EmptyNokia Theatre, Los Angeles
Thursday, Oct. 18
There was an audible grumble traveling through the Nokia Theatre about 15 minutes into the venue's inaugural headlining set Thursday. The hometown-hero Eagles had just played their fourth consecutive new song to open the show.
"They'd better stick to the old ones," an unsmiling woman groused.
While awaiting the catalog onslaught, she and others likely missed something: Those first two songs were pretty good. "How Long" -- the country-rockin' lead single from the band's first album since the Carter administration, "Long Road Out of Eden," due Oct. 30 -- and the cautionary "Busy Being Fabulous" had a vintage Eagles vibe and came off well.
All four rookie tunes featured different lead vocalists. But those last two new ones? Well, the crowd likely had forgotten about them halfway through the opening guitar riff of "Hotel California," which followed. Surprisingly, it was the last they heard of the new record all night.
From then on, opening night at the Nokia was a nonstop flight to hitsville. Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh, Timothy B. Schmit and an eight-piece band delivered two hours of Eagles hits sprinkled with solo material and a James Gang nugget.
Henley and Walsh's distinctive voices still have enough edge to drive a decades-old radio staple. Henley, for example, pulled off the falsetto chorus of "One of These Nights" with aplomb, and the typically playful Walsh fairly nailed "In the City." Henley even added a few gratuitous drum fills on the latter song.
Eagles can still deliver, and by the time they dusted off the participatory "Heartache Tonight," a quick look around the venue showed wide smiles on faces throughout the all-ages crowd.
As L.A.'s unofficial spokes-band, Eagles was an inspired choice to christen the Nokia. So was opening act Dixie Chicks, the huge-selling and politically polarizing country trio that swept the Grammys in February across the street at Staples Center.
The double bill's six-night run represents the Chicks' only concerts of 2007. But they didn't seem so much rusty as a little disinterested -- likely because of their unfamiliar role as openers and a subsonic crowd response. The show started about 20 minutes late, giving singer Natalie Maines a chance to rib the locals. "Only in L.A.," she said, "would people pay $300 a ticket and be half an hour late."
The Chicks' banjo-guitar-fiddle base is enjoyable enough that the six-man backing band feels extraneous, providing more polish than depth. One wonders how the trio might sound with just a drummer. The set would have benefited from heavier doses of pickin' and grinnin' -- as on "White Trash Wedding" -- and a little more punch.
But the Chicks never can go wrong with "Goodbye Earl," the he-needed-killin' sing-along that has to rate among the country gems of the '90s. The biggest crowd response was for Grammy favorite "Not Ready to Make Nice," the band's "comeback" single in response to the beating it took at country radio in the wake of Maines' anti-Bush comments in 2003.
Nodding to that controversy, the Chicks had taken the stage to the haughty strains of "Hail to the Chief." But rather surprisingly for a pre-election year, that was the only whit of political statement that came from the stage all night from either act. Even Henley kept his normally vocal activism to himself.
Meanwhile, with a pair of megaplatinum bands as its first test, the 7,100-seat, $120 million Nokia lived up to the hype. With its elevated ceiling, high-tech acoustics, huge stage, HD video screens and excellent sightlines, the hall straddles the line between theater intimacy and arena splash. Indeed, two levels of luxury boxes flank the main floor on either side.
With all that interior room, it was oddly apropos that the first song played in the joint was "Wide Open Spaces."
Interesting touches include splashy lobby lighting that changes color and high-capacity two-tiered restrooms. Snickering anti-L.A. types will enjoy needling the concessions menu, which features such easy-target buzzwords as organic and gourmet.
Traffic could be dodgy when there are simultaneous Staples Center and Nokia Theatre events, but it seemed under control on opening night. The Nokia -- the first element of AEG's mammoth L.A. Live project -- certainly is a splendid addition to the local concert scene. Bookings in the coming weeks include Neil Young, Mary J. Blige, Queens of the Stone Age and John Fogerty.
Eagles and Dixie Chicks return to Nokia on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.