There was a definite moment last night when The Eagles went from being a slick, well-oiled, rock band of legend playing just another show and transformed into a crash-hot band caught up in the moment and rocking the heck out.

I can't say for certain when, but it had a lot to do with the performative heroics of the Eagles' guitar supremo Joe Walsh. A true wild card in every sense he's been the Eagles not-so-secret weapon since joining the band back in 1975.

While the rest of the band and their hired ringers kept things tight and steady under the authoritative eye of drummer/vocalist Don Henley, Walsh's ferocious guitar playing squealed and squawked and slipped all over the show. His playing was loose as a goose and soaring like a, well, eagle above the band's solid ground.

Joe Walsh rocking out with the Eagles at Spark Arena. Photo: Brad Holland
Joe Walsh rocking out with the Eagles at Spark Arena. Photo: Brad Holland

The band opened with the lush country harmonies of Seven Bridges Road before introducing Deacon Frey, the 24-year-old son of the late founding member Glenn Frey, to take the lead on Take it Easy, his old man's signature song.

Advertisement

It was great to see him up there, and hard to not be moved seeing the young blood performing with his dad's peers. Especially later, when Henley left his drums, grabbed a guitar and joined him up-front to run through the open road excitement of Already Gone.

At Henley's solo show last year he didn't sit on the drum stool once, so it was a genuine thrill to see him spend a lot of time back on the sticks last night.

Don Henley on drums with the Eagles at Spark Arena. Photo: Brad Holland
Don Henley on drums with the Eagles at Spark Arena. Photo: Brad Holland

His drumming is solid, and like the man himself, no nonsense. There's little flourish or extravagance. But what there is, is a steely determination. And that first surfaced during the disco-tinged hit One of these Nights, which saw Henley providing a surge of power for the guitar solo.

After, Henley came up front to thank everyone for coming out, "on a school night". Then he started shaking his head and tsk-tsk-tsking. "Be here now," he said pointing at an audience member filming on their phone. "Be present. Eyeballs. Memory." I didn't see many phones after that...

Henley promised two and half hours of music, "because you deserve it and because we can,". But they played a little longer. Nearly every song a greatest hit; the seductive, swampy groove of Witchy Woman, the laidback Tequila Sunrise, the sad resignation of Lyin' Eyes, the eager, adrenaline-enthusiasm of Life in the Fast Lane, the emotional grit of Desperado.

The long-serving, long-haired bassist Timothy B. Schmit led the crowd through some competitive chanting, which got the seated audience rarked up, before saying, "You never know what you're gonna get with Joe Walsh, but you always know it's gonna be good."

A brass section appeared - who were amongst the best sounding live brass I've ever heard - as Walsh took center stage to announce In the City with the night's chunkiest power chords. I think Walsh surprised even his fellow Eagles with just how good he was.

It's true Walsh's vocals lack control, melody and tune, but he makes up for that with character, personality and attitude. His delivery almost punk, only sneer replaced with a slurry yelp.

Advertisement

It was here, I believe, that the band began to get caught up in their music. Walsh's head shaking, eyes closed tight, mouth wide open, foot stomping and fingers flying all over his fretboard.

Eagles bassist Timothy B. Schmit plays Spark Arena. Photo: Brad Holland
Eagles bassist Timothy B. Schmit plays Spark Arena. Photo: Brad Holland

An Ennio Morricone style lone trumpet announced the arrival of the band's first encore, the immortal riddle that is Hotel California. The crowd, obviously, went nuts.

As the song's slow, tension-filled, build up to that timeless guitar solo drew closer the band seemed as caught up in it as the rest of us. Henley, always a controlled drummer, began pounding the heck out of the song's many fills and rolls as he punctuated each line of his sung verses. Spurred on, the band matched his intensity, as their playing got less controlled and more powerful. It built, and built, and built and Henley let loose a thundering tom-roll, swung his head back to the mic and... confusion.

In that moment the music was amazing, controlled yet confused, chords clashing wonderfully as verse and chorus collided and no-one knew where they were supposed to be.

Then, from the cacophony, Henley, took charge, sounded his famous warning,"You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leeeave," and then that solo - routinely voted the best guitar solo ever recorded - took off and dear lawd it was amazing.

Things settled down after that. But it'd been more than enough. The Eagles, known for taking it easy, didn't. Instead they took it to the limit. And it was brilliant.

The Eagles play Auckland's Spark Arena again tonight and Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday.