Eagles in Birmingham: What was it like seeing the classic rock band at the Legacy Arena?

The Eagles have been around for (gulp!) half a century. The classic rock band was formed in 1971, released its debut album in 1972 and celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Fame, fans, hits, awards, respect… you name it, these guys have earned it.

Now take a look at the BJCC arena in Birmingham city centre. The 15,000-seat venue – a key part of the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex – has a 46-year history. The arena opened in 1976 for entertainment and sporting events and has been a mainstay in the city’s concert scene ever since.

The Eagles? Iconic in the music world.

The arena of the BJCC? An Alabama institution, for sure.

But after 50 years (or almost), it’s natural to ask the question: Is it time for one of them to call it quits? Is the veteran band still alive and kicking? Is the venerable location worth the trip?

Music lovers here got an answer – and a resounding one – this week when the Eagles returned to the Birmingham arena (now known as the Legacy Arena at the BJCC) for a stopover on their “Hotel California” tour. Here’s what we learned on the show on Monday, November 21.

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ARENA UPDATE

First of all: Legacy Arena looks great. If you haven’t been to a show there in the past year, you haven’t experienced a $125 million renovation that transformed the place—a colossal concrete structure with a decidedly retro vibe—into a standout showplace that’s brighter and more contemporary.

This major project, which included all but the outer shell of the arena, took approximately 19 months to complete. Legacy Arena closed for renovations in March 2020 and reopened in December 2021. For some of us, the Eagles concert was our first time back.

The changes in the arena are striking, especially as you approach the main entrance on Ninth Avenue North near 19th Street. There are many windows, burning lights and a large, inviting plaza. You’ll see the new City Walk nearby – a huge improvement on the gloomy, dirty parking lot under the freeway – and it’s great fun to see the walking trails, bright green turf, benches, skate park, and more.

When ticket holders enter the arena, the flow of the crowd has changed to make movement easier. Instead of immediately shuffling through a rather tight corridor around the central bowl of the arena, the spectators are divided and either move to seats on the floor or take an escalator, elevator or stairs to the upper areas. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is.

The arena also features new seats, a new lighting system, a new sound system, new club levels for socializing, new audience suites, new artist suites, new dressing rooms, new concession stands and more. Music lovers won’t see everything when they go to a concert – they’re too busy finding their seats, queuing for artist merchandise, grabbing a beer and maybe deciding on something to eat – but the place looks revitalized look and feel.

RELATED: Look inside the $125 million renovation of Legacy Arena in Alabama

Has anyone also noticed that the Wi-Fi capacity seems to be much better when the room is full? Post those arena selfies, folks.

CROWD DYNAMICS

As you might expect, the Eagles draw an older crowd. We saw a few kids with their parents and a few over 20s and 30s in the arena on Monday. But for the most part, the audience was dominated by adult fans – middle-aged and seniors – who were in their 70s (and most likely listening to the radio) when the Eagles were at their peak. These people stood by for much of the three-hour show, dancing in front of their seats, applauding enthusiastically and generally showering the band with love. They sold out the house and were ready to rock. And of course they were clearly well versed in the Eagles catalog.

Celebrity sightings? As far as we could tell, Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban, a known Eagles enthusiast, was not present at the BJCC. However, former US Senator Doug Jones was spotted making his way up the escalator to his seats.

RELATED: Did Auburn book the Eagles during Iron Bowl week to distract Nick Saban?

Eagles concert 2022

Former US Senator Doug Jones arrives to watch the Eagles perform at their concert at the BJCC Arena, Monday, November 21, 2022. (Vasha Hunt | preps.al.com)Vasha Hunt

INTERNSHIP ATTENDANCE

The Eagles are no strangers to Birmingham, playing here several times over the years. As far as we can tell, the band performed downtown at least twice in the late 1970s, returning in 1995, after a lengthy breakup, on the “Hell Freezes Over” tour. The Eagles’ most recent concerts at the BJCC – in 2022, 2018, 2013, 2009 and 2002 – have found the musicians in the mode of elder statesmen, performing the greatest hits to an adoring audience.

Been there, done that, right? But anyone who assumed Monday’s show would be an old retread or a tired rerun was mistaken. The Eagles came and conquered. The band’s lineup for 2022——Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Timothy B. Schmit and Vince Gill—offered a powerful three-hour performance that was visually appealing (via huge, crystal-clear HD screens that were part of the backdrop ), sonically dynamic (via extraordinary musicianship and amplified sound equipment) and consistent from start to finish. (Professional opinion: Whoo!)

The Eagles played all nine songs from the 1976 LP “Hotel California” during the first set, then returned for a set of signature tunes. Nearly 30 songs were on the agenda, providing ample opportunity for audiences to sing along, express appreciation, and feel nostalgia for the deep, rich Eagles catalog, which blends rock, country, and folk.

The Eagles’ trademarks – evocative storytelling, instruments that grab you by the ears, and rich harmonies – haven’t diminished over time, though longtime Birmingham fans certainly can’t help but notice the absence of founding member Glenn Frey, a singer, guitarist, and songwriter, noticed and regretted. died in 2016.

The Eagles are survivors though, and if a band wants to move on without one of its driving forces, this is the way to do it. Henley is still there, of course, leading the band with undiminished talent and undeniable authority. His singing on Monday did not disappoint – at age 75, Henley sounds sharp and passionate – and he alternated between drums, percussion and guitar with the ease of long experience.

Vocalist/guitarist Walsh (fiery, colorful) and vocalist/bassist Schmit (quiet, down-to-earth) are also essential to the band’s current line-up, adding their talents and personalities to the mix. And we can’t praise singer/guitarist Gill enough, a country star in his own right, who seamlessly slid into the Eagles in 2017.

On Monday, Gill provided lead vocals on many songs that were trademarks of Frey, employing his pure tenor in an effective, emotional way. He also judged “Take it to the Limit,” a Randy Meisner classic that requires a crystalline falsetto. Gill’s guitar talent was evident – he offered some understated but magical solos – and he served the music with the highest skill.

As a bonus, Deacon Frey was a guest at the BJCC, taking on vocal leads on tracks like “Take It Easy,” “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” and “Already Gone.” Seeing Glenn Frey’s son on stage broke hearts; he provided a physical and sonic link to his father, along with a sense that the Frey music dynasty continues.

Abundant compliments are also due to guitarist/singer Steuart Smith, a longtime member of the Eagles touring band. His contributions to the concert cannot be underestimated, and Smith is pretty awesome on lead guitar. He is a quiet force to be reckoned with.

SUFFICIENT SET LIST

Fans were prepared for classic material – this is the “Hotel California” tour, after all – and the Eagles delivered with gusto. What better album to showcase than the 1976 monster hit that made the famous group even more famous? The first set, which focused on “Hotel California,” came out with a theatrical flourish. Then Henley stepped to the front of the stage and said, “We’re going to take a little break, put on our work clothes and play everything else we know.”

He exaggerated, of course, but it felt like mission accomplished during the rest of the show, including “One of These Nights,” “Take it to the Limit,” “Lyin’ Eyes,” “Best of My Love, “Heartache Tonight” , “Desperado,” “Tequila Sunrise,” “Witchy Woman,” “Take It Easy,” “Already Gone,” “The Boys of Summer,” and more. (See the full setlist here.)

Walsh (who turned 75 on Sunday, the day before the Birmingham show) grabbed the spotlight for “Life’s Been Good”, “Rocky Mountain Way”, “In the City” and “Funk #49”, a vintage gem from the James Gang . Another highlight came from Schmidt, who evoked a silky smooth R&B vibe on “I Can’t Tell You Why”.

LOCAL COLOR

A few key ties to Alabama made this concert even more special. One of the items on the Eagles’ set list, “Seven Bridges Road,” has a strong connection to the state. The lyrics were written by Steve Young and inspired by Woodley Road in Montgomery. The Eagles also ended the three-hour concert with a cool cover of Randy Newman’s “Birmingham,” with Henley on lead vocals. (He said it was “something we threw together this afternoon.”)

Finally, Monday’s performance was greatly enriched by a local string section, more than 35 players strong, drawn primarily from the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. Led by Eagles concertmaster Erica Swindell, the ensemble of violins, cellos, violas and basses appeared on a raised platform, adding beautiful depth and texture to several songs. (Henley called the group “the Hotel California orchestra.”) They were joined by a chorus of singers from Opera Birmingham, who raised angelic voices.

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