Concert review: The Eagles waved goodbye with a solid night of hits at the X

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The perils of touring in your mid-70s were on full display Friday night at Xcel Energy Center, where Steely Dan and the Eagles were scheduled to perform the first of two nights at the downtown St. Paul hockey arena.

The problem, though, was the absence of Donald Fagen, the sole original member of Steely Dan. The 75-year-old was hospitalized in September with an undisclosed ailment. While he’s since returned home, his recovery is taking longer than anticipated. (Don Henley, 76 and the sole original member of the Eagles, told the crowd Steely Dan would be back on the tour in January.)

The Eagles have drafted a number of acts — including a solo Vince Gill, who joined the band after the 2016 death of Glenn Frey — to fill in as the opener. Here in St. Paul, we got the Doobie Brothers, with 71-year-old Michael McDonald in the lineup, but not 75-year-old Tom Johnston, who is sitting out of the current tour due to his back surgery. (Sense a trend here?)

Anyway, the Doobies proved to be the ideal fit, which Henley himself noted from the stage. McDonald rejoined the group in 2020 for a 50th anniversary tour that’s got no end in sight. The band played the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand in 2021, but McDonald ducked out at the last minute after catching a nasty case of COVID. They’ve since played Treasure Island Casino along with shows in Duluth and Waite Park, but Friday was the first time Doobie Brothers + Michael McDonald played a proper show in the metro.

It was worth the wait and, really, an hour of the Doobie Brothers is the perfect amount of the Doobie Brothers. They stuck to the hits and played them quite well, with a spark I haven’t seen in them for a long time. McDonald, 71, possesses one of the most unique voices of his generation and after all these years, he’s gotten even more Michael McDonald-y than ever. It was a sheer pleasure hearing him croon “What a Fool Believes,” “Takin’ It to the Streets” and especially “Minute by Minute.”

Unfortunately, McDonald served as a mere side player for the final three songs of the set — “Long Train Runnin’,” “China Grove,” “Listen to the Music” — and Patrick Simmons really struggled with some of the notes. Still, it was nice to see Henley let the Doobies play at full volume and use the many large screens onstage, a gracious move from a guy hardly known for it.

As they did when they played Target Field in 2018, the Eagles opened with a cover of Steve Young’s “Seven Bridges Road” in an arrangement that shines a light on the band’s tight harmonies. Back then, it served to introduce the audience to the new Eagles lineup that emerged after Frey’s 2016 death (in spite of Henley’s claim at the time the Eagles were over). Friday, it showed just how vital the addition of Frey’s son Deacon and Country Music Hall of Famer Gill was to the group. Indeed, Gill delivered pretty much all the highlights of the evening, including “Take it to the Limit,” “Lyin’ Eyes” and an absolutely gorgeous “Tequila Sunrise.” (The latter would be the Eagles’ most shameless Gram Parsons rip-off if the Eagles were capable of shame.)

As for the rest of the set, it offered all the big hits and few surprises. If anything, an Eagles concert serves as a reminder of just how diverse the group’s singles could get. The wildly disparate “One of These Nights,” “I Can’t Tell You Why,” “Already Gone,” “Life in the Fast Lane” and “Desperado” somehow sound like the same band, even if it comes down to a matter of vibes.

The Eagles now claim this current outing is their farewell tour, although they’re also expected to stay on the road through at least 2025, so it’s entirely possible we’ll see them again in the metro before it’s done for good. Whatever the case, Gill and Deacon Frey should really keep playing together on their own, as there’s clearly a spark there between them.

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