Are The Eagles Still The Eagles Without Their Leader Glenn Frey?

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Listen To This Eddie is a weekly column that examines the important people and events in the classic rock canon and how they continue to impact the world of popular music.

“They will never forget you ’til somebody new comes along.” — The Eagles, “New Kid in Town”

Back around November 2016, Don Henley confirmed what everyone already assumed was true about his world-famous band. The Eagles, lords of 1970’s FM rock, who rode that “Peaceful Easy Feeling” to massive amounts of fame and fortune, were no more. “I don’t see how we could go out and play without the guy who started the band,” he told the Washington Post. “It would just seem like greed or something… It would seem like a desperate thing.”

Glenn Frey, the “guy who started the band,” had been dead for 11 months already when Henley publicly stated the obvious. The Detroit-born singer had been battling a stomach illness for a while just after the end of the band’s massive History Of The Eagles tour in 2015. He went into the hospital for treatment after a holiday in Hawaii, contracted pneumonia, was put into a medically induced coma, and never regained consciousness. He was 67 years old.

About a couple of months after Frey’s death, Henley, guitarists Bernie Leadon and Joe Walsh, and bassist Timothy B. Schmit were joined by Jackson Browne onstage at the Grammy’s to give a tender salute to their friend, performing his signature song “Take It Easy.” It was a tasteful tribute and seemed like an appropriate way to close the book on the Eagles. Then, last year, Henley decided to take another peek under the covers.

In May 2017, Irving Azoff, the Eagles manager, unveiled plans for a massive bi-coastal stadium rock festival called The Classic East and The Classic West. Fleetwood Mac would headline one night, while, the Eagles would headline the other. It was a surprising decision to many of us who took Henley at his word, but the singer was unapologetic in his decision to carry on with the band. “While I was still in shock during some interviews after Glenn passed away, I did say that I thought that was the end of the band,” he told Rolling Stone. “But I reserved the right to change my mind. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ‘A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.'” Yeah, okay.

I personally didn’t feel great about this sudden about-face. It didn’t seem necessary. I’d seen the Eagles on their final tour, and if there was ever a way to go out, what better way than a massive two-year live run specifically designed to pay homage to your legacy? The whole thing had the stink of a cash grab. The Classic concerts went down. Then more concerts happened. The reviews were all good, but I still had my reservations. When they announced a full-blown run, I decided I needed to see what this band looked and sounded like for myself. Were they still the Eagles without Glenn Frey?

I’ll say this upfront, they certainly sounded like The Eagles of old. Shortly after 8:15 pm or so, the lights went out in the United Center in Chicago, and a whole host of figures waded out from the wings, standing stark still in front of six different microphones arrayed at the lip of the stage. A few notes of an acoustic guitar cut through the whistles and screams of the crowd, and then a blast of vocal harmonies came hurtling out of the speakers. The hairs on my arms immediately stood on end. “Theeeeeeeere…are staaaaaars…in the soooooooouthern sky/ Soooooouth…ward aaaaaas…you goooooooo” they crooned. It was the first line of the 1969 Steve Young song “Seven Bridges Road,” the same track that the Eagles made famous on their 1980 live album. The Eagles have always had a reputation for being able to meticulously re-create their recorded selves in a live environment, but this was uncanny. I was hooked.

Here’s something else I should probably mention at this point: my wife is a tremendous Eagles fan. While she wouldn’t call them her favorite rock band — she’s not too keen on Don Henley, the person — she is quick to note that they are responsible for creating her favorite rock music. As I mentioned earlier, I’d seen them in a professional capacity in 2013 by myself, and the fact that she missed that gig was a sore point in our marriage. I knew I couldn’t make that mistake again, so this time we went together.