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Eagles soar at First Niagara Center

There’s more than one way to rock the house. The Eagles and the Rolling Stones have proven that over the past couple of weekends.

Eight days ago, the Stones led by three guys in their 70s, used monster guitar chords, a prancing lead singer, flash and fireworks to turn Ralph Wilson Stadium into one huge house party.

Saturday night, it was the Eagles, putting on a bash of their own design in First Niagara Center. The Eagles flew into town for a sparkling show featuring highlights from a career of hit-making that began in 1971.

They’re all on the far side of 65 years old, but Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit can still play the licks, hit the high notes and nail the harmonies that made their band one of the most popular music acts in American history.

Playing in a jam-packed and muggy auditorium, the Eagles played plenty of soft ballads that had the women swooning but also had the place rocking with the brilliant Walsh and his guitar cohort Steuart Smith playing one great solo after another.

I was lucky enough to witness both shows – the Stones and the Eagles – probably the two biggest local concerts of this summer. I loved them both. The Stones were louder, flashier and wilder – like a really exciting Buffalo Bills game. The Eagles show was – for the most part – quieter, more poignant and introspective, but for my money, every bit as entertaining as Mick, Keith and their crew.

The Stones started their show with fireworks, blasting “Jumping Jack Flash.” The Eagles opener couldn’t have been more different.

It all got off to an intimate start at 8:15 p.m., as band founders Frey and Henley stepped out onto the stage with minimal fanfare, carrying acoustic guitars.

The musical partners sat down and kicked things off with a song that was never a hit – the wistful “Saturday Night,” a ballad from their underrated 1973 “Desperado” album.

“Seems like a dream now, it was so long ago,” sang Henley, setting the tone for the evening.

He told a story about “the lean years” around 1970, when he and Frey would practice new songs before an old guy named “Bud,” who sat drinking beers.

“He told us, ‘You boys sound pretty good,’ ” Henley recalled. “After 12 beers, everything sounds pretty good.”

“So drink up, everybody,” Frey quipped.

But you hardly needed 12 beers in you to appreciate the talent and professionalism of the Eagles and their superb backup band. Their trademark harmonies were as beautiful as ever throughout the show. Amazingly, I counted as many as eight men singing harmony on several songs.

Frey and Henley welcomed another guitar star, Bernie Leadon, who was one of the original Eagles but left in the mid-’70s.

Leadon offered up another wistful ballad, “Train Leaves Here This Morning,” a song he wrote with the late Gene Clark of the Byrds. Leadon is appearing as a special guest on this tour, and it was nice to hear him back. The tour is billed as a historical look at the Eagles career, which was detailed a couple of years ago in the excellent “History of the Eagles” documentary film.

After Leadon’s appearance, Schmit and Walsh stepped onto the stage, and the Eagles fired off one hit after another for more than two hours.

The band I once heard for about $2 in the Erie County Community College gym now commands up to $179.50 a ticket, but they really know how to satisfy an audience.

There was one highlight after another. Schmit, at age 67, still has the voice of a kid, and he showed it off on the love songs “I Can’t Tell You Why” and “Love Will Keep Us Alive.”

Henley’s compelling voice powered “Doolin-Dalton,” another of the band’s underrated gems, and the beloved “Desperado.” Frey struggled with a couple of vocals – perhaps the result of doing 140 shows over the past two years – but was solid most of the night. He’s also a very funny man, dedicating the song “Lying Eyes” to “my first wife, Plaintiff.”

The eight-man harmonies carried “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” and “Best of My Love.” Frey did an excellent job with the soaring “Take It To The Limit,” not an easy song.

For a band that only recorded seven albums of original material, they’ve had an amazing impact. They sold more than 150 million records.

Their landmark 1976 album “Hotel California” was chosen by Rolling Stone magazine as the 37th best rock album ever.

Drugs and egos caused a nasty band breakup in 1980, but they reconvened in 1994, with Frey famously stating “We never really broke up. We just took a 14-year vacation.” The Eagles have won six Grammys and are members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

They all seemed to be enjoying each other’s company Saturday night, and it was Walsh who really put the party into high gear.

A little after 11 p.m., Walsh led the way as the band tore into two of their best rockers, “Life In The Fast Lane” and of course, “Hotel California,” a song that brings audiences out of their seats just as it did when the band first released it nearly four decades ago.

The “History of the Eagles” tour ends later this month. I hope it won’t be their last.


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