Alter Eagles [The Eagles Tribute Band, 6 piece]
Once in a while, there's a small tremor that happens in the live music scene. Too small to be noticed in the noise of the pub music hubbub of modern rock covers, grating blues or minstrels with canned backing tracks, its wave takes effect on a roomful of lovers from another time (not so very long ago).
The loving in question is deep-seated, something that has strengthened with the years. Since the early 70s The Eagles have woven their lyrics and melodies into our eager and foolish hearts, the whole world over. With subtle personnel changes throughout their 9-album and 29-single successes (they had 6 number ones), they were (and are) a band that was (and is) surely unrivalled in making us feel, and feel great.
We knew what to expect. Maybe we expected too much. This was Eagles music, something intricate and polished, moving and emotive, clean and yet somehow rather raucous when left alone for a minute. And it needed to be played right, or not at all.
We knew what to expect, but we weren't ready for this: six guys packed onto a small stage the size of a box room, literally tripping over each other and each other's guitars.
Opening with the unmistakable rasping licks of "Life in the Fast Lane", The Alter Eagles told us, in 10 seconds, that this was, indeed, going to be played right.
The lineup - drums, bass, four guitarists, five vocalists, and one keyboard player - produced decades worth of contrasting sounds: rock, country, funk, acoustic, folk, pop. The accuracy of the sound, compared to the recordings we all know and cherish - has to be applauded in itself. But the accuracy and skill were only part of the picture. The band interact with each other and with the audience, like no CD can do... The passion from the fingertips and the voices connect us to all the hurt, hope, angst, disappointment and joy that makes up life.
The vocal harmonies - 4 part in places - were rich, glossy, and tight. Such vocal texture in a live sound is such a rare beast within a rock band today that you wonder why more bands don't put in the effort. The guitar playing (outstanding lead work from Colin Moore, Jay Stezaker and Garreth Hicklin) really made you appreciate the craftsmanship that originally went into the arranging of these songs. Bass player Rob Beattie took centre stage for a few numbers, so adding some visual and audible variation. The drumming was crisp and involving - there's a lot of detail in some of the Eagles work (for drums, bass, keyboards and guitars) and Paul Sampson and his sticks made us remember, and appreciate, one reason that The Eagles were so great. Alan Tomkins' keyboard parts lock the songs into place and provide the unmistakable signature of the Eagles sound. Garreth is a truly gifted vocalist; as he's often the focus of attention, you can't help notice his amazing toned (no pun intended) voice. Considering that the Eagles used many different vocalists, his ability to handle so many styles is impressive. Jay and Colin's vocals, harmonies, and blistering guitar sounds were pure delight.
"New Kid in Town", from the timeless "Hotel California" album, with its soaring harmonies and key changes, is one of the Eagles' most famous (and award-winning) tracks, and was played to perfection. "Peaceful Easy Feeling", "Lyin' Eyes", "How Long", "Take it to the Limit" (with audience interaction!), "Tequila Sunrise", and most of the band's singles (including the immortal "Hotel California" itself) were re-created for us in all their intricacy and emotion.
This standard of playing - and of musicianship - is truly world class, and is rarely seen on the UK pub circuit. Whatever we paid (a tenner) was a giveaway for the quality of the music we heard.
Like others that night, I would have happily stayed and parted with more of my hard-earned cash, but rules is rules... The good news is that the Alter Eagles are back at the Horns later this year. They live all over the UK, so performances are rare, so if they come to your town - or festival - go and enjoy a little earthquake all of your own. They don't happen nearly often enough.
Mac MacLaren, Lemonrock EditorThursday 25 February 2010