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Concert Preview: Eagles happy to be back in the fast lane

Friday, October 10, 2003

By Scott Mervis, Weekend Editor

Watching other classic rock acts at work, the Eagles learned a few things about marketing in the modern age. Specifically, they know nothing sells tickets like a "Farewell" in the billing of the tour.

 
 

EAGLES

WHERE: Mellon Arena, Uptown.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday.
TICKETS: $45-$150. 412-323-1919.

   
 
 

But in this case, the Eagles Farewell I is not to be taken seriously.

"It's a joke -- it's tongue in cheek," says singer-bassist Timothy B. Schmit. "So many acts out there that say, 'This is going to be my final adieu' and then you see them next year or in five years. Cher's tour is a farewell tour, and she's been doing that for a couple years. Not to pick on Cher. But now, instead of figuring out clever titles, we'll simply number the tours for the next 15 years."

In the case of the Eagles, the first farewell was a reasonably long one. The group that helped popularize country-rock in the early '70s, selling more than 120 million records, split in 1980 with the promise that they would reunite when "hell freezes over."

Well, it got pretty frosty in 1994 when the Eagles shot an MTV concert special that sparked a reunion tour that ran until 1996. Eagles sightings have been spotty ever since. There was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1998 (the band's first year of eligibility) and then a big show in L.A. at the turn of the millennium.

Then, this May, Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh and Schmit regrouped for a tour that ran through the summer and added another leg that includes Saturday's show at the Mellon Arena.

The band is playing three-plus hour shows that focus on the greatest hits ("Take It Easy," "Lyin' Eyes," "One of These Nights," "Take It to the Limit," etc.), while throwing in a new single from an album long in the works.

Comparing the Eagles now and then, Schmit says, "I would say it's fuller in that we do carry side musicians with us, who add the things we couldn't add live, making it sound more like the record. We also have a horn section to add to a few songs. It's a full-on Eagles show. You get what you pay for and a little more, I think."

If there have been any criticisms of the Eagles shows, it's been how tight the band is. Back in July, when he was doing the interviews, Henley told one reporter that people shouldn't go to an Eagles show expecting to see a jam band.

"That's very true," Schmit says. "We're not the Grateful Dead. We're very precise in everything we do. We know every note, pretty much. Where it loosens is in some of Joe's rocker songs. It's looser, but there's still a structure there. It's what we are, it's what we do."

Schmit was a late arrival to the Eagles, joining the band six years into its run, just after the release of "Hotel California" in 1977. Before that, Schmit was a member of the L.A. soft-rock band Poco, which predated the Eagles.

"I knew those guys from my Poco days," he says. "We all lived in L.A. I remember even a show in New York at the Fillmore where Linda Ronstadt opened for us and her backup band was to be the Eagles. I bumped into them all the time. When the Eagles started becoming successful, I watched it and I liked it and then I watched them sail right by us as a band. The reason was simple: The music was good. It was radio-[friendly], something that Poco had a hard time doing. It always comes down to the songs; that's why this band is still running. You can be the most talented act in the world, but if you don't have the songs, if you don't have something that really strikes home to people, it's not going to work out."

When Schmit was asked to replace Randy Meisner (another former Poco member), he says it was a no-brainer. But he entered at a stormy time, during the making of "The Long Run," on which he added his sweet voice to the hit "I Can't Tell You Why."

"When I joined the band, I guess it was getting very shaky," he says. "I chose not to pay attention to it. I had been in bands for years. I thought it was just part of the deal. There's conflicts and you work them out, say 'What time's the next show?' "

When the Eagles were grounded after the 1980 tour, Schmit says, "It was a bit of shock to me. I was just starting to enjoy the fruits of my labor with the band."

During the downtime Schmit released a handful of solo records (which naturally didn't receive the attention of the Henley, Frey and Walsh releases), joined his former bandmates on their work and also worked with Poco and CSN, among others.

Now, he's happy to be an Eagle again, both on the road and in the studio with the band. Schmit says that after the touring ceases this month, the Eagles will get back to work on what will be the first record in almost 25 years.

"We've been in and out of the studio for two years," he says. "We take a lot of breaks because of our busy lives. Exactly where we are in the process, I couldn't even tell you. We've cut a lot of tracks. We're not connected to any label, so we can and do take our sweet time. We have to make it as good as possible. We have to make it great. I'm sure it will be."

Schmit says that what they've worked on so far has sounded like vintage Eagles.

"We're trying a lot of stuff, but we're trying to be true to ourselves. There's a lot of collaboration. There will be a lot of harmonies. There will be a little of everything that people know as the Eagles. It's difficult for me to try to explain music, simply because the real explanation is upon hearing it. We didn't sit down and say, 'OK, well, here's the direction we're going.' We sat down with our instruments and started playing music."

And, thus far, everyone is getting along just fine.

"The overall answer is that yes, it's smoother. People are a little older, we have our own lives, we have families, we've gone through a lot separately and together. It's different. In any group of people that are doing something as a unit, on any level, over time there are rubs here and there. That's just something you live with. What happens now is we know how to deal with it better."

It helps that the fans are still very much with them.

"The crowds help keep it fresh," he says. "There's always such excitement out there. These songs seem to mean a lot to people. It was a part of their history, and now they're bringing their children as well."


Scott Mervis can be reached at smervis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2576.

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