The Classic West

July 15 & 16, 2017
Dodger Stadium
Los Angeles, CA

Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Ron Lyon

If you had brought the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan, Journey, the Doobie Brothers and Earth, Wind & Fire together for a festival in the 1970s, it’s likely a couple hundred thousand drunk, stoned teenagers and twenty-somethings would have shown up, ready to rock. Put those same bands on a bill today, and 50,000 fans, mostly in their 40s, 50s and 60s show up, ready to rock and willing to spend a little extra to mark the occasion. Who could have imagined that 40 some years later, these six bands would still be in business.

Goldenvoice struck gold in 2016 with its own classic rock festival called Desert Trip and a top-shelf offering of the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, The Who, and Roger Waters over three days in Palm Springs. So Live Nation countered with The Classic West on July 15 and 16 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, and The Classic East on July 29 and 30 at Citi Field in New York.

If The Classic West is any indication, fans venturing to The Classic East should look forward to a well-organized, finely tuned, fun-filled Saturday and Sunday. If there’s one thing The Classic West had going for it, it was facilitation on all fronts. In all my years of concert going, I can’t recall an event so trouble-free and punctual. The only lines were at the merch stands; everywhere else — food counters, beer tents, bathrooms — you could get in and out without the wait, the pushing, the shoving. All the bands stuck to the schedule, save for a five minute lull here and there. A premium price ($150 and up) affords less hassle — and that may be why The Classic West, despite the late afternoon humidity, came off so smoothly.

It all started at 5:15 on Saturday (July 15) as the Doobie Brothers, one of four acts on the weekend roster with roots in California, took the stage erected in the center field of Dodger Stadium to launch The Classic. For the next 75 minutes, the Doobies delivered 15 of their best songs, and the stadium, at about three-quarters capacity, ate up each and every note. Like the five bands that would follow, the Doobies stuck to the tried and true of the 20th century, with 1989’s “The Doctor” featured as the “newest” number of the set.

And why not. Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons can still sing and play with the same intensity and fervor they’ve had since starting the band in 1970. Fans of Michael McDonald, who hasn’t been a Doobie since 1982 (though he’s sat in a few times since), had to contend with “Takin’ It To The Streets,” aptly sung by both Simmons and bassist John Cowan.

I noticed two changes in personnel since last seeing the band in 2015: the absence of drummer Tony Pia and the addition of Little Feat keyboardist Bill Payne. Pia is an accomplished player, but longtime skin beater Ed Toth kept things rolling without skipping a beat. Payne, whose considerable skills on the keys is the envy of players far and wide, duly made his presence known with an assortment of suave ivory tickling. The trifecta of “Black Water,” “Long Train Runnin’” and “China Grove” produced with it a cooler breeze before the Doobies returned for an encore of “Without You” and “Listen To The Music.” It could have easily been just another gig for a band in constant motion, but for a stadium filled with classic rock lovers, it was an impressive beginning.

Steely Dan was next, and while their brand of jazz-rock was an FM staple back in the 70s, it proved to be a little more difficult to digest for those wanting to get loose and jiggy. Maybe it had to do with the absence of Walter Becker, though guitarist Larry Carlton, who played on many of the band’s most enduring recordings, was a more than adequate substitute. Carlton is so good that Jon Herington, who’s been playing lead guitar for Steely Dan for the past 17 years, was apparently given the night off. They must have lost Jeff Baxter’s phone number.

Nevertheless, they came out swinging with a full horn section, three backup singers (aka the Danettes) and “Bodhisattva” leading the way. That got a few folks out of their seats. “How you doin’?” Donald Fagan called out. “You look pink.” The more laid-back “Black Cow” and “Hey Nineteen,” featuring Fagan on the harmonium, pretty much put everyone back in their seat, but there wasn't a dip in the momentum. Later, The Danettes stepped up to trade verses on “Dirty Work,” and Carlton and drummer Keith Carlock kicked “Reelin' In The Years” into high gear. Even the poster of Duke Ellington that adorned the front of Fagan’s keyboard seemed to be having a good time.

By this time, the sun had set and the stadium started to cool down. Anticipation for the Eagles' first full performance in two years without Glenn Frey was stirring in the air. Tonight, Don Henley (the sole original member), Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit were joined by country singer and guitarist Vince Gill and Frey’s son Deacon for an epic 23-song set loaded with classic Eagles songs.

Finally, at a quarter to nine, the main event arrived. The spotlights narrowed their focus on six figures — Henley, Walsh, Schmit, Gill, Deacon Frey and longtime Eagles guitarist Steuart Smith — and then the harmonies that grace “Seven Bridges Road” oozed over the audience like a soft and comfy security blanket. Tears flowed, lighters and cell phones illuminated the stadium, and everyone shared the same sentiment: The Eagles are back!

For the next two hours, the Eagles’ greatest hits were trotted out and taken in. “Take It Easy” featured Deacon Frey, who sported a Dodgers jersey and sunglasses propped above his forehead, a lot like his father in both appearance and voice. Vince Gill really stepped up to the plate vocally when he sang “Take It To The Limit,” originally sung by the band’s original bassist Randy Meisner, and followed it up with a moving rendition of “Tequila Sunrise.”

The group — rounded out with Scott Crago, who played drums when Henley came out front, along with keyboardists Will Hollis and Michael Thompson — kept it pretty mellow for the most part as they strolled through classics like “I Can’t Tell You Why” (Schmit’s first Eagles lead vocal and the band’s final Top 10 hit), “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” (another one with the younger Frey on lead vocals), “New Kid In Town” (Gill handled it beautifully), and “Already Gone” (yet another one with Deacon Frey at the head of the table).

Once the ball bounced into Joe Walsh’s court (yes, another sports metaphor), the place began to rock. First there was “In The City,” Walsh’s song for the 1979 film The Warriors that was subsequently re-recorded by the Eagles for The Long Run. After Bob Seger’s surprise appearance on “Heartache Tonight,” which he co-wrote with Glenn Frey, Don Henley and J.D. Souther, Walsh took over with his own “Life’s Been Good” and “Funk #49,” the salty rocker he recorded with James Gang back in 1970.

Henley, of course, sang all his Eagles hits, including “One Of These Nights,” “Witchy Woman,” “Best of My Love” and the main set closer, “Life In The Fast Lane.” He returned to take the lead on the Grammy-winning “Hotel California,” inspired by the mystery of LA and the gumption of Steely Dan. For the second encore, Walsh got in his “Rocky Mountain Way,” and the night finished up with “Desperado.” By all accounts, the first day of The Classic was a raging success. How Sunday would play out was anyone’s guess. Certainly, Fleetwood Mac, Journey and Earth, Wind & Fire had their work cut out for them, and the return of the Eagles was going to be a tough act to follow. I was up to the challenge of finding out.

Sunday’s lineup was definitely more eclectic. I hadn’t seen openers Earth, Wind & Fire since the 1974 California Jam, and was curious about to seeing them. They’re not exactly a rock band, but their particular flavor of R&B appeals to rock fans. Just after 5:00 when they hit the stage, it was obvious the stadium was ready and primed to boogie down. The 1975 Number one hit “Shining Star” had everyone on their feet, doing the bump and shaking their rump. And it never let up.

The 11-man ensemble dressed in white was on a mission to spread the funk and share their history. The video screens on each side of the stage flashed images of vintage EWF and founder Maurice White, who passed away in 2016, as original members Phillip Bailey, Ralph Johnson and Verdine White (Maurice’s younger brother) honored their fallen leader.

Their rendition of the Beatles’ “Got To Get You Into My Life” solidified their “classic rock” credentials despite the song’s inclusion in the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club movie, starring Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees, arguably one of the goofiest movies ever made. They more than made up for it with a saucy stab at “That’s The Way Of The World,” which highlighted the horn section and Morris O’ Connor’s slick guitar work.

Watching the only band of the weekend with choreographed moves had the home of Dodgers in their grasp. Other hits like “September,” “Boogie Wonderland” and “Let’s Groove” were moving bodies in every direction — up and down the aisles, in the open areas behind the soundboard, in the stands. Bailey showed everyone he’s still a master falsetto before the famous EWF horn section, once known as the “Phenix Horns,” came up front and brought it home. It was a great way to start off Day 2 of The Classic West.

Journey, one of the most anticipated bands at The Classic, had a lot to live up to after EWF, and in some ways, they may have overstayed their welcome. Their set lifted off sprightly with “Separate Ways” and “Be Good To Yourself.” Arnel Pineda, celebrating 10 years as the band’s lead singer, is a ball of energy with a contagious enthusiasm.

The memory of Steve Perry, Pineda’s inspiration, was revived when guitarist Neal Schon, in a shiny red blazer, dedicated “Lights” to their former lead vocalist who left the band in the early 90s and virtually disappeared from the public eye. Actually, if you like elongated guitar solos, Schon unfurled plenty of them. Not to be outdone, Jonathan Cain played piano lines for a bit before “Open Arms” and “Who’s Crying Name” had arms swaying and cell phones lit up.

Drummer Steve Smith, in what can only be described as a “Technicolor” dress shirt, tapped his virtuosity behind the kit during his spot, providing a lesson in precision drumming with screen close-ups of his feet working the drum pedals. Even though the solos were exhausting and self-indulgent at times, no one can deny the band's high level of musicianship. Really though, it’s the pop songs that people love about Journey, so once the mighty anthem “Don’t Stop Believin’” was played, everyone was ready to lose their minds. It’s only too bad they had to roll out the ever-so mushy “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’” for an encore.

It all came down to Fleetwood Mac to close The Classic West in style. Back at Dodger Stadium a year after their only 2016 concert, the members of Fleetwood Mac have been busy with their own lives, leaving fans in the dark about the group's future. Stevie Nicks toured with the Pretenders, Mick Fleetwood worked on his autobiography, John McVie battled cancer and won, and Lindsay Buckingham and Christine McVie recorded an album together.

Tonight, while some of the performances seemed phoned in, the Mac kept the hits coming as they dug into their coveted songbook. “The Chain” held everyone in suspension before Christine McVie lightened the mood with “You Make Loving Fun.” Nicks rallied the troops by asking everyone to get the party started before slipping into “Rhiannon.” For first-timers, Fleetwood Mac was doing everything right.

There was speculation that the USC Trojan Marching Band would return to the scene of the crime of the famous video they filmed with Fleetwood Mac in the 70s at Dodger Stadium for “Tusk.” It didn’t happen, although segments of the video showed up during the song. Later, Buckingham astounded the audience with his frenetic fret work, accompanied by an assortment of grunts and howls. Nicks would join him for “Landslide,” dedicated to Glenn Frey and his son Deacon for “stepping in and doing a great job” the night before.

Nicks, typically in a gypsy black gown, added a gold steampunk shawl to her wardrobe during “Gold Dust Woman” and delivered her best vocal of the night. The group was finally in sync. “Go Your Own Way” had the stadium rocking, and “Don’t Stop,” the final song of the night, was followed by a brief and intense display of fireworks. The Classic West came to a joyous close.

The Classic East should come off without a hitch and New Yorkers should expect an entertaining show that could set the trend for more to follow. In fact, as of this writing, a third show from The Classic franchise has already been announced. The Classic Northwest will be a one-day event on September 30 in Seattle with only the Doobie Brothers and the Eagles on board. Could this lead to a Southeast Classic in Atlanta? A Midwest Classic in Chicago? Who knows. As performers from the classic rock era take their final bows, events like Desert Trip and The Classic may continue to pique interest and preserve the legacy as long as people of all ages keep coming.

More Photos From The Classic West

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