The creaky oldsters in the top rows grudgingly stand to allow me to pass to my seat, pungent quasi-legal herbs in the air, the music already started, 45 minutes into the show, it’s “Desperado.”
I’m here because the Eagles permitted their music to stream on Rhapsody starting June 25; because in the early 80s Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) was among the 13 cassettes I ordered from the Columbia Record & Tape Club for the low price of $0.01; because the Eagles take me back when I first discovered FM radio; because in July I rented The History of the Eagles and watched the 3-DVD set over the course of three successive days; because I subjected my fiancée to the 3-DVD set of The History of the Eagles and she married me anyway; because the morning after noticing on the KeyArena sign that the Eagles were coming soon to Seattle, I found a ticket on Craigslist to The History of the Eagles LIVE for list price.
Above the band, two screens show the one Eagle in the spotlight who you’re supposed to watch for that particular song, leaving the other Eagles in darkness. A larger screen shows images and videos behind the band, such as stills from the “Desperado” album cover. I also watch the show secondhand through the mobile phones and tablets of the people around me. Every couple of minutes, someone in my field of vision would raise a device to capture a favorite snippet.
With “Desperado,” the band sounds larger than the album, the arrangements have depth, they’re lush, I’m into it, glad that I didn’t end up at a concert by an Eagles cover band. By now, a dedicated Eagles cover band can play the classics more faithfully than the actual Eagles.
But by “Already Gone,” I feel like I’m watching an Eagles cover band, Glenn Frey and Don Henley performing karaoke to their own songs.
One drunken pleasure of karaoke is watching the low-budget videos accompanying the lyrics. That’s what was on the large screen during History of the Eagles.
The video for “Already Gone” featured a guy in a convertible superimposed, via green-screen, over a map of the USA. A line graphic shows his position on the map moving from East to West. The driver reads a note from his girl, but wouldn’t you know it, he’s already gone, feeling strong, etc., those phrases illustrated by the onscreen action. Thus we are treated to a visual account of the entire roadtrip. The driver falls asleep at the wheel in the Midwest, he drives through Colorado wearing a succession of warm hats. He makes it to New Mexico but runs out of gas, and so he hikes through the desert with a gas can, and now he’s carrying the gas can while wearing a sombrero and riding a bicycle. He finally makes it to California. This is karaoke video without the excuse of a language barrier, without the excuse of being able to say, “How are we supposed to get the appropriate video assets and permissions to create a great video for this song? What are we, the Eagles?” Amateurish isn’t the word, as the production values were evident. What would be the best visual accompaniment for a song, why not let the music speak for itself, what would be better than just showing the musicians on a larger scale for the people in the cheap seats? What do I know about entertaining an arena?
Glenn talks about their first number-one hit, “Best of My Love,” how the Detroit DJs spread the word, allowing them to pay for their own meals and drinks. Then, about “Lyin’ Eyes,” he recalls how he and Don Henley wrote it while observing the scene at an L.A. bar. He invites the audience to sing along, but in my section, only a few murmur through the chorus. The voices around me are silent, seated and stoned.
Also in between songs, we are treated to Eagles history lessons, video clips lifted straight from the History of the Eagles DVDs, on sale at the concession stand. History of the Eagles is printed on the ticket, and this is meant literally. We are not at a concert with the surprise of wondering what might come next, with the tenor of the audience prompting digressions and improvisation. Instead, we are here for a staged history lesson, the order as fixed as a Mass, album by album, one hit after the next. Will the Eagles play “Hotel California,” Joe Walsh wailing away? Will the congregants take communion? It is foreordained. If you want the setlist, see the writeup on the Pittsburgh show, I assure you it was the same here.
The band takes a short break. The guy behind me holds forth on his youth in Southern California, how he got into the Whisky A Go Go despite being underage, he doesn’t remember the names of the bands through all the partying years, but they were bands before they got big.
I check Twitter and see that Titus Andronicus has not yet gone on stage. Earlier that day I had read in The Stranger that they were playing at Seattle Center’s all-ages club, the Vera Project. An early lesson from my MBA years about sunk costs: No matter how much you paid for the ticket, there’s no reason to stay until the end of the show. Make your decisions based on the costs and benefits from that point forward, the incremental costs and benefits without regard to prior expenditures.
I excuse myself through the seated elders, find my way to the exit, and walk about 100 feet to the Vera Project. It costs $13 to enter (vs. $60 face value for the Eagles), the Titus Andronicus t-shirt costs $15 (vs. $35 for an Eagles t-shirt), and a water costs $1 (vs. arena beer prices).
There’s more energy in the soundcheck than there had been in the entire arena. The band tunes up listening to Neil Young’s Zuma, most of the album. With deference to the mixed crowd, lead singer Patrick Stickles asks to fast-forward past “Stupid Girl.” He tests the vocal levels with a verse from “Cortez the Killer.” The Stranger’s Line Out blog held up Titus Andronicus as an example of Springsteen worship, but that’s a superficial connection compared to the band’s much stronger musical and spiritual kinship with Neil Young. Yes, they’re from New Jersey and they like to talk about it. You would too if you were from New Jersey.
Stickles tells us to get to ready to rock, assures us that Titus Andronicus are not “fake-ass rockers like the Eagles.”
This crowd is not a fake-ass crowd. It bounces with the drums. It sings along with the anthemic “No Future Part III: Escape from No Future,” it moshes in the center, a rather gentle mosh in that just inches away petite bystanders stand entirely unfazed by the nearby crush, while right outside of the center, others mosh only in the vertical dimension, jumping up and down in time. “You <jump> will al<jump>ways <jump><jump>be a <jump> lo<jump>ser<jump>.” Only on the outskirts, near the walls, in the alcoves, do people watch with the stillness of their counterparts in KeyArena.
Contrary to the image of the younger generation as being the age with the strongest addiction to mobile devices, I see just one girl take out her mobile phone to take a photo. Upon seeing that, her friend sticks her face into the field of vision and licks the camera lens. The other photographers in the room carry grown-up cameras.
Along with material from the first three albums, the repertoire also includes the “C-side” of TA’s upcoming 30-song rock opera. This consists of several movements interspersed with feedback and other sonic residue, making it one of those albums like “Dark Side of the Moon” that you will have to buy on CD to listen without the digital artifact of silence between songs. The crowd does not clap between movements, and for realizing that the music continued for the length of an entire side of an LP, we are complimented as being a smart audience. Local flavor to the encore: Stickles’ solo cover of Nirvana’s “Something in the Way.”
The TA show ended at the same time as the Eagles, the two crowds merging into the streets and parking lots of Uptown.
Thirty years from now, at a History of Titus Andronicus arena show, I’ll be in the back rows, regaling my companions with these very impressions.
September 5, 2013