Eagles, Dixie Chicks, Urban concert a sign of the times

Categories: Chicago Sun-Times

June 20, 2010

By MARK GUARINO | Chicago Sun-Times

Recession? What recession?

Depending on which side of the counter you stood, economic recovery fast forwarded or slid sharply in reverse at Soldier Field on Saturday when the Eagles headlined a triple bill that included the Dixie Chicks and Keith Urban.

A pricey greatest-hits tour in an outdoor sports stadium isn’t news, but what makes this outing significant is that it is the first test of concert giant Live Nation’s “all-in” ticket pricing. The new model is structured to combat the secondary ticket market by multiplying the available price tiers, from three or four to about 10, which conceivably creates a price point for every pocketbook and eliminates service fees. The problem was, at Soldier Field, affordability ($55) meant the furthest reaches of the stadium while the majority of seats were stretched closer to $225. Want to move even closer? Access to the first several rows cost up to $895, but that included a free dinner before the show.

Maxing out the ground level at those prices is bold considering the economic downturn, but what was particularly galling was the surprise Chicago fans encountered when they rolled into any Soldier Field parking lot: a $46 fee to park. Cash only, please.

The Eagles were the first band to break the $100 ticket barrier in the mid-1990s, proving a marketplace existed for premium access. With the U.S. Department of Justice approving the merging of Live Nation with Ticketmaster Entertainment in late January, the ceiling will likely rise due to a lockdown on almost every stage of the touring process.

Concert tickets obviously exist in a different league as reckless bank mortgages, but they both operate by the same principle: the market will expand according to the consumers willing to take the greatest risk. That commitment required the band’s two-hour set to remain conservative at all cost. Unlike the Eagles’ last tour cycle in 2008, songs from a recent double-album were shelved in favor of classic hits that were dutifully replicated by every guitar tone and harmony.

The strictly business approach is not one designed for rediscovery or even enthusiasm, and at times the personality of this musical franchise appeared quite grim. Core members Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Timothy B. Schmit looked weary in separate moments and together lacked the playful chemistry that typically engines big stadium shows.

Luckily there was Joe Walsh. Yet again saving this band with unhinged energy and a willingness to fail, Walsh was responsible for the set’s biggest moments. The guitarist embraced his crazy uncle persona by duck-walking across stage, accosting his fellow band members and hauling focus to the furthest reaches of the stage where he demanded the audience to follow.

He also chewed his way through his hits — “In the City,” “Life’s Been Good,” “Funk #49” — as if learning them, or remembering them, for the first time.

Despite how many tickets they sold, the Eagles, for all their vocal perfection and country-rock polish, largely performed as if they were in a theater, not Chicago’s most massive venue. Walsh recognized the difference and at times elevated the show to fit the setting.

Like the headliner, the Dixie Chicks similarly ignored the latest chapter in their history — a recent duo album by sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire — and played catalog highlights. Lead singer Natalie Maines, her hair now buzzed to pixie fuzz, performed with an unusual mixture of bulldog energy and vocal grace. The Chicks, augmented by six additional musicians, proved more dynamic than their veteran peers. Their style of country pop was tailored with snug harmonies too, but there was also exuberance, an intangible factor these ladies spread into every pocket of the stadium with particular ease.

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