It’s easy to do a tribute to one of the best-loved rock bands of the 1970s: all you need to do is get six immensely talented guys together and give them a CD of the Eagles’ greatest hits and let them get on with replicating it all note-for-note. How hard can it be? 😉
The Ultimate Eagles are one of several tribute bands doing the circuit, paying homage to the Eagles. I’ve seen two others and they were very good, but until now had not caught this act. Formed about six years ago, they boast one very recognisable face in Danny Vaughn, a New Yorker who spends a lot of time in the UK. He is best known as frontman for melodic rock band Tyketto, but in this act he brings a touch of American authenticity to an otherwise totally British tribute band. Vaughn was the one guy of all of this band I’d seen before and knew all about, and perhaps because of his experience fronting his own band he was cast in the role of frontman here, doing most of the between-song speaking to the audience. However, he shared vocal duties with several of the other guys, as this very much was an ensemble cast.
Having seen the Eagles themselves on two occasions I know they had many session players backing the main group, in this case it was the six you saw on stage recreating those intricate harmonies and guitar parts. The format for the show tonight would see the band play a selection of the Eagles’ hits during the first set, and in the second, a complete performance of the ‘Hotel California’ album to mark 40 years since it was released. Coming on stage at 8pm sharp, the first set was an immaculately-performed run-through of hits and one or two deeper cuts. Most of the vocals were handled either by Vaughn or Michael Lawrence, even on songs originally sung by Don Henley they’d alternate. Neither of these guys are Henley, but both do a great job in doing justice to the originals while still giving the songs their own imprint. Similarly with the guitar parts, at times there were four of the guys all playing guitar, and while the lead guitar in a song such as ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’ can only be recreated 100% accurately by Bernie Leadon himself (as he demonstrated on the final Eagles tour of 2014), Andy G Jones plays the lead closely while still retaining his own sound. Strangely, towards the end of this first set they opted to cover ‘The Boys Of Summer’ (a solo hit for Don Henley, of course) – it was as well-delivered as everything else, but there are plenty of Eagles songs to pick from without having to delve into solo careers, I felt. They ended the first set with a splendid rendition of ‘Take It To The Limit’ with Vaughn handling Randy Meisner’s vocal, with Michael Lawrence adding the high harmonies in the choruses.
After a short interval the show recommenced with their video screen showing a short montage, heralding the performance of ‘Hotel California’ in full. The screen was only used as backdrop and to add visual effects, rather than distract it complemented the onstage action nicely. Guitarist and musical director Chris Wright took on the Felder role with the twin-necked guitar, as the opening song and title track was performed to a rapturous reception. The Ultimates could be as hard-hitting as they could be gentle as demonstrated with their delivery of ‘Life In The Fast Lane’ and ‘Victim of Love’ in this set. Although they made no mention of Glenn Frey’s passing during speeches, they paid moving tribute after ‘Wasted Time’; as a recording of the reprise played, all six band members turned to the screen which was showing a video montage of Glenn Frey moments. That was very poignant and was a fitting tribute to the Eagles co-founder.
On introducing ‘Pretty Maids All In A Row’ (sung by Chris Wright for this performance), Danny Vaughn saluted writer Joe Walsh’s quirky nature by pondering who else would open a song with the lyric ‘Hi There, how are you?’ I felt like shouting back ‘Jeff Lynne!’ whose song ‘Telephone Line’ is close, since it opens with ‘Hello, how are you?’ but thought better of it (!) After ‘Try and Love Again’ (sung by Vaughn, with a shout-out to former Eagles bassist and writer of this song Randy Meisner), they closed with the epic and thought-provoking ‘The Last Resort’ complete with visuals to accompany Henley’s acerbic lyric. That was the main set over, and in front of me one couple did vacate their seats as soon as that was over. However there was more to come as the group came back to deliver a few more favourites, including Joe Walsh’s ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ and ending of course, with ‘Desperado’.
This outfit has been described as the ‘best Eagles tribute in the world’ and I couldn’t argue with that. We’ll only ever be able to see the original band on video now but this band gives as good a recreation as you’re likely to get.
Finally, a word about the venue staffing. Yes, this is another (nicely laid-out) municipally-run theatre plagued with jobsworth staff. I take a few snaps at shows for this blog, where possible trying not to spoil anyone else’s view. (As an aside, a photographer was present this night, who advised those on the front that she might be in the way but would try and keep that to a minimum) However, on taking one shot here, the small pocket camera I use was reluctant to focus, prompting an over-zealous steward to remonstrate with me – she thought I was shooting video! That was not the case; I know all too well about this band’s run-ins as regards even their own video clips being muted. Besides, I do not shoot clips as a rule, it is stills only and then only for purposes of posts such as this. I was not impressed with this stewarding, a classic case of a jobsworth butting in where not wanted. (For clarity, there were no signs anywhere saying what people could or could not do, I prefer to use common sense and as said earlier, I know all about video clips of Eagles songs being removed). The incident totally spoiled the night for me, for which I thank her. This venue may be a nice intimate theatre setting ideal for this kind of event, but power-mad jobsworths I can well do without. I will definitely see The Ultimate Eagles again, but whether it will be at this place is something I will think twice about in future. So – the full five air guitars for the performance, and a deflated one for the venue staff.