The Eagles followed the Dixie Chicks on Thursday, but both of them were opening acts, as it were, for the night’s headliner — the gleaming new Nokia Theatre, an impressive 7,100-seat venue where, appropriately, the cellphone reception is just swell. Bearing a marginal resemblance to the Universal Amphitheater, the site isn’t nearly so cavernous as the nearby Staples Center and, at least based on the opener to this six-night stand, features topnotch acoustics and accoutrements, although one had to pity the poor ushers assigned to keep enthusiastic baby boomers from taking their tepid dance moves into the aisles.
Laid out so that 60% of the seats are in the orchestra and the furthest spot is a mere 220 feet from the stage, the Nokia helps out the side boxes and mezzanine with large TV screens above, on either side and (in the case of the Eagles) behind the stage. There have already been talks to designate the venue as a regular home for the Emmys, and given the size and location, it should quickly siphon away events from some more tattered mid-sized local venues, beginning with the Shrine.
As for the show itself, the Eagles’ latest “Yep, we’re back again” tour began with a workmanlike string of four songs from the band’s new CD, which the audience listened to politely. After that, it was karaoke night, as the group delivered a parade of classic material from “Hotel California” to “Desperado,” in a nearly-two-hour set that managed to be both predictable and pleasing.
Admittedly, not all the Eagles have endured the test of time equally. Don Henley still sounds terrific, and his rendition of “Boys of Summer” — augmented by a cool spotlight effect — was perhaps the night’s signature moment. By contrast, Joe Walsh’s voice — not exactly a finely tuned instrument in its best days — has devolved into a painful wail, and when he belted out the new CD’s “Guilty of the Crime,” the title seemed particularly descriptive.
Still, the group has such a terrific library of songs that it’s hard to go wrong, even inspiring the heavily tilted assemblage of VIPs and media to get on their feet and stay there once the best-of repertoire kicked in.
That crowd dynamic was slightly less hospitable to the Dixie Chicks, which kicked off the night with a crisp hour-long set highlighted by lead singer Natalie Maines’ powerful version of the recent Grammy winner “Not Ready to Make Nice.” Even addressing an L.A. crowd predisposed to respond to that politically charged anthem (notably, the trio made their entrance to “Hail to the Chief”), the performance pretty much blew away anything the Eagles could muster later in the evening.
That said, there were a number of conspicuously empty seats when the Chicks started playing (their first outing since the Grammys, Maines noted), prompting her to marvel about an audience that paid nearly $300 a ticket showing up that fashionably late for the new theater’s coming-out party. “Only in L.A.,” she said.