The popularity of Coachella has bred a new kind of music festival – a nostalgia-fueled Woodstock in miniature, filled with the iconic bands and artists of rock & roll’s past. Last fall saw the inaugural Desert Trip – a two-weekend extravaganza featuring the likes of the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, and The Who.
Los Angeles got its own taste of a throwback weekend with The Classic West on July 15 and 16. The two-night concert at Dodger Stadium featured The Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, Earth, Wind, and Fire, and Journey, as well as headliners The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. The same groups will do it all over again for The Classic East on July 29 and 30 at Citi Field in New York.
Classic West was the perfect hazy summer rock concert – a chance to wander down memory lane (even if it might be your parent’s memories and not yours) and soak in the good vibes. They don’t call it “The Classic” for nothing. Here are our six favorite moments from the weekend-long classic rock festival.
We Will Never Be Here Again…
An inevitable part of these shows is the absence of band members – whether they’ve simply left the band or died. Tributes and a bittersweet melancholy were a natural part of the weekend, including a medley in honor of Maurice White and a celebration of the remaining original members of Earth, Wind, and Fire. The most palpable absence was that of Eagles singer Glenn Frey – this show marked the band’s first concert since his Jan. 2016 death. The lack of his presence was still a fresh wound felt by band members and fans alike.
Frey’s band members spoke lovingly of their missing friend. Guitarist Joe Walsh kicked off the show, saying, “This one’s for you, Glenn – you’re in our hearts tonight and the music goes on.” Don Henley noted, “Glenn is with us tonight. Glenn is with us in spirit, and Glenn is also here in the form of his fine son Deacon.”
Looking uncannily like his father during the early days of the band, Deacon Frey took over some of his dad’s lead vocals, most notably on “Take it Easy,” “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” and “Already Gone” (country singer Vince Gill did some of the heavy lifting on other Frey-led charts). The talents and unassailable grace of Frey’s 24-year-old son Deacon were the revelations of the night. His soulful vocals belied a deep well of talent suggesting he’s inherited much of what made Glenn Frey a singular voice. He didn’t merely pop out to cover a few songs — he truly integrated into the band, lending background harmonies and guitar stylings throughout the night and never leaving the stage. But it was his emotional proclamations that really brought down the house, as he told the audience, “The only remedy for something like that [grief] is love – you guys are my medicine tonight.” He took the musical break in “Peaceful Easy Feeling” to ask, while visibly choked up, “Anyone out there miss my dad?” – a query that drew loud cheers and provoked many tear-stained faces.
Artists outside the band also paid tribute to the late Eagle. During Sunday night’s concert, Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks dedicated “Landslide,” her emotional ballad of loss and change, to Glenn Frey and Deacon for a performance she said would have made his dad proud. Nicks waited until the conclusion of the song, remarking with a lump in her throat, “I didn’t do it before because I knew I would have started to cry and I wouldn’t have gotten through it.”
They Called it Paradise
Part of the magic of The Eagles is that their soulful harmonies have always meant they didn’t need much more than a few instruments and their own voices to put on an amazing show. But they pulled out all the stops for this special engagement, bringing on a cadre of gifted musicians and instrumental acrobatics to wow the crowd. Bob Seger joined the group on “Heartache Tonight,” a tune he co-wrote with the band over the phone.
The most important special guests, however, were those without recognizable names and platinum albums to their credit. Henley sang the final track from the Hotel California album, “The Last Resort,” a song he noted is rarely performed in concert because of the “personnel” it requires. They certainly didn’t skimp on personnel, bringing on a string section to provide the necessary backing on this provocative ballad about our tendencies to destroy the things we find most beautiful. It was a rare treat to hear live in concert with full orchestrations what Frey once dubbed “Henley’s opus.” The Eagles were also joined by a killer horn section that added exciting riffs to a new arrangement of “Witchy Woman,” and a stirring, mariachi-infused trumpet solo to the opening of “Hotel California.”
An Axe to Grind
Both The Eagles’ Joe Walsh and Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham hold a place of honor on Rolling Stone’s list of “100 Greatest Guitarists.” With many on that list no longer living, it’s easy to think the chance for a one-two punch like “The Classic” is something that belongs only to the past and the likes of the Monterey Pop Festival. To see two such legends strut their stuff in one weekend? It’s almost too good to be true.
Walsh was in top form Saturday night, from his iconic riffs in “Life in the Fast Lane” and “Hotel California” to his lengthier jam sessions on his solo charts “Life’s Been Good” and “Rocky Mountain Way.” He has a mesmerizing talent and a dexterity with his instrument that makes it impossible to take your eyes off him when he’s performing.
It was Buckingham’s turn to bring the goods Sunday night, with his dizzying guitar sprees through the likes of “Big Love” and “Never Going Back Again” that made him appear a man possessed by an inner spirit that flits between demon and rock angel. For all of his intensity and musical aggression on “Big Love,” “The Chain,” and “Go Your Own Way,” he brought an equally compelling softness and deft touch to the lilting tunes of “Never Going Back Again” and “Landslide.”
Walsh is all rock & roll bravado fueled by his mischievous spirit – an antic sprite of music. In contrast, Buckingham is the rock answer to classical guitar with fingerpicking that elevates his folk music roots into stadium-worthy licks. The two are the yin and yang of epic guitar playing, particularly when presented in direct complement and contrast to one another.
Don’t Say That You Love Me
In 1979, Fleetwood Mac made history (and gave a college marching band a platinum album) when they recruited the USC Marching Band to record and star in the music video for “Tusk.” Mick Fleetwood later called the moment his “lunacy.” In 2012, Stevie Nicks told the BBC, “I honestly think that that might be the very best thing that came out of that whole record because it was so crazy and the song was so insane and what we did with it with that video was so magical, that nobody, I don’t think any band has ever re-created something quite that cinematic.”
To see Fleetwood Mac bring the same life, fire, and yes, lunacy to a live rendition of this tune nearly 40 years after the original in the very stadium where they crafted an insane and iconic music video defies description. Fleetwood was in top form on drums, and Buckingham can still bellow his unintelligible and chilling vocal riffs with guttural aplomb. For good measure, they included the original footage of the music video and the Trojan Marching Band on the screen behind them. It was the most meta moment of the night and a chance to feel like you were being transported back into a part of rock history.
Shatter Your Illusions of Love
Stevie Nicks is a witchy, mystical, supreme goddess. And she brought all of her boho-queen magic to the stage this weekend, most particularly on a haunting rendition of “Gold Dust Woman.” Swathed in a gold shawl, Nicks first wowed with her signature vocals but then brought the crowd to its feet with her mystic moves, which included a series of spins and a litany of poses that erupted out of her as she let the power of the music drive her.
Nicks has always crafted a witchy, numinous image, but the reason it works is because her performances make you feel as if her vocals and her movements are truly being fed by some magical inner life force. Her voice has a haunting power that suggests she’s not exactly of this world, and her accompanying iconic moves and clothing just seal the deal.
“Don’t Stop” x Two
Sunday’s show was the night of “Don’t Stop” encores – first, Journey made “Don’t Stop Believin’” their penultimate tune and then Fleetwood Mac wrapped up the entire weekend with “Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow).” The two charts are show-closers for a reason.
“Don’t Stop Believin’” has become a bit of a musical punch line at this point, thanks to the likes of Glee and endless karaoke covers. But you’d have to be quite the curmudgeon to not enjoy the experience of hearing it earnestly belted out across a stadium of thousands of eager concertgoers.
“Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” is almost the antithesis of the other “Don’t Stop,” a jaunty pop-rock blast of optimism in contrast to the power ballad melodrama of the Journey tune. For fans of Fleetwood Mac, it was a thrill to end the night with the Christine McVie song, considering she was absent from the tour line-up from 1997-2014. Accompanied by a flurry of fireworks, “Don’t Stop” sent the crowd out on a literal high note – a frenzy of effervescent light and fizzy good tunes.
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