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The Eagles Return

After breaking up in 1980, the rock band reunites for the first time, sounding like their old selves

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The Eagles had landed — they just weren’t on stage yet. It was May 27, half an hour past show time at California’s Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, and the crowd at the opening concert of the band’s first tour since its 1980 breakup was growing restless.

Suddenly the 16,500 fans roared with recognition: “Jack! Jack!” Flanked by security beef, Jack Nicholson strolled to his choice seat, joining Richard Lewis, Ed Begley Jr., Norman Lear, and the other celebrity Eaglemaniacs who braved this open-air arena south of L.A. to see if one of the ’70s’ biggest bands could still fly. “They’re losing it for Jack!” marveled a fan. “That is so awesome.”

Even more awesome was the show’s power to evoke the suburban complacency of arena-rock concerts of almost 20 years ago. From parking-lot tailgate parties to Portosans, the Eagles’ return, after more than a decade of acrimony between its members, seemed teleported intact from the Ford-Carter years, as if Disney had decided to open a Gods of ’70s Rock theme park. Many in the boomer-heavy audience apparently hadn’t been to a rock concert since Charlie’s Angels led the Nielsens: “Thirty bucks for a T-shirt?” gasped a balding gentleman in relaxed-fit khakis at one of the Eagles-ware kiosks.

Despite the very modern $115 top ticket price, the Eagles did little to dispel the retro atmosphere. Opening with a note-for-note rendition of “Hotel California” amid post-apocalyptic, Flintstones-light-show decor, the band sailed through a nearly flawless three hours that held few surprises. Don Henley, 46 and grim as ever, emoted from behind his drums; guitarist and onetime health-club spokesman Glenn Frey, 45, oozed aging-frat-boy charisma. Bassist Timothy B. Schmit, 46, defrosted middle-aged hearts with “I Can’t Tell You Why,” while guitarist Don Felder, 46, wore what appeared to be the same blue flannel shirt shown in their antique concert video of “Hotel California.” Bespectacled guitarist Joe Walsh, 46, looked like an eccentric TV meteorologist at the No. 2 station in town.

Throughout, the famous harmonies were intact, and the Frey-Felder-Walsh guitar attack lent real bite to an otherwise rote “Life in the Fast Lane.” Henley, Frey, and Walsh reprised too many of their solo hits, but Walsh scored with a rousing “Funk 49” from his pre-Eagles band, the James Gang.

A few new songs from the group’s upcoming reunion album were trotted out — most notably Henley’s scalding indictment of codependency, “Get Over It” — but only to polite applause. The audience seemed far happier shouting along with Walsh on his “Life’s Been Good.” The mood of the backward-looking if musically impeccable evening was cemented when Walsh croaked the amended lyric: “Everybody’s so different/We haven’t changed.”

Only “Desperado” got a bigger hand. B+