Although, there’s a select group of music aficionados who scoff at the idea of a tribute band, it’s generally the real deal or no deal at all. Well, if that was your mindset for last Saturdays concert at the Theater at Soliare then you were missing out.
Granted, many tribute bands may include artists that are relatively low in the learning curve, basically glorified karaoke, but the quality organisations, such as this one, gathered to pay respect to the legendary country rock band the Eagles, contain musicians of a higher caliber.
They hail from the US, based in Southern California, founded in 1999, and are widely regarded as the premier group highlighting music from a deeply respected band. And I can see why, as they smoothly delivered lush harmonies and spot-on instrumental arrangements.
As you know, Glenn Fry, one of the founding members of the Eagles recently passed away. Gary Grantham sombrely spoke of how the current tour, “…is dedicated to the memory of a man who’s life’s work is one of the only reasons that we even get to do this job.” He went on to say, “…this Asian tour has been kinda special because it is not only a celebration of the Eagles but a celebration of Glenn.”
It’s obvious they’ve done their research and painstaking rehearsals, because they delivered an authentic show, extremely close to what you would hear from their namesake. Initially the crowd was subdued, but as the evening progressed, the fans ramped up their level of enthusiasm, perhaps hesitating due to the venue itself, a theatre where there are usually rules and regulations to abide by, that are forgone at most concerts.
Plenty of banter in-between songs, throughout the concert. The setlist was loaded with all the fan favourites, provideing a savvy balance for the night. The performers did not put on a pretence of behaving as the Eagles musicians, rather simply telling stories in reference to them. Skilfully mixing humour in, without feeling forced, even self deprecating at times, such as when Gary mentioned to the crowd that they don’t much look like the respective members of the original band.
After a few songs, Gary jokingly told the crowd, “I hope you don’t mind that we don’t look much like the Eagles themselves” he went on, “our guitar player Kevin here, if Carlos Santana and Captain Jack Sparrow were to have a love child, that would be Kevin”. “Our guitar player Chris, kinda looks like he should be fronting a Journey tribute,” continuing with, “…he does kinda look like Steve Perry.”
Continuing, “I, of course, on a good day, sometimes people tell me I look a little like Robert Downey Jr.” the crowd laughed, “…well on most days it’s kinda Kevin Spacey.”
Finishing with, “And of course, our bass player over there, a little bit like Mike Myers.”
Before performing, “Peaceful Easy Feeling”, Chris told a story which shocked the crowd, “One guy by the name of Jack Tempchin wrote this next song. He actually became a friend of ours,” he continued, “ he has joined us on stage on 4 or 5 occasions, great guy. He has all these great stories about hanging out with the Eagles in the seventies, and writing all these songs.” Chris finished with, “I worked up the nerve to ask him, how much money did you make on this song? Cause it’s always on the radio. He said, ‘he stopped counting at seven million dollars!’”
Finally before the encore started with “Best of My Love’, Gary told the crowd, “He (Glenn Fry) was sitting in his house strumming and picking a 12 string guitar trying to remember a special tuning that Joni Mitchell had taught him.” also adding, “And he was trying like mad to come up with the tuning and just not getting it, trying different chord progressions and patterns. So he actually never remembered what the tuning was but managed to come up with something that made him happy.”
Their members have rotated in and out throughout the years, which is typical with this genre but remaining front and center, Gary “Gig” Grantham on vocals, guitar, keys and even the harmonica. Often addressing the crowd with a confident delivery while mixing in perfectly timed humour, the emcee for the evening if you will. Vocals eerily matching many of the Eagles classic hits.
Chris Sobkowich, impressed the crowd with his vocals, reminiscent of Joe Walsh and guitar skills to match. Also skilfully performing on the talk box, you may have seen this before, it’s a tube played through the mouth which modifies the harmonics, and adds a vocal quality to the guitar sound, arguably first popularised by Peter Frampton. He did well, it’s a tricky effect to master. Playing with an animated style keeping the crowd enthralled when it was his turn in the spotlight.
Eric Baines on bass, taking on much of the vocals that required a higher reach, as in songs by Timothy B. Schmidt or Randy Meisner, one of the original members of the band who sang the lead on “Take it to the Limit”.
Kevin Herrera, vocally performing much of the smooth harmonics, also on guitar, showed prowess performing on a variety of instruments, even busting out a double necked instrument. At times, entrancing the crowd, swaying his long locks with the rhythm of the music.
Last but certainly not least, perhaps the opposite in fact, on the drums, taking on a bulk of the lead vocal positions was Kenny Cetera. Every so often you come across an outstanding drummer who can also sing. And I mean really sing, with the skill level you’d normally equate with a vocalist found at the mic stand, front and center. A couple of other musical artists, in the same position immediately come to mind, Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters and Phil Collins of Genesis, accomplished drummers and brilliant lead vocalists.
Kenny is also gifted on both of these accounts and compared to the other members of the group, he most resembles his stage namesake, Don Henley. Problem is, a far as live performances go, drummers usually get the short end of the stick, pun intended. Tucked way in the back, shielded from view, surrounded by a plethora of percussion gear, so it’s nearly impossible to get a clear view of them from most vantage points. It’s one of those things that’s easier said than done, problematic on numerous accounts, Kenny made it look easy, and bolstered the evenings performances in fine fashion.
Special guest appearances on stage for the show too, a couple local musicians who performed seamlessly with the band, John Ray Pagan on clarinet and Jose M. Saulog Jr. on keyboards.
The band has appeared on TV and the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine, that’s all well and good, but what impressed here was to discover that they are endorsed by the Eagles themselves. I’ve photographed a few tribute bands in my day, and from my experience, I can assure you that it is only on rare occasions that a tribute band is actually approved by the management of the original artists themselves, that’s a big deal.
Without a doubt, satisfyingly entertaining, and it may sound cliche but there where moments if you closed your eyes, it really did sound like the Eagles on-stage, it was that well done.
Even if you’re hesitant to check out a band that’s not the original, do a bit of research, and catch a tribute show commemorating one of your favourite acts. Go out on a limb, you may be surprised with the view, this was an authentic performance which provided all in attendence a wonderful night of music!