Concert review: Eagles farewell with Doobie Brothers one for the ages

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“The 60s were a smooth cruise,” remarked Don Henley early into the Eagles’ sold-out retrofest Tuesday evening at Rupp Arena. “But when you get to the mid 70s, (expletive) happens.”

What was inferred, of course, was the average age of mainstay members from the band he has spent the last half-century helming, as well as those at the heart of the co-billed Doobie Brothers. Both acts, however, switched vantage points for this performance, making the evening far less about musicians in their 70s and considerably more about songs they fashioned during the ’70s.

With few exceptions, the repertoire of both bands stuck to a hit parade that began in 1972 and wound down in 1979.

For the Eagles, that presented a duality of mid-tempo, harmony-rich works that regularly flared into darker Southern California rock ‘n’ roll. For the Doobies, the division was more pronounced — tunes with radio-ready guitar hooks cut with vocalist Tom Johnston during the first half of the decade alongside more pop-soul savvy singles from a re-tuned lineup featuring singer Michael McDonald during the latter.

The Eagles perform during their “The Long Goodbye” tour at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.
The Eagles perform during their “The Long Goodbye” tour at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.
The Doobie Brothers open for the Eagles, who performed during their “The Long Goodbye” tour at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.
The Doobie Brothers open for the Eagles, who performed during their “The Long Goodbye” tour at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.

The report cards for both bands get high marks, with only minimal blemishes brought on by age. For the most part, these were acts still very much invested in the songs that made them famous. As such, set lists that were devoted almost exclusively to familiar hits reflected a crispness, agility and, above all, respect for era and, yes, age.

A sold-out crowd watches the Eagles perform during their “The Long Goodbye” tour stop at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.
A sold-out crowd watches the Eagles perform during their “The Long Goodbye” tour stop at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.

Doobie Brothers in place of Steely Dan

The Doobies — a late replacement for the originally co-billed Steely Dan, which broke away from the bill due to leader Donald Fagen’s health issues — are capping off an extended 50th anniversary tour with a lineup that boasted both Johnston and McDonald. Johnston left in the summer to contend with back surgery, proving age still made its presence felt in this pop journey to yesteryear.

The Doobie Brothers open for the Eagles, who performed during their “The Long Goodbye” tour at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.
The Doobie Brothers open for the Eagles, who performed during their “The Long Goodbye” tour at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.

The good news is the remaining Doobies played like champs — McDonald, especially. His voice remained the solid, smoky identifier behind the title tunes to the “Takin’ It to the Streets” and “Minute by Minute” albums (from 1976, and ’78, respectively) as well as less obvious works that included the sprightly soulful “Here to Love You.” But McDonald was as much a utility man in this Doobies line-up as a featured vocalist. Even on tunes he sat out as a singer, his keyboard work — a mix of boogie-fied piano and churchy organ-esque orchestration — proved vital to the band’s overall sound.

The Doobie Brothers open for the Eagles, who performed during their “The Long Goodbye” tour at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.
The Doobie Brothers open for the Eagles, who performed during their “The Long Goodbye” tour at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.

The Johnston-led hits were handled by guitarist Patrick Simmons (who, like Henley, was the only original member on hand from the band he represented) and bassist John Cowan, a familiar face to progressive bluegrass audiences in Central Kentucky for decades. Simmons’ thinnish singing strained a bit to convey the rockish drive of early ’70s hits like “China Grove” and especially “Long Train Runnin’.” But the song he took to the top of the charts in 1974, the country-fied “Black Water” (which placed longtime Doobies guitarist John McFee on violin and McDonald on mandolin) was full of robust, inviting acoustic charm. It earned one of the Doobies’ loudest ovations of the evening. Cowan grabbed tunes like the set-opening “Rockin’ Down the Highway” by the collar with a potent vocal wail that fortified everything that followed in the band’s hour-long set.

The Eagles Rupp Arena concert opens with ‘Seven Bridges’

The charm of the Eagles’ two-hour program, as always, came down to harmony — a key element to their country-leaning tunes of the early ’70s and one they wasted no time displaying with full regalia at Rupp. The show-opening “Seven Bridges Road,” a Steve Young tune released on 1980’s “Eagles Live,” placed all five principal members — Vince Gill, Timothy B. Schmit, Henley, Deacon Frey (son of the late Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey) and Joe Walsh — in a straight line at the front of the stage along with longtime touring guitarist/singer Steuart Smith. In terms of mood, purpose and vocal precision, along with the unavoidable accents of nostalgia triggered by such a blend, the song neatly upheld the band’s Americana legacy. After that, the members’ vocal (and, in Walsh’s case, instrumental) personalities provided a diverse, colorful and unforced glide through the band’s ’70s heyday.

The Eagles perform during their “The Long Goodbye” tour at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.
The Eagles perform during their “The Long Goodbye” tour at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.
Deacon Frey performs during the Eagles’ “The Long Goodbye” tour at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.
Deacon Frey performs during the Eagles’ “The Long Goodbye” tour at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.

The younger Frey capably handled tunes his father popularized, including aptly comfortable runs through “Take It Easy” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling.” Gill, a multi-platinum selling country artist prior to joining the Eagles in 2017 (and one-time Lexingtonian from his bluegrass days in the mid ’70s), nicely met the high tenor demands of “Lyin’ Eyes” and especially “Take It to the Limit.” Schmit took the reins for his soft-focus after-hours ballad “I Can’t Tell You Why.”

Not surprisingly, Henley and Walsh were the dominant personalities in this Eagles lineup and were the only two artists allowed to veer outside its repertoire for tunes from their solo careers.

Timothy B. Schmidt performs during the Eagles’ “The Long Goodbye” tour at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.
Timothy B. Schmidt performs during the Eagles’ “The Long Goodbye” tour at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.
Don Henley of the Eagles performs during their “The Long Goodbye” tour at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.
Don Henley of the Eagles performs during their “The Long Goodbye” tour at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.

That was a natural road to leap from for Walsh, as he was an established artist on his own before joining the Eagles in 1975. A daredevil guitarist, especially on slide, he displayed a spirit far more animated and jovial than his bandmates but a lead vocal style that was, shall we say, less concerned with enunciation. On “Life’s Been Good” and “Rocky Mountain Way” he sang with a heart full of soul and a mouth full of marbles.

Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh performs during the band’s “The Long Goodbye” tour at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.
Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh performs during the band’s “The Long Goodbye” tour at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.

Henley was very much the father figure, a relaxed and understated host that commanded hushed ballads like “Best of My Love” from the front of the stage and darker electric workouts (with all the frequent high notes) like “One of These Nights” from behind the drum kit. Especially arresting, though, was the addition of his 1984 solo career hit “The Boys of Summer” — one of the evening’s few strolls outside of the ’70s and one of the only Eagles tunes performed without any harmonizing. Henley dedicated the tune to Jimmy Buffett, offering it as a chilled epitaph for the beachcombing songsmith, who died in September.

The Eagles perform during their “The Long Goodbye” tour at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.
The Eagles perform during their “The Long Goodbye” tour at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.
Don Henley of the Eagles performs during their “The Long Goodbye” tour at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.
Don Henley of the Eagles performs during their “The Long Goodbye” tour at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.

Curiously, both bands let one of their somewhat recent recruits have the last word in their sets. Cowan took the lead on the Doobies’ “Listen to the Music” while Gill was in the driver’s seat for the Eagles’ encore finale of “Heartache Tonight.” Such torchbearing moves gave this evening of ’70s music by (mostly) 70s celebrities a proper sense of perspective and reverence.

“I’ll say this,” Walsh remarked earlier in the evening. “It was more fun being in my 20s in the ’70s than it is being in my 70s in the ’20s.”