Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Eagles - A Peaceful Easy Feeling

A band that I love, and everyone seems to like for that matter, but would never occur to me to list as a favorite for some reason, is the Eagles. Pretty much everything they have ever done is terrific, and they have a host of classic tunes from the 1970's; tunes that everyone can hum along with and many people know the words by heart. When neighbor Anthony mentioned a few months ago that he had gotten a pre-sale offer in his email for a "History of the Eagles" tour show, it didn't take long for everybody to vote "yes" on going. A few short days later we had four tickets in hand for a double date. The show was last night.

I took the afternoon off to be able to head down to the city a little early. We met up with the neighbors and went to Xfinity Live, the new-ish restaurant and bar complex near the site of the old Spectrum, for dinner and drinks prior to the show. We got into the Wells Fargo Center at around 7:30 and got to our seats just as an opening act was finishing their set. We had no idea there was going to be an opening act. If I had known, I would have tried to get into the building earlier than we did. I have had the good fortune to stumble across some fine opening acts over the years (Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble for the Moody Blues circa 1982, Chris DeBurgh for Asia c.1983, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown for Eric Clapton c. 1990, and Steve Earl and the Dukes and Duchesses for Mark Knopfler c.2010 to name a few...).

The Show
Promptly at 8pm, the house lights went down and the concert started. The spot lights came up to Glenn Frey and Don Henley taking center stage with acoustic guitars and playing Saturday Night. After the first song they talked a little about the forming of the band in 1971, and Bernie Leadon, an original guitarist who hadn't performed with the band in many many years joined them on stage. Train Leaves Here This Morning came next. After this, Timothy B Schmit came out, and they did Peaceful Easy Feeling. Joe Walsh then wandered onto the stage and they did Witchy Woman. It was a dramatic way to start the show, and had the crowd screaming with each new member to appear.

There is a full and accurate setlist here, but to recap (or actually to repeat the whole thing), the remainder of the first set included Doolin-Dalton, Tequila Sunrise, Doolin-Dalton/Desperado (reprise), Already Gone, The Best of My Love, Lyin' Eyes, One of These Nights, and Take It to the Limit. The first set lasted exactly one hour.

After a brief 15 minute break, the second set began with Pretty Maids All in a Row, I Can't Tell You Why and New Kid in Town. Love Will Keep us Alive and Heartache Tonight came next. The pace then picked up in what could be described as the Joe Walsh portion of the evening. The second set rounded out with Those Shoes, In the City, Life's Been Good, The Long Run and Funk #49 (from Walsh's prior band The James Gang). They closed out with a rousing rendition of Life in the Fast Lane.

The first encore was Hotel California, which brought down the house. A second encore of Take It Easy (their first hit), Rocky Mountain Way, and finally Desperado ended the show a few minutes before 11pm.

It was amazing show, and I loved every minute of it. Given that the band members are in their mid-60's, I wondered whether their voices would be able to do all of the wonderful vocals and harmonies that were always the real strength of the band, but it turns out that I had no worries in that regard. They played great, they sounded wonderful, and it was a real treat to hear all of those classic gems performed live for the first (and probably my only) time. I absolutely loved all the different times that they had 6 guys lined up at microphones out front all singing and playing guitars. Henley is known as a drummer, but spent a decent bit of time out front with an acoustic guitar. Frey and Walsh played a multitude of different instruments, electric and acoustic. An additional guitarist playing the Don Felder role (Felder is in continual legal actions against the rest of the band and hasn't toured with them in years) played a lot of electric and slide guitar, and Schmit played bass. Bernie Leadon played acoustic and a black Telecaster for the first set, skipped the second set, and returned for the encores.

One thing that fascinated me was the sheer number and variety of guitar makes and models that got used. With at least 3 and as many as 5 guys playing guitar on any given song, and the fact that they all changed guitars between pretty much every song, it made for an interesting sight to see the swarm of guitar techs swarming the stage between each song. Walsh alone played at least a half a dozen instruments, and probably closer to ten (Strats, different Les Pauls, six and twelve string acoustics and some I couldn't name).

"...a man well known to law enforcement and hotel staff the world over.."
Speaking of Joe Walsh, while it might take an entire additional post to list all the things I loved about the show, perhaps the single thing that stood out to me (and came as a bit of a surprise) was Joe Walsh. I went into the show thinking of Walsh as a bit of a goofball with some funny songs ("I bought a mansion, forget the price, ain't never been there, they tell me it's nice"). I came out of the show as a huge fan. His vocals were a little shaky at times (haven't they always been?), but his guitar playing was amazing. I spent much of the night watching him. With a band full of headliners and lead vocalists, there were many times when Walsh faded into the background and just did his job, but when he was featured, he was really something to see. And when they turned him loose on guitar, he lit up the auditorium. The songs he led on, which was much of the second half of the second set, were some of the highlights of a highlight filled evening. Funk #49 especially rocked the house (this is a James Gang song that most people know when they hear it but have no idea the name of...), as did Life in the Fast Lane. The section title is from Henley's introduction of Walsh, by the way, as he was a notorious hotel room trasher back in the day...

As a final aside, I strongly recommend the wikipedia entry linked in the first sentence of this post (and again here). The 40-plus year tale of creative brilliance, personal battles, breakups, reunions and legal battles reads like the best kind of fiction. Well worth a read...

This concert for me will go down in my personal live-music history as a highlight of having seen one of the iconic American bands performing at an exceptionally high level. And I will have their music stuck in my head again for a long time.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Book Review - Bloody Buna

A few weeks ago I saw something that caught my interest in a big way. It was the announcement that the Flames of War folks would be releasing Pacific War rules and a supporting line of figures, beginning with Japanese infantry in late July. From what I have seen, FoW doesn't interest me in the slightest, but the figures they put out are very good, and when they do a range they tend to be ridiculously extensive about it. That announcement gave me visions of all the little Japanese tanks and tankettes, Australians in slouch hats, CBI Brits... More on that later.

The other thing the announcement did was make me want to pull out a Pacific theater book of some sort to really get the imagination ramped up. My choice was one of my favorites from my high school days (and a friend Leo favorite as well), but a book I had not read since; Bloody Buna (1974) by Lida Mayo. A few years ago I searched out a copy on eBay for old times' sake, and am very glad I did. Mayo was a historian in the Army's Military History division, and she worked with the same group of people who wrote many of the Army's "green book" official history series.

This campaign, from July 1942 until January 1943, and running concurrently with the Guadalcanal campaign, covers the first campaign in Papua, New Guinea. It includes the Japanese invasion of Milne Bay and the drive towards Port Moresby, including the vicious fighting along the Kokoda Track and in the Owen Stanley Mountains. Subsequent to the Japanese withdrawal back towards the north coast, the fighting for Buna, Gona and Sanananda are covered in adequate detail. This isn't a shot by shot recap, but is an operational overview, covering the troops movements, attacks, successes and failures. It does a good job of placing the fighting here into the overall context of allied operations elsewhere, and paints a clear picture of the difficulties faced by both sides. The terrain here was rugged inhospitable jungle, and the allies were not at all prepared for this kind of fighting, either from a training, leadership or equipment standpoint. There is a very valid conclusion that the allies won here not so much because they were able to defeat the Japanese, but because they were able to out-survive them. Allied air and naval presence was literally able to bring the Japanese to the brink of starvation, to the point where evacuation was the only option. Very few got out, and the casualties to the allies were horrific (far worse than at Guadalcanal, which was bad enough). This was a campaign that taught the allies many lessons on how to fight the Japanese in their well-hidden coconut log bunkers, tree tops and mangrove swamps, but those lessons came at a very steep price.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough for a great introduction to a campaign that may not be as well known, but is fascinating in many regards.