In the minutes before the Eagles began their set at Hyde Park, a lubricated American with a £263 ticket was trying to decide how many measures of Jack Daniels he and his friend should order. “Give me 16,” he told the perplexed young woman tending the bar. Then, as if struck by the sudden fear that an island as small as Britain might be in danger of running out of alcohol, he scrunched his face and said, “No, screw it – can I just buy the whole bottle instead?” Settling the £102 bill with a gold credit card, he justified the bounty of booze with only three words: “Joe Walsh, man.”
Barely an hour later, Walsh’s admission that “I had a lot more fun being in my twenties in the Seventies than I do being in my seventies in the Twenties” was surely the most poignant moment in a night filled with wry and melancholic wisdom. Back in his wild days, the guitarist once woke up on a flight to Paris with no memory of having boarded the plane. Today, with almost three decades of sobriety to his name, he is the most effortlessly charismatic member of a group that looked like they were knocking on a bit even when they were young.
Close your eyes on Sunday, though, and the Eagles sounded immortal. As best I can tell, the keys in which standards such as Life in the Fast Lane, Desperado and New Kid In Town were originally recorded have not been lowered to accommodate the usual gravitational pull on a singer’s vocal range. Vince Gill, a member of the group for five years, deputised for Glen Frey, who died in 2016 (Frey’s son, Deacon, appeared for three songs) with a voice that sounded like liquid diamonds. In a set littered with solo material, Don Henley’s ability to hit the notes of the airborne chorus to his Boys of Summer was remarkable.
But in a band known for its competing identities, for me it was Walsh that provided the greatest clarity. Whereas Henley addressed London like a kindly university lecturer – “Our job tonight is to give you a break from all the horrible headlines,” he explained – Walsh asked, simply, “How the hell are you doing, anyway?” In a 140-minute set that at times appeared to be drifting into a dead sea of Yacht Rock tedium, it was his electrifying playing that served as a reminder that the Eagles have sharp edges. As he picked out yet another world-class riff, it took the arrival of Life's Been Good to remind the audience of the profligate insanity of the world in which its members once lived.
“I have a mansion, forget the price, ain’t never been there, they tell me it’s nice,” he sang. Arms outstretched, Walsh then wafted away this trifling “news” with a flick of his wrists. No big deal.
Inevitably, the night’s loudest cheer was reserved for Hotel California. The title track of an album that has sold more than 32-million copies, its ubiquity over the past 45-years has been such that listeners understand the nuanced point it so deftly makes. As Don Henley drummed its strange reggae beat while singing lead vocals, for perhaps the last time ever, a London audience was granted first-hand access to the finest example of the darkness and unease that lurks at the core of the Eagles’ best material. Never mind the baubles and riches – there is danger in realising one’s wildest dreams.
Fifteen minutes later, the sight of many thousands of people leaking out of the exits as the band struck up Already Gone, the evening’s aptly titled final song, probably said a good deal more about the concert’s vast scale than it did the musicians people paid handsomely to see. Come chucking-out time, concerts in Hyde Park can feel a lot like Hotel California. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
UK tour now over