My First Concert Experience Might Be My Best One.
What it's like to see your favorite band as your first concert.
I walked into the arena. Our seats were high up, not the best but not the worst either. I sat down and looked around, trying to take in the pre-show vibe. The air was hazy and the neon lights from the screens rounding the arena shot through it, creating a colorful mist. There were ads for upcoming shows and then banners for the current one. I had been waiting for the moment for over three months. I had butterflies in my stomach and I felt the anticipation of the arena around me. I talked with some fellow concert goers but my focus was on the empty stage below. My uncle, a concert going extraordinaire, brought me my drink. I set it down as the tequila mixed in with the orange juice and grenadine.
The concert started late. The lights went down and my uncle looked over. I could tell he was excited to watch me experience my first concert. The curtains on the stage lit up purple then went to black. A neon sign, spelling out the famed cursive letters, started to glow. Then a man, dressed in a black cape came onto the stage. False thunder crackled and the lights flashed like lightning during a storm. The cloaked figure walked over to where a turntable sat and drew out a record, setting it down. He dropped the needle and the music began to play. The curtain lifted as the iconic strums and drums of one of America’s greatest rock songs echoed through the arena. It was time for the Eagles to fly.
I know that it might be shocking to believe that I’ve lived 23 years on this earth and I’m just now going to my first real concert. Not a garden concert with cover bands or a local gig but a real, proper concert. I would agree that it’s shocking but for the majority of my life, my head and heart have been stuck in the cinematic world which took up my time, money and focus.
I’m not a musician and I can’t sing. That was my sister’s gift while I was off writing. For years, I thought that I had no personal connection to music because of my lack of talent in the field. However, over the last decade, I have been growing in my personal relationship music. To me, music is a language that as an storyteller and artist myself, I can use to tell another story. However, I didn’t know what it was like to love music in such a way, it's a part of my daily life. Until the Eagles changed that.
I’ve loved the Eagles for as long as I can remember. The first album I bought was Hotel California on vinyl. But in the last year that love has grown, culminating in an event where their music truly changed my life and their music has become songs of healing, encouragement and inspiration in my life.
For the past few years I have been close to going to a concert but it hadn’t worked out. Mostly because of a lack of funds, good timing or basic interest, but late last year, I knew that it was time and that first concert was going to be the Eagles.
At first I didn’t think it was going to happen but then I got tickets and my countdown started. I tried not to hype myself up but I couldn’t help it. I bored everyone around me outta their minds with my constant talk about them and the concert. I drove to Winslow, AZ in early February and for the majority of the 36 combined hours on the road, the Eagles were my companions.
Then came the night of the concert. As the band played their 1976 hit as the opener, my first thought was a reflection back on my childhood and hearing that song for the first time and how far I had come with my understanding with this band.
I knew two songs into the set that the possibility of being hoarse was a possibility. I sang with them through the first act, a performance of the entirety of the Hotel California record. I kept checking myself, thinking, “that’s the Eagles down there..the Eagles….in real life”. I knew they were real… I had once seen Don Henley shopping for fruit at Trader Joe’s, but being in the same atmosphere as they sang their tunes, was a different form of reality.
For someone whose interaction with art has almost completely been sitting in a theater watching a movie, play or musical, a concert, a ROCK concert at that, is truly like nothing I have ever experienced.
The energy, the pure excitement, the fact that I was singing at the top of my lungs just like 60,000 other people and could still hear Henley’s clear high voice above it all, was a near religious moment. This was music I love in the deepest way I could love a work of art. Not the way I love the music from Queen, Zeppelin or even Elton John but music that I share a deep connection with and whose lyrics guide me everyday.
My filmmaker’s eye couldn’t miss out on aspects of the concert like production detail. The dramatics with the first act, involving the caped figure seemed like a theatrical remark on the theories and mysteries that surround the Hotel California album. Seeing that the Eagles are hardly known for involving dramatics (at least on stage), I was taken aback by the fake thunder and lightning but it worked well, bringing the crowd into the deep mystery and enchantment the song aspires.
One of my many favorite things about the Eagles is their natural cinematic state of mind. Their songs are highly visual and I’ve always been a fan of how they haven’t let their songs be used in films or television because it would only cheapen the songs (Hotel California is an entire film itself) but the modern set up brought that aspect of the music out further.
I want to give a standing ovation to the person in charge of production design for their 2020 tour. These are the things my movie mind pays attention too. Eagles music is incredible enough to be sung on a stage by four men, their instruments, nothing else and still be the best. However, for this contemporary age, the Eagles only increased their artistic power through an updated performance that still let the music speak the loudest.
Songs were accompanied by backdrops that mirrored the music. Some like ‘Hotel California’ featured the iconic hotel mixed with stormy images. While the insanely beautiful-voiced Deacon Frey sang ‘Already Gone’, videos of winding southwestern roads played behind, reminding me of my recent southwestern road trip. While Joe Walsh, entertaining as always, sang 1979’s ‘In The City’, the screens were alight with shots of Chicago. The water lapped at the sand behind Henley when he sang the perfect song that is ‘The Boys of Summer’. The lights danced around, a mix of different colors and sometimes just effortless light. The colorful lights caught onto Walsh’s guitar, alighting them as though he was giving us faultless rock n roll through the power of lasers.
Past the performance, the lightning and the screens above, the Eagles stayed true to themselves. A band based on the simple but powerful magic of music. No backup tracks or help to drown out the hard notes. The three main Eagles, Henley, Walsh and the angelic-voiced Timothy B. Schmidt, along with the young Frey and Vince Gill sang better than any record. Their voices and instruments cut through the dim air with a clarity and pureness for every song on the set list.
Even at their age, the original Eagles sounded pitch perfect. I would go as far to say they sound better on many songs now then when they were 20 years-old. Gill was a perfect addition to the line-up. Covering some of Glenn Frey’s songs among others, his voice melded in seamlessly with the Eagles' harmony and brought beauty to already stunning songs. Deacon Frey not only mirrored his dad's looks on stage but brought the same depth and passion to the songs too. He seemed to have inherited his dad's incendiary guitar skills as well.
As I listened, clapped, moved and took outlawed photos, I was moved in a new way by the music. There is truly nothing like experience great music live especially at the height of the Eagles. However, as I listened to them sing ‘One of These Nights’, I realized something about the impact of the songs. While hearing them live was a new kind of magic, it was a different kind of magic I experienced when I blasted them on my car stereo, driving through the mountains and deserts of Arizona and New Mexico a few weeks earlier. Maybe that’s my initial, personal reaction or maybe it's a testament to the deeper meaning of Eagles music. Glenn Frey once said, “People don’t just listen to Eagles music. They Do things to Eagles music”.
While sitting in a loud arena, hearing the poster child band of Southern California sing their hits, is a special event, maybe their music is more important than just a concert seat. It's about going out and doing something because of the songs. Taking that road trip, to make a life choice or find a new once-in-a-lifetime experience. I think that the actions we do because of the songs we hear is essentially, the true essence of Eagles music.
The concert started to end. As ‘Heartache Tonight’ and ‘Funk #49’ blared so wonderfully loud in my ears, I knew I could have listened to every single man on that stage sing the entire night through. And part of me thinks they could do that. Was Henley even breaking a sweat? But as he sang ‘Desperado’, the first song he and Frey wrote together, the end was near and I felt like it was going to take a long time to process this night.
Music is a whole new world to me. What was once a subplot in my life is now the main storyline and I attribute that to the Eagles. Everyone has a song or a band that changed or even saved their life. They might not know it yet but that kind of gift exists. Eagles is that band to me, the band that I love so much, it hurts.
To be so deeply affected by lyrics and the emotion of song makes me so happy. It will take me awhile to think through the deep, gorgeous melancholy of what it means to go to a concert. To hear and feel the music in the deepest sense of reality but also to know that what you are experiencing is often a once-of-a-kind moment that can hardly be recreated.
This new [peaceful, easy] feeling is one that I’m now expecting to feel more often. However, when your first concert is your favorite band, still at the top of their game, it makes me think I might have already peaked.