Anyone inclined to cast aspersion on the integrity of the Eagles might well avail themselves of the 40th Anniversary Expanded Edition of Hotel California and go straight to the concert content on the second of the two CD's.
Roughly forty-five minutes in duration, the ten tracks recorded live at the Los Angeles Forum in October of 1976 include two numbers from the group's iconic album eventually released two months later. Healthy retrospect reveals "New Kid in Town" as particularly prescient despite (or because of?) its world-weary tone, especially with the punk movement in its nascent stages at the time. And there's no denying how the title-song from the band's fifth long-player continues to reverberate back and forth through the years since its release.
Yet interpretations of the songs aren't even so impressive as the quintet's performances of them: practiced but hardly sterile, both vocal harmonies and instrumental work are as remarkable for their precision and their reservoir of feeling: this was a group that performed like it had something to prove and it did, as a backlash had begun in the wake of their commercial breakthrough with the borderline-MOR balladry of "The Best of My Love," from On The Border (Asylum, 1974).
And similar combination of attributes reside in other selections here too, some dating all the way back to the eponymous Eagles debut, from whence comes "Take It Easy" and "Witchy Woman." Yet apart from the admirable fact Don Henley drums while he sings lead on the latter (no backup musicians on Eagles performances at this time!), this tune hardly has the emotional underpinning(s) within "One of These Nights" or "Already Gone." And as on his studio spotlight "Try And Love Again," bassist Randy Meisner nails his lead vocal on a soaring take of "Take It To The Limit," evincing not a whit of his self-professed anxiety about his stage solo.
Led by guitarist Joe Walsh, "Funk #49," was a generous inclusion of pure rock, the virtues of which the Eagles had debated with original producer Glyn Johns. This set-list inclusion not only offered ample opportunity for the former leader of the James Gang to remind the audience of his history, but also illustrate that his chemistry with fretboard partner Don Felder was not limited to the intricacy of the title track of the forthcoming album. On similarly-conceived, albeit slight numbers like "Good Day In Hell" and "James Dean;" the quintet displays the same kind of deceptively restrained, yet hell-bent abandon, a quality in keeping with their somewhat smug collective persona they'd developed by this time.
With the benefit of four decades of hindsight, this 40th Anniversary Expanded Edition of Hotel California represents the sonic and commercial pinnacle, as well as the logical extension, of a highly-polished style whose country roots the Eagles had long since left behind. As mirrored in its snarling electric guitars, "Life in the Fast Lane," for instance, encapsulates a combination of self-indulgence and self-loathing now commonplace in contemporary culture. "Pretty Maids All In A Row" sounds more than a little quaint in this age of #metoo, while, as depicted in the sardonic tone of Henley's singing, a wholly different sort of manifest destiny (can you say 'Gold Circle' concert seating?) echoes in the lyrics and grand production of "The Last Resort."
All of which conflicting values become fused in this package to remind how much of the Eagles' attraction lies in exactly that which those who despise them find so repugnant: an attitude captured in the alternative shots of the album cover photos by which these musicians found themselves simultaneously bemused and repulsed by the very success their work commanded, even as they fully and completely embraced it.
Track Listing: CD 1:Hotel California;New Kid In Town; Life In The Fast Lane; Wasted Time; Wasted Time (Reprise); Victim Of Love; Pretty Maids All In A Row; Try And Love Again; The Last Resort. CD 2: Take It Easy; Take It To The Limit; New Kid In Town; James Dean; Good Day In Hell; Witchy Woman; Funk #49; One Of These Nights; Hotel California; Already Gone.
Personnel: Don Henley: vocals, drums, percussion; Glenn Frey: vocals, guitars, keyboards; Don Felder: vocals, guitars, slide guitar, pedal steel; Joe Walsh: vocals, guitars, keyboards; Randy Meisner: vocals, bass, guitarone.
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