News From The Woods - September 20, 2008

NEWS FROM THE WOODS

By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published September 20, 2008


"The Eagles Fly Once Again"


Well, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since the last posting. I am still busy writing the book, which is about 75% completed as far as the first draft is concerned. I haven't even read it myself yet because I don't want to get sidetracked from the storytelling. After I am finished I will proof it and no doubt make many changes and probably a few deletions as well because it has turned out to be a lot longer than I originally projected. My son Jeremy, the writer, tells me that any book over 500 pages is too long, and I passed that mark a couple of chapters ago, so I imagine I will have to trim some fat.

Many of you know of my four year struggle with carpal tunnel syndrome. It finally got bad enough - no doubt largely due to my writing this book - that the symptoms escalated to 24/7 in recent months. It is no longer annoying but now debilitating, so I made the decision to have hand surgery. I'm not quite ready to give up playing drums and guitar so I really had no choice. My surgery was scheduled for September 22d, but we got a red flag during my pre-op physical. As it turned out my blood sugar levels were 385. Normal is between 110 and 140, so you get the picture. I was diagnosed a week later with Type II Diabetes, so the hand surgery was postponed due to a more serious problem. Type II Diabetes isn't the end of the world as we once thought it was. At this stage I do not have to give myself insulin shots, and my doctor tells me we can control it if I follow their directions. This means checking my glucose levels three times a day and a regimen of regular exercise, a strict diet, and medication. I'd rather take pills any day than give myself shots, so believe me when I say I am taking this all very seriously. My doctor says that if I watch myself and take care of myself it should not decrease my time here on this dirtball. Besides, I want to be around to watch my son grow into manhood if at all possible, so I am looking at this as a positive thing. I need to lose weight and eat healthier anyway, so this gives me a real reason to stick with the program. Oddly enough, a week after my scheduled hand surgery my symptoms subsided. As of this writing all I have right now is a little tingle in my left thumb. Go figure!

I want to tell you about a very special event we went to recently. The occasion was the very first concert for our son Robert. He is ten now, and has been deeply immersed in music (as you may expect) since he was old enough to talk. His favorite groups are the Beatles (naturally), The Eagles, and the Beach Boys. Not a bad trio of choices if you ask me. There are only two Beatles left, and Brain Wilson hasn't toured with the Beach Boys in eons. But when I learned that the Eagles were returning to Little Rock for their current tour I hit the Internet, searching for tickets. The last time I had seen the Eagles in concert was in 2002. It was the "Hell Freezes Over Tour" and a close friend had given Jane and I two tickets for a present. They played in Alltel Arena in North Little Rock on July 2nd. The account of that concert can be found HERE.

On Tuesday night, September 16, 2008, the Eagles returned to Alltel for a stopover on their "Long Road Out Of Eden" World Tour 2008. I was one of the millions waiting at Wal Mart when they released their newest album which was a two-disc masterpiece. The first disc is largely the more mellow set, and the second disc somewhat more lively by comparison. Hence, I played nothing but the second CD in my car for three or four weeks before I started listening to the first CD. Another reason I waited before listening to the first disc was that Jane wouldn't let me have the first CD. She's sort of a country girl so she prefers the first disc of the set to the second. The idea of releasing a two-disc set as such was pure genius on the part of the Eagles. There was plenty of country for the diehard country fans, and lots of rock n' roll for the old rockers like me. And of course Joe Walsh can make anything sound good. He is my guitar hero. Jane has a thing for Timothy Schmidt. I know if she ever gets to meet him he and I will both be in trouble.

Jane and I decided to surprise Robert and not tell him a thing about the concert. She shopped around online until she found three consecutive tickets that we could actually afford. They were upper level tickets and the cheapest available, but we didn't care and we knew it would not matter to Robert at all. This would be a monumental occasion for him…..Something he'd remember for the rest of his life. Where we sat would be of little importance for this first time. I mean, SURE we'd like seats on the floor but the price of tickets was completely out of the question. Hell, I'd have to sell my car for three concert tickets to see the Eagles from the floor. When we saw them in 2002 we had seats that were actually behind the stage, but the crew had a large screen sitting no more than 50 feet from our positions, with miniature stereo sound emanating from two line speaker arrays on either side of the big screen. Even though we could not actually see what was going on out front, we had an excellent view on the projector screen and the sound was like listening to a really big stereo system. The best part was that we were almost directly overhead of stage right, which was Joe Walsh's "side". There were dozens of guitars in racks and two guitar techs kept it all running smoothly for Joe, so we got lots of great views of Joe as he commandeered stage right. Occasionally he even came over to our side and gave us all a wave. It was a magical night for Jane and I and I was eager to see the band six years later and from a different vantage point.

For three weeks we managed to keep Robert in the dark. On the week before the concert we informed him that I had to make a trip to Little Rock on business and mom and I had decided to make it a family road trip. Whenever he asked what I had to do (which was often) I simply said I had some video business to take care of. He was more interested in whether or not we'd be anywhere near a Toys R' Us than anything else, but as we got closer to that Tuesday he somehow knew intuitively that something was up. I suppose he inherited it from his mother, and I just played it down and never said much about the trip. When we picked him up early from school on that Tuesday the very first thing he noticed was that his mom was wearing an Eagles T-shirt. Now, she wears that shirt a lot so neither one of us thought a thing a bout it, but he asked why she was wearing it on the trip. We shot each other sidelong glances and held out breath. As a matter of fact I was going to wear my own Eagles T-shirt but decided at the last minute not to wear it and I chose a non-descript blue flannel shirt that I got at Wal Mart. As it turned out it was the exact same shirt Don Henley wore on a recent concert video from last year. Of course, I hadn't yet seen that concert video so I wasn't aware of the coincidence.

As we drove down to Little Rock Robert asked a couple more time what I was going down there for, and I kept up my dumb act, which probably made him more suspicious since I usually give him all the details of everything. Still, he decided not to keep digging for some reason. He acted a bit more excited about the trip than usual, but I figured he was just happy to take a road trip with us. As we passed through Batesville and finally reached the Interstate at Bald Knob, Jane's cell phone rang. It was someone from her work who was just checking in because she wasn't at work. Without a hesitation she said "Oh, I took the day off today. We're on our way to Little Rock for an Eagles concert". BANG! Just like that, Robert says from the back seat…. "What!!??" I looked at her with disbelief and her mouth just dropped open. After all these weeks and we're only an hour away from Little Rock and she drops the bomb in such a matter-of-fact way that I knew she just wasn't thinking. She blinked and shook her head and told the person on the other end she had to go now and as she put the cell phone away she couldn't help but laugh at her own Fax Paus. By this time Robert's deepest suspicions surfaced and he started asking what she was talking about. I looked at her and said "You might as well tell him now", and we told him what was up. From that moment on he became such a chatterbox that I was thankful we kept the secret from him thus far. He requested an Eagles CD so I dug out their greatest hits and put it on. For the last eight miles of the trip all we heard was "Are we there yet?.....Are we there yet?......Are we there yet?"

We stopped for dinner as we got into North Little Rock. Robert just fidgeted with his food from the excitement. He kept saying "What will it be like? Where will we sit? How long before the concert? Hurry or we might be late". We had to rush through our own meal just to keep up with him. As we arrived at Alltel I remembered the traffic jam from 2002. We arrived a bit later than we had at the previous concert, so much of the parking was already taken. This time we found ourselves about three blocks from the arena. I found a spot with a sign that read "We will have security here until thirty minutes after the concert" and I said this might be a good idea so we paid our $5 and got a "monitored parking area". It was probably worth it. There were already people everywhere, making their way to the arena. Lots of folks were hanging out around their cars in a sort of tailgate party, waiting for the last minute. We pressed onward and by the time we got to the entrance we resembled a herd being directed through the chute. I hung onto Robert and he hung onto Jane. His first words while we were outside were "It's so huge!!!!" I said "Wait until we get inside". It was so much fun to watch him taking everything in. It was almost as if it were my own first concert, seeing him looking around as fast as his eyes could follow.

After we got through the front door and security, the crowd just barely thinned out as many folks headed either for the beer line or the concession line for their souvenirs. As it was only twenty minutes to Showtime I suggested we first find our seats. We walked around the outside of the huge arena, past all the vendors (bottled water $5 each!), until we found our entranceway to section 212. As we walked up the stairs and through the curtains Robert stopped for a second as people ran into him. The enormous size of the area stopped him in his tracks. We all had to wait a moment for the folks in front of us to move along. Then we came up on a security person who checked our tickets again and then directed us to a set of stairs and said "Go all the way up and you'll find your seats". We looked up…..STRAIGHT UP…… and saw the stairs disappear into the rarified air of the nosebleed section. I muttered "Oh my God" and Robert said "What's wrong, dad?". I told him not to worry about it and we began to climb stairs. And we climbed. And we climbed. Halfway up I stopped to get my breath and noticed the people on either sides of me laughing. One guy asked if I had an oxygen tank and I laughed as I took off again with Jane and Robert following close behind. We got to within the last three rows at the top of the very back of the area when we located our seats in section 18. As I turned around to sit down I had a definite attack of vertigo and rocked back and forth until I could get me balance. The angle of the climb was so steep that if you fell forward you'd plummet down and over at least ten rows of seats until a rail caught you. I swear the oxygen levels were so low we had to gasp for air until our heart rate slowed down from the climb. Everyone up in this section was talking about how high it was. It wasn't just us. Almost immediately behind us a couple was climbing to an even higher position. The husband was carrying two cups of beer and panting for air and the wife was genuinely scared of the height, gripping the rail with white-knuckled hands and a look of stark terror on her white face. She stopped even with our seats and would not climb any higher until her husband came back down and fetched her. It was that bad. As I looked straight out from my seat I was even with the lighting catwalk that hung from the roof!

The first thing I noticed after acclimating from our lofty vantage point was that the stage seemed so very far away. We were directly in front of the stage but hundreds of yards away. I could see stagehands walking around prepping the stage but I could not see their faces at all. Everything down there looked a little fuzzy. I had not yet learned that I had diabetes and that my eyesight was bad as a result of high glucose levels. Then I saw two large projection screens on either side of the stage and breathed a sigh of relief. At least we could see the band up close on the video monitors. The next thing I noticed was that there was no seating available behind the stage as there was in 2002. I suppose they decided not to spend the extra expense in putting up screens and speakers. Perhaps the expense of the extra rigging wasn't worth the ticket sales in that area. By this time the arena was filling up rapidly. Jane desperately wanted to get souvenirs before the concert instead of after like we did in 2002. The crowd after the concert in '02 was immense and by the time we got T-shirts and hats almost 45 minutes had passed. We didn't want to repeat that because we had to hit the road ASAP. It would take us several hours to get back home and I calculated it would be past midnight before we reached the house. At ten minutes before Showtime she and Robert stood up and started the trek back down the steps. Someone shouted "Bring back some oxygen!" as they began their descent. They were gone for fifteen minutes and just moments before they turned the house lights down I could see them climbing back up the steep steps bearing a load of T-shirts and Robert was wearing two baseball caps….One of them mine, presumably. As she collapsed in her seat she remarked "Damn! It's hell down there!" and I was glad I stayed behind and marked our position.

As the house lights dimmed and the area grew dark all the small arena pin-lights that outlines the stairs and aisle seats glowed like a thousand fireflies. However for me, they all looked blurry and I continually rubbed my eyes, trying to get them to clear but they never did. I wondered out loud if perhaps I needed another eye examination so soon after getting new glasses, but before the discussion could continue the crowd started cheering as silhouettes of men could be seen taking the darkened stage. It was a false alarm, as they were stage crew bearing dry mops. The new stage for this tour was a complete different set up than the Hell Freezes Over tour. The arrangement was the same but the stage itself was made of panels of clear Plexiglas. This created a very unusual effect when under the lights. First, any light from above shined off the stage like a mirror, bouncing light up and further illuminating the band members. Also, there were lights under the stage that created a fantastic effect as they projected lights up from under the stage. The last minute prep called for four stage crew members to wipe the stagehands footprints off the surface, creating a perfectly transparent stage for the Eagles to occupy. After their chore was done the lights were dimmed further down. Now we could see the same black lights the band used to find their way around the otherwise completely darkened stage that they employed on the '02 tour. Then we saw the lighting crew climbing ladders to a huge overhead grid. It was the same set up as the '02 tour. I started to point them out to Robert, but he was already way ahead of me because I had told him in great detail about the '02 concert and he knew what to look for. In moments the lighting crews were situated in their "cockpits" and I saw the video director running a checklist with his camera crew. The main house engineer was at the ready in front of a large audio console situated at about the halfway point right in the middle of the floor of the arena. It was 8:15 PM.

The band came out from stage right and the arena erupted in a frenzy of screaming and clapping. I looked down and Robert was looking all around him as the noise reverberating in the huge arena echoed all around us. I'm sure it was quite a spectacle for him. The lights went up a bit as Glen Frey stepped up to the mike and his spotlight overhead bathed him in a wash of pure white light. He said "Good evening" and once again the crowd responded with an enormous welcome. The lights came up a bit further and now we could all see a huge circular projection screen covering the complete backline of the stage. There was currently nothing on it but I knew it would become an integral part of the show. They started simply, with all four members at stage front and holding acoustic guitars and with a minimum of support lighting. As they started up their first number the main lighting came up and we could see the four players were all wearing black suits and ties. I chuckled and told Robert "It looks like the Blues Brothers!" and he agreed.

I won't give a blow by blow description of the night but just my overall impressions. The very first thing I realized was that in order for them to play many of their songs from the new album, something had to go. Some of the songs I expected them to play were omitted in favor of showing off their new songs. I didn't mind, because they played the new tunes as masterfully as they had with the "old standards" in '02. After all, they released a two-disc CD and had a lot of ground to cover. The first thirty minutes of their set was dedicated to several new tunes which were low key but still powerful ballads and in that respect Don Henley played acoustic guitar along with the other three Eagles. If drums were needed for a song, their "stunt drummer", Scott Graco, kept the beat going. It was a nice touch, starting off slow and easy and building up the set. After each song the stage lights were muted and when they came back up (usually just as the cheering died down) they had changed positions slightly or perhaps added another sideman on keys or whatnot. I was so glad to see Steuart Smith again with the band for this tour. It is his job to play all the signature guitar parts for all their hit songs. And he knows all their solos inside and out. Hearing just the right signature licks authenticated the arrangements and also allowed the Eagles themselves to entertain the audience without worrying about playing everything themselves. They had no less that three other keyboard players and a four-piece horn section. Al Garth doubled on sax and violin. Their backup support was huge but the main focus was obviously on the four Eagles. Whenever a classic guitar solo was called for, the big screens on each side of the stage would show a close up on the guitar or Steuart's hands. His face was rarely seen. We were aware that there were other people playing but it was still the Eagles show, so whenever someone was featured on a solo they wouldn't have their own spotlight, but that really didn't matter because they were projected on the big screens and you got tremendous close-ups all throughout the show. Sometimes they would have a medium close up of a soloist on one screen and an extreme close up on their instrument on the other, while the huge round screen behind the band showed either a live shot of someone or a prepared video segment perfectly timed with the song.

It was interesting to note that Don Henley played more guitar on this tour, allowing Scott to play the standard drum parts, but whenever they did a classic like Hotel California, it was Henley behind the kit singing his lead vocals. He's still got it after all these years! As a singing drummer I can respect and sympathize with the degree of difficulty it takes to sing lead while playing drums. And he was in a suit and tie for the entire concert! I also noticed that Glenn Frey played more guitar on this tour than keyboards. I have always pigeonholed Glenn as a keyboard player so it was refreshing to see how good he actually is as a guitarist. And when Tim Schmidt took the stage and sang lead Jane was watching him like a hawk. Then there's Joe Walsh……… I don't know if it's just the Little Rock audiences or not but every time Joe was featured - no matter if it was his song or his guitar solo - the crowd responded wildly. You just gotta' love Joe! He's such an Ordinary Average Guy…….. NOT! When he put on his construction helmet I poked Robert and said "Watch Joe Walsh! He put on his helmet cam!" Robert was grinning ear to ear as Joe cranked up Funk 49 and let the audience see themselves on the big screens. He may appear to be the perpetual class clown but he is such a consummate artist and musician that he makes everything he does seem easy. The Eagles without Joe Walsh would be like the Beatles without John Lennon.

After playing straight for a full two hours they took an intermission and the house lights came up. I took the opportunity to run downstairs to the bathroom, but when I got there the line was like a mile long. The line streaming into the bathroom was comprised of men doing the pee-pee dance, and the other line coming out of the bathroom was made up of guys with relieved smiles on their faces. As I made my way in and finally stood at a urinal, the guy next to me was standing there with his eyes closed and a big smile on his face. Then he said "Ahhhhhhhh….. This is almost as good as sex". I was glad I wasn't drinking beer. I made it back upstairs just in time for the second half of the concert. This was the high energy part of the set. They knocked out "Life in the Fast Lane" and several solid hits from their respective solo efforts, like Don's "All She Wants To Do Is Dance" and "Sunset Strip". Of course Joe got to do "Life's Been Good" and some other James Gang hits. Joe changed guitars on almost every song. Glenn also got his own spotlight time as did Tim. It was a well-rounded set and they put out 100% for the audience. They never let up for an hour and a half, finally ending the show at around 11:15 PM, including an encore. In the last half hour Robert was rubbing his eyes. It was way past his bedtime but he wasn't giving up easily. I caught a yawn or two between songs but his eyes were wide open during the performances. He was so numb from the spectacle of it all that he fell asleep before we even got out of the traffic jam and onto the Interstate. Driving home was easy at first because I was still so pumped up from the concert, but by the time we got to within 50 miles of home I was fighting sleep. We got home around 3:30 AM and fell into bed.

I tell you now that if you ever get the chance to see the Eagles live it will be well worth the admission, no matter where you are seated. I suggest that if you attend a concert at Alltel, avoid the back nosebleed section. Since there was no additional audio support for the rear section the sound was atrocious. It was muddy and most of the time the kick drum dominated the mix for us up in the high seats. You could hear the vocal harmony but much of it was backwash from the mains down on the floor. I will never sit in that section again at Alltel, so my lesson is learned at least about that arena. But I cannot fault the band's performance and show. It was first-rate and first class all the way. I bought a tour program (which is where all the pictures came from) and I counted 70 people that comprise the support crew that travels to every show. That includes stage crew, sound and lighting personnel, video crew, cosmeticians, riggers, concessions, product support, security, and hospitality. There are four road managers and numerous production and tour managers. It's a huge staff and it takes all of them working together in unison to ensure that it all runs smoothly. This is why today's concert tickets for an "A list" group are so expensive. It must coast a small fortune each night just to make it all happen.

We later learned that they added Springfield, Missouri to their tour schedule, but when we checked it out we found they were already sold out for the November show. We simply cannot afford to travel too far from home for an Eagles concert, and I envy all those rich folks who just fly from one event to another and rent a limousine. However, for Robert I know it was like a dream come true. We were so happy to be able to make his first concert such a monumental occasion. It just doesn't get any better than an Eagles concert. For me, the crowning moment was watching Robert sing right along with the band and the audience and respond with heartfelt cheering at the end of each song.

I can't wait for the next tour.

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