Eagles review – soaring return for rock's slick cowboys

<span>Photograph: Simone Joyner/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Simone Joyner/Getty Images

Their split was so severe that they titled their by-no-means-inevitable 1994 reunion album Hell Freezes Over, but now it seems not even the death of co-founder Glenn Frey in 2016 can halt the Eagles. Now 44 years after they first played Wembley, Frey’s co-anchor Don Henley (lean, intense, could be played by Bryan Cranston in the biopic) acknowledges the group’s Jurassic status, but adds that “dinosaurs leave big footprints”. And it’s true: the Eagles brought professionalism and a certain Hollywood gloss to raggedy country-rock, and were rewarded with genuinely phenomenal commercial success.

And it’s to “carry on Glenn’s legacy” that Henley persists, aided by longtime bandmates Joe Walsh and Timothy B Schmit, with country legend Vince Gill and Frey’s son Deacon singing Glenn’s songs. If the show betrays the static slickness typical of such legacy groups, there are moments, like on Take It to the Limit, when the Eagles’ trademark multi-part harmonies sound ageless and heavenly. Meanwhile, the yearning, lachrymose storytelling of Frey’s Lyin’ Eyes strikes a winning balance with the glamorous ennui of Henley’s more cynical songs, such as One of These Nights.

Gurning maverick ... Joe Walsh.
Gurning maverick ... Joe Walsh. Photograph: Simone Joyner/Getty Images

A traffic jam of soft-rockers stuck in the same gear yield a saggy mid-set malaise, the group’s trademark polish smothering less inspired material. But Walsh, the group’s resident gurning rock’n’roll maverick, kickstarts a late-set rally with his own raucous Walk Away and the acid-rock wig-out of Funk #49 (by his 60s power-trio James Gang), before Henley answers with his post-Eagles solo hit The Boys of Summer; perhaps his best song, its air of disillusionment and betrayal has grown only more resonant with the years. The paranoid, cocaine-cowboy vibe of Life in the Fast Lane, meanwhile, conjures an edge the show often lacks.

Hotel California arrives in the encore, of course, by now the Eagles’ own Stairway to Heaven: overplayed, overfamiliar, ultimately underwhelming and packing a similarly iconic guitar solo which, once Steuart Smith begins it, feels like it’s never going to end. And you sense that Henley – the dinosaur who refuses to even consider extinction, still selling out stadiums – would be fine with that.