday; the point was to revel in singalong bliss with “The Long Run,” “Life in the Fast Lane,” “Already Gone,” “Heartache Tonight” and “Take It Easy,” all performed professionally, if not quite passionately.

These were the bedrock hits of the Hollywood lite-rock establishment of the ‘70s, but they’ve worn pretty well, owing especially to the band’s still-sharp facility for countrified five-part harmonies. That stuff never really goes out of style, nor should it.

“Hotel California,” one of several encores, is still one of the most craftily-sculpted songs in rock history, both lyrically and instrumentally. Mr. Walsh and Arlington’s own Stewart Smith, who replaced the unceremoniously fired guitarist Don Felder, nailed “Hotel’s” renowned double-guitar solo coda.

In good voice and in jokey moods (Mr. Henley cited the band’s “tree-saving” activities as a reason for the casual pace of their current studio work), the band nonetheless came off a bit too much like an automated greatest-hits machine.

A four-piece horn section, capped in corny pillbox hats, a violinist and two keyboardists fattened the bottom line, leaving Mr. Smith with most of the key guitar hooks (with Mr. Frey, Mr. Walsh and sometimes Mr. Henley listlessly phoning in rhythm guitar much of the time).

The busy back-up support and the set-in-stone arrangements didn’t leave room for any spontaneity, and if it weren’t for Mr. Walsh’s screwball energy, the show would’ve been a total sleepwalk through the Eagles’ catalog.

When the video screen exclaimed it was time for the “Helmet Cam,” Mr. Walsh donned a silly yellow hardhat and began mugging with the audience. There was no camera attached to his construction worker’s lid, but the guitarist got a healthy rise out of the audience anyway, with cameras panning across the crowded arena and giving the crowd a view of its cheering selves.

Ah, arena rock: It can often be a cheesy, creaky Pavlovian thing. But with a store of songs as strong as the Eagles’, it’s hard not to give in to the inducements.

And if you don’t get at least a little bit of a romantic frisson when Don Henley croons “Desperado,” well, then you’ve just got a heart of stone.

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