Packin’ Em In
It’s hard to think of a band whose members have had more time to themselves than the Eagles. A 14-year breakup from 1980 to 1994 allowed them to recharge their nerves, and even then they didn’t have to really do anything but tour and make appearances. Last fall, 13 years after reuniting and 18 from their final studio effort, The Long Run, they issued the double-disc Long Road Out Of Eden (Polydor). Only by tinkering with it on and off since 2001 have they escaped Boston and Guns N’ Roses-style ridicule.
Appearing: 9/24-25 at United Center (1901 W. Madison) in Chicago.
But these are busy people, folks. Don Henley couldn’t commit to an interview because, aside from his activist mind churning in an election year, he has back-to-school responsibilities with the kids. Bassist Timothy B. Schmit has his youngest son’s entry to music school to contend with, but, after hammering out his exercise routine, he could squeeze IE between morning and utter chaos.
“I made it to the shower and barely got here in time for your call,” he says, catching his breath. “I have a couple of appointments, etc., etc. I’ve got a son who we’re trying to get out of here by the end of the month to go to the Berklee College Of Music. So my wife and I are preparing to make that happen.”
From the sound of it, the Schmit household is the least oppressive environment known to man. It doesn’t hurt that his speaking voice could make a decent tool for a kindergarten teacher, but chasing artistic pursuits seems to supersede all else.
“My other two [kids] are college grads,” Schmit continues. “One went to the local university here, CSUN [California State University At Northridge]. She’s actually quite musical — written a lot of songs and used to play around town in clubs a lot. My other daughter got her degree in Fine Art; she’s going on to graduate school. My wife is a really great artist. She paints and has her own studio here at the house as well.”
Soon, however, Dad will have to go to work, something for which he keeps in shape year-round. “I think that it’s really important as we get older — or at any time in your life — to keep moving.” Why? “Touring’s a grind and it does get exhausting by the end of a leg.”
But certainly these aren’t the same self-medicated Eagles of the ’70s, the symbols of arena-rock excess. “It’s a different way, a different lifestyle now,” he admits. “We used to be on the road a good portion of the year and we would play five, six nights a week. Now it’s much cushier, but we put in a lot of work, we do three-hour show. The most we do back to back is two. Once in a great while we do three in a row, but very rarely. When you’re on the road your job is to be prepared, rested, fit, fed, and whatever you need to do to be your best at the show. And that’s always been the case, except we have to pay a little more attention to the downtime now,” he chuckles.
With personalities such as Henley, Glenn Frey, and Joe Walsh hovering, it’s easy to see how some former appetites have been transferred to micromanagement. A touring apparatus on the Eagles’ scale has enough bosses and pointmen to staff an island nation, but the band haven’t outsourced responsibilities — simply delegated them.
“The mechanics, the actual process is kind of the same,” Schmit explains, “but the dynamics have changed. Even though we fly privately and have our own dressing rooms and stay in the good hotels, you still have to be ready for the show to give your all — as corny as that sounds. We work really hard at doing that. We soundcheck every day, before every show and oftentimes go over something that didn’t go over quite so smoothly the night before — even if it’s an old song we’ve been doing forever. We pay attention to pretty much every detail. If there’s a lighting miscue, somebody catches it and we talk to the lighting guy. We try and give our audiences their money’s worth, and I think we do.”
Money was a touchy subject the first years of the reunion because the band were accused of vaulting concert-ticket prices into the stratosphere (they wouldn’t have gotten there any other way, right?). Any return on investment was questionable, as the band tightly replicated decades-old songs with a fraction of the energy of their former selves. But the Long Road Out Of Eden tour offers their first new material since an EP’s worth of tracks on 1994′s Hell Freezes Over, and the prospect of a whole new show. Granted, “Here’s a new one” generally coincides with a surge in beer sales, but with a million albums sold and a year for them to sink in fans have a chance to make a new contract with the Eagles. There’s a chance for some relative spontaneity.
“Because it’s a newer album,” Schmit says, “ever since then we’ve decided to change our show up. We’ve got new lighting, a whole new stage, added quite a lot of new songs — that’s tricky in itself because people generally are happiest to hear ‘Witchy Woman,’ ‘One Of These Nights,’ and ‘Hotel California.’ So the placement of those songs, the new songs, has to be right.”
This seems like a recipe for meltdowns and not taking it so easy. Don Felder might be out of the mix, but 20 new tracks will force plenty of salty compromise.
“Maybe a little,” he allows. “It’s nothing anybody’s ever gone away angry about. It’s obvious we’ve gotta play those familiar songs, so it’s a matter of placement and a matter of where to place the new stuff, too. Even though a lot of people have listened and bought the new album, they still wanna hear the old stuff more. We can’t keep doing that for our [own good]. For ourselves we have to have some sort of forward momentum. Hopefully some of these newer songs will join up with the older ones as far as people wanting to hear them. We’re certainly not getting bad reactions, at all, from the new stuff. But it’s not quite as familiar.”
It goes without saying age affects energy, but Schmit isn’t afraid to admit priorities and pragmatism have shifted as well. Eagles the band aren’t four desperados, while Eagles the business needs tenders.
“We do a lot of formal rehearsing, a lot,” he emphasizes. “Do we hang out together a lot? Not much anymore. We’re all certainly friendly and have gone way back with each other — some more than others — but this band has been together quite a long time and now everybody has children and families. The other guys have young kids. It’s not like we’re young. Our motivation is different. We still love to do it and it’s obviously lucrative and all that, but I think our priorities lie — and I can safely say I speak for all of us — with our families, the well being of those we love. And this just happens to be a really great job.”
The “four guys against the world” motif is outdated anyway, as the Eagles’ touring incarnation boasts several supplemental musicians. Felder’s guitar has been replaced by Steuart Smith, and old hands such as Scott Crago (percussion) and Al Garth (brass) remain onboard. Three additional horns and keyboardists share the stage as well, giving the band a formidable live presence. Everyone is geared toward strict reproduction.
– Steve Forstneger
For the full interview, grab the September issue of Illinois Entertainer, available free throughout Chicagoland.
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