A victory lap 50 years in the making: The Eagles say goodbye (maybe) at the Forum

“Good evening,” Don Henley said, “and welcome to whatever this is.”

Standing onstage Friday night at the Kia Forum, his buttoned vest and slicked-back hair calling to mind an old-school apothecary, Henley was greeting a crowd of many thousands to start yet another Eagles concert at the storied Inglewood arena he described as the band’s “home field.”

“We’ve been playing this joint for 49 years,” he continued, adding that the Eagles’ current run at the Forum will bring their all-time total there to 26 dates in a career that stretches back to the beginning of the 1970s.

Yet as familiar as the setting was, Friday’s show — the first of four through Jan. 13 — carried a novel sense of occasion as it opened a hometown stand on what the group says will be its final tour.

Should we believe that claim? Rock history is littered with farewell fake-outs by the likes of Cher and Kiss; even the Eagles have said goodbye before, including in 2003, about a decade after they reunited, on a tour billed slyly as Farewell I. The name of this one is the Long Goodbye, which beyond its ring of poetry nods to the possibility that the band will keep adding dates, per a statement, “as their audience demands.” (The tour, which launched in September, is expected to extend into 2025.)

Joe Walsh and Steuart Smith perform at the Kia Forum.

Joe Walsh and Steuart Smith perform at the Kia Forum.

(Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Times)

That said, Henley turned 76 last year — the same age as Elton John when he finally wrapped his lengthy Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour after raking in more than $900 million on the road. And indeed there was something of a valedictory air to Henley’s comments on Friday about having been on “a hell of a ride” over the last half-century. Following Glenn Frey’s death in 2016, he’s the only founding Eagle still playing in the band, which also includes bassist Timothy B. Schmit and guitarist Joe Walsh (both members since the mid-’70s) and a pair of fill-ins for Frey in the country star Vince Gill and Frey’s 30-year-old son Deacon, who wears his shades atop his head just like his dad did.

Halfway through the two-hour show, Gill sang the group’s great white-soul ballad “Take It to the Limit,” which was co-written and originally performed by the Eagles’ first bassist, Randy Meisner, who died last year; a bit later, Henley dedicated a rendition of his solo hit “The Boys of Summer” to another casualty of 2023: “our dear friend Mr. Jimmy Buffett.”

Steely Dan opened the concert with a sprightly set of jazz-wise pop that Donald Fagen, in seemingly fine fettle after a recent hospital stay, capped with a shout-out to his late creative partner, Walter Becker.

So what’s an Eagles gig suffused with finality sound like? Hardly decrepit. As in the band’s heyday, the music — filled out by a crew of auxiliary players on various instruments — was exactingly polished, whether a loping country-rock tune like “Take It Easy,” a silky slow jam like “I Can’t Tell You Why” or a riffed-out rave-up like “Life in the Fast Lane.”

Because the Eagles’ songs touch so confidently on so many modes and styles, they’ve always found a natural home on the radio, where programmers have used them for decades like sonic mortar. And because the musicians play so precisely onstage — each strum in place, each groove just right — the songs differed little from the versions permanently stored in your head.

Henley’s vocals were handsomely raspy if not quite as soulful as in the days when David Geffen called him Golden Throat; Gill and Deacon Frey summoned the yearning in Glenn Frey’s singing yet left out the sneer that gave a tune like “Lyin’ Eyes” such emotional complexity. But even when a lead vocal came up slightly short, the group’s trademark harmonies kept the music aloft.

The set contained hits and nothing but: “Witchy Woman” into “Peaceful Easy Feeling” into “Tequila Sunrise” into “In the City,” the last with room for Walsh to take both a slide-guitar solo and a wah-wah solo. A crucial source of rock ‘n’ roll mischief when he joined the band (and ever since), Walsh clowned his way through his “Life’s Been Good” and got the place air-guitaring with “Funk #49” and “Rocky Mountain Way.” “Hotel California” was lush and foreboding — a song about the terror of numbness (or the numbness of terror?) that’s gotten only scarier with time.

The Eagles acknowledged the evening’s special circumstances with a surprise appearance by J.D. Souther, whom Henley introduced as part of the “tightknit community of songwriters and singers” he and Frey would occasionally turn to in the ’70s “when we would get stuck on a song or we’d try to start some new material.” He added that the Eagles had five No. 1 hit singles — actually, he said “only” five, which felt very on-brand — and that Souther had co-written three of them. Then they played “Best of My Love” and “New Kid in Town,” both beautiful and suspicious enough to make you never want to go on another date in your life.

As the clock ticked past 11, the show came to a close with a sweet, sleepy “Desperado” before the band brought Souther back out for a rollicking take on the band’s final chart-topper, “Heartache Tonight.”

“Time to wake up,” Henley told the audience — a boast, an encouragement, a dare.

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