The Classic East Forges History At Citi Field Corona, NY 7-29-17

Since the dawn of time, the sun, moon, planets, and stars have risen in the east and set in the west. An irrefutable fact of nature, when it comes to Rock-n-Roll, some of the most legendary stars rose into orbit out west the weekend of July 15th to 16th at Dodgers Stadium, and set in the east the weekend of July 30th to 31st at Citi Field. Arguably two of the most anticipated concert events of the summer season, The Classic West and The Classic East was led by six iconic bands – The Doobie Brothers, Earth Wind & Fire, Steely Dan, Journey, the Eagles, and Fleetwood Mac. A lineup for the ages consisting of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, multi-platinum hitmakers, and some of the most influential bands of all-time, music fans would be hard-pressed to find any Classic Rock concert better this side of the universe. 

A limited time offering, handpicking two of the biggest cities in America as their hosts, Los Angeles and New York, history was in the making as people from all corners of the Earth arrived in the borough of Queens on Saturday, July 30th, at Citi Field. The home of the New York Mets since 2009, on this mild late summer’s afternoon, approximately 40,000 fans gathered at the ballpark to witness a different kind of all-star lineup when Day 1 kicked off with The Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, and an exclusive performance from the Eagles. 

With clouds in the sky, while the temperature was well below the season’s average, it began to heat up relatively quickly as everyone entered Citi Field. Around were the amenities of a modern venue, capped off by the sight of an impressive stage set up in centerfield with massive 360 degree curved high definition screens to the back, as well as left and right. First class all the way, there was not a bad seat in the house as everyone cheered once The Doobie Brothers began around 5 PM.

A band that has built their legacy over five decades, California’s The Doobie Brothers began their journey in the ’70s when experimentation in Rock music was prevalent and plentiful. Unifying styles including Blues, Rock, Soul, as well as R&B, they would become one of the best selling acts of the era. Garnering over 40 million album sales and counting, The Doobie Brothers are without the shadow of a doubt Rock-n-Roll royalty. 

Currently on a summer tour with Chicago, The Doobie Brothers would be playing the New York area for the second consecutive night, visiting Jones Beach the night prior. Showing no signs of fatigue, the lineup of Patrick Simmons (guitar/vocals), Tom Johnston (guitar/vocals), John McFee (guitar/vocals), Bill Payne (keyboards), Marc Russo (saxophone), Ed Toth (drums), and John Cowan (bass/vocals) came out energized as they kicked things off with their recognizable rendition of “Jesus Is Just Alright.” From there it was a steady offering of favorites including “Takin’ It to the Streets,” “Black Water,” “Long Train Runnin’,” and “China Grove.” All performed crisply, the powerful sound system showcased the tunes in a magical fashion.

Mixing in deep tracks such as “Dark Eyed Cajun Woman,” The Doobie Brothers kept everyone on their feet through the encore of “Without You” and “Listen to the Music.” A perfect start to the day, one could not help but ponder why this band has yet to make it to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Well, now, more than ever, would be the right time. 

Keeping the music coming, the set change was relatively seamless as Steely Dan came on next approximately 30 minutes later. A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 2001, New York’s own Steely Dan are yet another innovator in the world of Rock music. Coming onto the scene in the early ’70s, the band led by Donald Fagen on piano/lead vocals and Walter Becker on guitar/vocals helped take Jazz Rock to new heights. Known for colorful instrumentation and soulful vocals, Steely Dan are certainly one of a kind. 

Playing select gigs in 2017, including a 9-night residency in Las Vegas back in April, Fagen came to the stage of The Classic East in high spirits, placing himself comfortably behind the keys. Joining him was Keith Carlock on drums, Jon Herington on guitar, Jim Beard on keyboards, Freddie Washington on bass, Michael Leonhart on trumpet, Jim Pugh on trombone, Roger Rosenberg on baritone saxophone, Walt Weiskopf on saxophone, along with backing vocalists La Tanya Hall, Carolyn Leonhart and Cindy Mizelle. Last, but certainly not least, highly accomplished Steely Dan alumni Guitarist Larry Carlton was on hand, taking the place of an ill Becker. 

Together, the immense band filled the air with smooth grooves including “Hey Nineteen,” 1977’s “Aja,” “Time Out of Mind,” and “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.” Tight, their musicianship shined as delicate piano notes played off heavy bass tones, melodic guitar work, and a colorful horn section. The essences of what makes Steely Dan who they are, Fagan’s voice was as distinct as ever as he hid by his shades, but remained interactive with the crowd, inspiring a few chuckles here and there. Mixing in other songs including “Black Friday,” “Dirty Work,” “Peg,” along with “Josie,” spectators remained on their feet for most of the performance with some even dancing in the aisles. 

Continuing on, keeping the mood relaxed and calm, Fagan and company figuratively shrunk the ballpark to that of a smoky underground Jazz club where everyone was lost in the music. Playing other songs including “My Old School,” they closed out with a bang as Carlton dazzled on lead guitar for “Reelin’ in the Years.” Wishing Walter Becker a speedy recovery, for those interested in seeing more live performances, be sure to check out Donald Fagen & The Nightflyers as they tour the country now through the end of September. 

At this point in the night any threat of rain had passed and it was turning into a cool, refreshing summer’s eve as a now packed Citi Field awaited the Eagles landing on stage. More than just another concert on a tour itinerary for the Eagles, this would only be the second full set the band has performed since the somber passing of founding Guitarist Glenn Frey in January of 2016. The other was at the Classic West two weeks prior out in Los Angeles, so to say this was a special event would be an understatement. As mentioned, people came from all corners of the world to see the show, ranging from Alabama to The Virgin Islands, to parts of Europe. Standing to reason, from a historic outlook, it does not get much bigger in the Classic Rock world than the Eagles. 

Formed out in Los Angeles back in 1971, the Eagles have attained 5 # 1 singles, 6 Grammy Awards, 5 American Music Awards, 6 # 1 albums, and their 1976 Greatest Hits album is one of the best selling of all-time. If that is not enough of a reason to pack out of baseball stadium to see the band, they have overcome internal differences to remain strong after reuniting in 1994 following a lengthy hiatus. Together, the Eagles form a special musical chemistry as they bring listeners their signature brand of Rock-n-Roll with tints of southern influence, heaviness, and Pop sensibility. All this said, the energy at Citi Field was palpable the moments prior to the band taking the stage.

Honestly not knowing what exactly to expect, seeing that Glenn Frey has passed on, there was an almost nervous tension floating through the air felt by all. Quite natural, but part of the joy of feeling, it all came to a peak when the band lined up in the moonlight to begin with “Seven Bridges Road.” A fitting way to break the ice, the harmonies sounded as flawless as ever, ensuring it would be a night to remember.

Then, emotions really began to soar as Glenn’s first born son, Deacon Frey, took his place on lead vocals of “Take It Easy.” A beautiful sight to see, one could only imagine the thoughts running through Deacon’s mind as he not only had to live up to the expectations of 40,000 screaming fans, but most of all, his own expectations to honor his father. Everyone knows that a father’s praise and approval is the best feeling a son can have, and judging by Deacon’s composure and strong voice, his dad was there in spirit smiling down on him.

From here, it felt like the actual performance was almost secondary to the idea this was in honor of Glenn. That is not to say the set was not wonderful, because it was. From genius Songwriter Vince Gill filling in on guitar/vocals taking the lead on “Take It to the Limit,” “Tequila Sunrise,” “Lyin’ Eyes,” “New Kid in Town,” and later “Heartache Tonight,” to everything else in between, it was impossible to find a flaw anywhere.

It was a hit fest where sitting down would simply be wrong as Don Henley offered favorites such as “One of These Nights,” “Witchy Woman,” “Best of My Love,” and a rare performance of “New York Minute.” Then there was the welcoming tone of Bassist Timothy B. Schmit as he provided delightful vocals on “I Can’t Tell You Why” and “Love Will Keep Us Alive.” But this was only a glimpse at the rubix cube that is the Eagles as Lead Guitarist Joe Walsh let his humorous, fun loving personally shine, performing his tunes “In the City,” “Life’s Been Good,” “Rocky Mountain Way,” as well as James Gang’s rocking “Funk #49.” 

Even still, one’s eyes could not help but keep returning to Deacon Frey as the humble young man did a sensational job fitting in with the band and singing lead on others tracks such as “Already Gone.” No easy task, with the lose of his father still very much in the forefront of his mind, Deacon took a deep breath as he expressed how much this meant to him and his family. Making him feel right at home, the massive crowd cheered in support of Deacon, not only for being the son of Glenn, but because he was sincerely fantastic. 

Quite a lengthy set, there was enough time for each member of the band to take a rightful place in the spotlight and they made the most of it while Henley sealed the deal with “Hotel California” and a heavy-hearted delivery of  “Desperado” that had everyone completely in awe before the band said one final goodbye. 

To put it simply, this was a show that will go down in history for the Eagles, one which they and their fans will never forget. A part of the healing process after losing a bandmate, friend, and a father, they put on a performance that would make Glenn proud. As for Classic East itself, it would only continue to create unforgettable moments as it continued the Classic Rock fantasy the very next day.

Photo credit: Mark Schoen Photography

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1 Comment

  • I was at the Day One of the Classic East concert, and it was just as you described… an incredible display of the blended, emerging sounds of the 70’s icon bands… with The Eagles performance truly one for the ages!!! Great article, you captured the essence and spirit of the event well… and, I was one I those dancing in the aisles, throughout the action-packed, magical evening! : )

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