The Eagles, Live in Bangkok, February 20, 2011
So I was heading to Bangkok, Thailand, a couple of weeks ago, nothing new there, and I knew I’d be away over my birthday (Sunday Feb 20), also not an uncommon occurrence. My plan to celebrate was to take some time to indulge in my intermittent rock music research and writing endeavor. On the plane over, I decided I would focus first on The Eagles, a band I’ve always liked and admired, but wanted to learn more about, especially their more recent (reunited again) ventures.
Upon arrival in Thailand, I was glancing at the Bangkok Post, when I was assaulted by a large advertisement: “The Eagles, performing Live in Bangkok, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011”!! Even though this kind of coincidence seems to happen to me all the time, this one truly blew me away. Naturally, it became my purpose in life to find a ticket to this concert and attend on my birthday. In between, I spent a few days in Cambodia, and a colleague from Thailand offered to help find me a ticket. This became a stressful ordeal, as the concert website first said it was sold out, then there were tickets available but it wouldn’t process my credit card, then the number of tickets was dwindling…
In the end, after returning to Bangkok on Saturday, I decided to go very early to the concert venue on Sunday, to see if I could buy a ticket right at the box office. This was also stressful, as anyone who’s taken a taxi through Bangkok traffic can attest. The show was scheduled for the Impact Arena, Bangkok’s most modern and prestigious combination concert and convention center. I showed up at about 12:00 noon; the concert was scheduled for 8:00 PM. After wandering the massive hallways of the center for awhile, witnessing a huge Amway convention occupying the main building together with furniture, jewelry, flower and other big shows, I finally located the Arena ticket office. My luck held, as there was one “VIP” ticket still available (don’t ask the price), and after some further tense delays while their machine hiccupped, I had accomplished my mission: I was going to see the Eagles perform, from a very good seat no less… seven hours and counting.
As a world-weary traveler, I know what it is to wait, for long, boring periods in airports, airplanes, taxi’s, hotel rooms, etc. This was the first time I had to kill 7 hours in a convention center. Luckily it was air conditioned, as the heat outside was brutal. But on the whole, this was a new form of torture. For one thing, I stood out so obviously, as virtually the only white/Western person in a sea of Thai’s who were mostly about a foot shorter than I am. And I didn’t exactly have a lot in common with the Amway attendees. So I basically wandered back and forth all day, between the couple of food courts, the conventions, and the outside of the Arena, where souvenir and other concert-related stands were being set up.
At least some of the food was civilized: they had a McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, KFC… Here’s a tip if you eat at KFC in Thailand: what they call “mild” is what we call “spicy”, and what they call “spicy” is what we call “Oh my God my mouth is on fire!”. And they’re all out of “mild”.
As the hour of the concert mercifully neared, I made my way to the VIP “lounge”, which was basically just some tables and chairs roped off outside the Arena, where people like me who paid an extra 30 bucks could get a free beer and stand around feeling special. The best thing going on, however, was nearby where a local radio station was sponsoring a contest among Thai guitar players. Some of these guys were just fantastic. One 20-something young man was playing the solo/duet finale to “Hotel California” so precisely perfect that I was sure he was just air-guitaring it. But I looked and listened closer, and no, he was hitting every note and bent string for real. He got a rousing ovation.
I finally went into the Arena about 45 minutes before showtime, just to have a place to sit down. It was pretty cozy, like a college basketball gym, and my seat was about 75 feet from the stage. I saw the same awesome guitar player come in and sit down nearby, so I went up to him and congratulated him on his awesomeness. He stared at me like I frightened him, but his girlfriend at least said “khob-kun-ka” (“thank you”). By now a few dozen white farangs (foreigners) had begun to filter into the crowd, but it was still overwhelmingly Thai, and fairly young for the most part: teens to twenty-somethings who weren’t even born when the Eagles were in their heyday.
If you’ve been wondering when I’d get to the actual review of the music, here it is. This was a great, great concert! My level of appreciation for the Eagles’ talent, diversity, originality, and professionalism is now exponentially higher. This was the first show on this new World Tour, so we were perhaps fortunate to get an even more fresh taste of their performing energy, as they sure pulled out all the stops to please absolutely all their fans.
I had predicted that they’d start the show with “The Long Run,” which seemed sort of appropriate to their longevity, but they surprised me. The lights came up and there were Don Henley, Glen Frye, Joe Walsh, and Timothy Schmit sitting on chairs with only acoustic guitars, and they opened with an a-capella rendition of “Seven Bridges Road”. Right away I was taken aback by the range and precision of their vocal harmonies, which would recur throughout the performance: every bit as good as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, I’d say. They stuck with the acoustic, country-folk material for a couple more songs, adding electric guitar from a backing guitarist on “How Long” from their most recent (final?) album, 2007’s Long Road Out of Eden, which is also the title of the tour.
The band finally stood up and were joined by several backing musicians as they grabbed electric guitars and Henley sat behind the drums (revealing my ignorance of his versatility), and following a mellow trumpet solo intro, they launched into “Hotel California” itself, to the delight of the entire audience. I thought this was a bit surprising, too, as I would have expected them to save their most famous hit for near the concert’s finale. I had an impression that Henley may be just a little tired of the song and wanted to get it out of the way early, although he sang it with all the gusto you could ask. Joe Walsh and the other guitarist nailed the climactic guitar duet with the same perfection as my Thai virtuoso, bringing down the house, not for the last time this evening.
If you’re at all an Eagles fan, or even just a popular music lover who’s been around since the 1970s or so, you’re undoubtedly familiar with at least a half-dozen Eagles hits. I made a mental list of about 10 songs I was sure they’d play, and a few I hoped they would, and throughout the 3+ hour show I was not disappointed. What surprised me was how many more Eagles songs I knew and liked, as they delivered a virtually non-stop Greatest Hits barrage. Some of the many highlights:
“Weavin’ down the American highway
Through the litter and the wreckage and the cultural junk
Bloated on entitlement and propaganda
Now we’re drivin’ dazed and drunk
…It’s hard to stop the binge-ing once you get a taste
But the road to empire is a blood stupid waste…”
Throughout the show, large video screens behind and beside the stage showed close-ups of the musicians along with some theme imagery for certain songs. The close-ups revealed the undeniable: these guys are getting old. (Aren’t we all?) Don Henley looks like he may have had a few face-lifts. Glen Frye bears a scary resemblance to Jerry (Frank Castanza) Stiller. And Joe Walsh is just seriously ugly: his long blonde hair and bulbous nose are a stark contrast to his high-pitched voice. But God bless ‘em for keeping the energy and the spirit of their music alive.
The background video was especially useful on a few songs. For “Dirty Laundry,” Henley’s biting putdown of trash news media, it displayed a non-stop series of images from real-world TV and newspapers, with heavy emphasis on Fox News commentators. On the rocking “Heartache Tonight,” it featured silent movie era clips of women slapping men and other lovers’ quarrels. For the climactic “Life in the Fast Lane,” there were sped-up images of cars on highways and crowds of people, interspersed with scenes of anthills and beehives.
The Thai audience, even though they had remained seated throughout the show, had no problem embracing the ritual of standing, cheering and chanting for an encore once the band left the stage. The Eagles gladly obliged, to even louder cheers, thanking all of Thailand for the great time they had spent there. I correctly guessed that the encores would be the upbeat “Take It Easy” and Henley’s soft ballad “Desperado”. Not a tough call, since they had exhausted virtually all their other hits by now, with those two conspicuous absences.
“Take It Easy” was fun, but I was a little unprepared for “Desperado” as the finale. The Eagles know their fans, it seems, even in Thailand. The second the first strains of the piano intro began, the entire audience erupted into ecstatic cheers. Henley stood alone at center stage as he sang his plaintive ode to a lonely companion. Everyone sang along to lyrics they apparently all knew by heart, even those who could barely speak English. On the final verse, he held the microphone out to the crowd, so they could contribute the chorus, “Let somebody love you”. When he concluded, the arena let loose with even louder cheers, and the band seemed to truly appreciate how much they were beloved by these thousands of people half a world and two generations removed away from their origins.
It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced such an enthusiastic and uplifting connection between musicians and fans, and I got caught up in it, too. It’s an amazing phenomenon, this rock ‘n’ roll, what it’s created and keeps alive, literally around the world.