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How the Eagles turned back the clock and lit up British Summer Time Festival 2022
Few bands have instigated the level of multi-generational adulation that the Eagles have built over the past five decades. The frontrunners of California’s easy-rock hey-day, despite an ever-changing line-up, the band’s sprawling list of hits continues to stand the test of time.
Increasingly, at the start of my articles I seem to find myself making a confession about my (worryingly large) musical blindspots, which is always a promising start for someone who claims to be a music critic.
I’m afraid to say this will be no different. Before the last couple of years, my main interaction with the sonic delights of the Eagles was when, as a child, I would play ‘Hotel California’ on Guitar Hero. And 10-year-old me would crush it, I might add.
Fast forward to my final years at University, and my tired, coursework-clogged brain started to find some respite amidst the laid-back harmonies of songs like ‘Take It Easy’ and ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’. So when the opportunity arose to see the Eagles at British Summer Time Festival in Hyde Park this summer, I was excited, but in all honesty I was looking forward to the Country opening acts - the likes of Cam, Little Big Town and Morgan Wade - just as much as the headliners.
When the day finally came, the sun was beating down and there was an electric buzz rippling through the thousands of festival-goers. The long, Hawaiian-shirt-speckled expanse of Hyde Park was cushioned by colourful, eclectic lines of food and drink stalls, all built to appear like Mediterranean bistros and villas.
Cam kicked off proceedings with a high-energy set that showcased her stellar vocals, with plenty of friendly intermissions to chat with the crowd. Little Big Town then took it up a notch, stringing together fun, anthemic hits such as ‘Pontoon’ and ‘Boondocks’, before stripping it back with their Taylor-Swift-penned ‘Better Man’. Morgan Wade reeled through tracks from her critically acclaimed 'Wilder Days' album on the smaller stage, drawing a keen audience, but her performance could have been buoyed if she’d taken note of Cam’s personableness and had taken more time to interact with the crowd. Richard Plant and Allison Krauss, the final openers before the headline slot, were charming as they serenaded the Hyde Park crowd with their sweet euphonies about love and friendship.
However, throughout all of the opening performances, it became increasingly clear that the crowd was there primarily for one artist and one artist alone: the Eagles. Billed as their final UK show ever, the anticipation was that this was set to be a special night.
And boy, did they deliver. As a self-confessed passing fan, rather than being one of the many leather-wearing, 70s-merch-donning Eagles aficionado in the crowd, I was expecting to enjoy the handful of songs I knew, and then perhaps feel a little out-of-place when they moved through their other material.
But from the moment they walked onto the Great Oak Stage, you couldn’t help but feel lifted and energised by the electricity that surged through the crowd. The band’s cool charisma was undeniable, and they showed their class in the way they commanded the stage without the need for any gimmicks, glitz or glamour. At risk of descending into over-sentimentality, there was something pure about the performance, as though they were transporting us back to a time when music was just about, well, the music, without any of today’s social-media-pandering and artificiality.
As sacrilegious as it might sound, before BST I hadn’t heard hits such as ‘Lyin’ Eyes’, ‘Heartache Tonight’, ‘The Best Of My Love’ or ‘Take It To The Limit’. Yet by the time the final chorus rolled around, I was singing along at the top of my lungs with everyone else. The latest band line-up featured Country veteran Vince Gill and even included a surprise appearance from Deacon Frey, the son of former frontman, Glenn Frey, who died in 2016. Deacon has been touring with the Eagles for a while, but announced earlier this year that he was leaving to focus on solo material, so his reuniting with the band brought a welcome sense of familiarity and warmth. Tennis icon John McEnroe’s invitation to play guitar towards the end of the set was a little more random, but hey, I guess when you’ve sold over 200 million records you’ve earned the right to bring your famous friends out on stage with you.
Don Henley assumed the lead on the chat in-between songs, dropping a big hint that this really would be their last time on British soil. Timothy B. Schmit and Joe Walsh brought immense gravitas, especially when Walsh stormed into a mesmerising vocal-distorter solo. As they all stood side by side, staring out into the Hyde Park sunset, they had an undeniable gravitas that seems to separate the great artists from the legends.
What made the experience all the more memorable was the good-natured feel of the crowd. Every now and then during the performance, I’d cast my eyes down to an elderly couple a few places in front of us, and it was genuinely heartwarming to see the sheer jubilation etched on both their faces as they sang every word as loud as they could. There were plenty of others just like them, who, as soon as the music started, seemed to radiate this sense of youthfulness and joy.
As well as a new identity as a fully converted Eagles fan - minus the head-to-toe leather - I left Hyde Park with the memory of all those happy, older fans that seemed to connect with a part of them that had long been buried beneath the expectations of age. It reminded me that, no matter how old we are, I think we are all deep down still the same childish, fun-loving person we were when we were first exploring world and creating the soundtrack of our youth.
It gave me a newfound resilience - no matter how serious and sobering we are expected to become as we grow older - to never lose that sense of wide-eyed, child-like excitement about the things we love. I can only hope, when I’m attending Kenny Chesney’s farewell concert as a 70-year-old (come on Kenny, you can make it to 100), that I embody the same unabashed, unrestricted sense of zest and youth as I sing along to every single word. Well, every single word that my ageing memory will be able to offer me.
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