“You can check out any time you like,” the song goes, “but you can never leave.”
Those lyrics from “Hotel California,” the Eagles’ most famous song, also serve as a perfect description of their latest tour, which comes back to American Airlines Arena Friday night.
If the show feels like déjà vu, that’s because the band played the same venue as part of the same tour (“History of the Eagles”) back on November 22, 2013. In all likelihood, they will play the exact same 27-song set they did two years ago, too, because that’s what they do every night. According to SetList.fm, the band played the exact same songs on its last show (June 7, Green Bay, Wis., at press time) as they did the last time they were in Miami in 2013.
But people don’t go to an Eagles concert for spontaneity, do they? They go to hear hits, played well, and played consistently. By those standards, the Eagles should deliver, because few acts can count as many hits as the Eagles (five number-one singles and 17 in the Top 40).
For breakout musicians today, selling an album means a minuscule share of a download, or fractions of a penny for a stream on Spotify. But the Eagles sold their records in the '70s, a decade when having a hit album meant you were minting money. Their numbers were huge (their Greatest Hits album alone – said to be the bestselling album of the 20th century – has sold a reported 43 million copies) and their royalty rate was high (thanks to manager Irving Azoff).
Despite that commercial success, and maybe because of it, the Eagles had more than their share of drama. When longtime guitarist (and Gainesville native) Don Felder was fired from the band in 2001, he filed two lawsuits and wrote a best-selling tell-all book. That band drama is also documented in the excellent recent film, History of the Eagles. The film first played on Showtime in 2013, later was issued on DVD, and is now available on Netflix. And though Azoff bankrolled it, the film is a fair and generally balanced view of the band’s long history.
The Eagles formed in 1971 in Los Angeles, and one of the first times the original line-up ever played together was backing Linda Ronstadt at a Disneyland gig. Comedian Steve Martin claims he came up with their name, but original band member Bernie Leadon disputes that, and says it came out of an alcohol and peyote-fueled band trip to the desert.
Whatever the genesis of the name, the Eagles came up with a sound that mixed acoustic country elements into a 70s rock framework. It proved to be an enduring mixture. The band’s first two singles — “Take it Easy” and “Witchy Woman” — didn’t make the country charts, but were big hits on rock radio.
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A slew of other hits followed, but crafting albums is where the Eagles most excelled. They constructed them as thematic wholes, sometimes with reprises, and they were just short of concept albums. Songs were almost always about the challenge of being an outlaw in a west that both rewarded and destroyed individualism.
Those same forces eventually broke up the band in 1980, just a few years after “Hotel California” made them the most successful group in the world. They’ve reunited a few times since, but each tour has had them hinting that it was the end. This time, it really feels final.
This is a band frozen in time. The Eagles might break up and get back together again, or they could end for real, but they can’t quite ever leave the decade that defines them. It may be 2015 on the outside, but in AmericanAirlines Arena, the instant the notes to “Hotel California” begin (The song is always their first encore, by the way) it'll be 1976 all over again.
They can check out, yes. But they can never leave.
The Eagles play at 8 p.m. Friday, July 10, at AmericanAirlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Tickets cost $46.50 to $176.50. Call 786-777-1000, or visit aaarena.com.