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Concert Review: Former Eagles Guitarist Don Felder Soars in Solo Show

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Don Felder at Havana, 9/17/13

Don Felder at Havana, 9/17/13

If Don Henley and Glenn Frey were the Lennon & McCartney of The Eagles, then Don Felder must be the George Harrison of the best-selling California band. While Henley and Frey were the main singers and songwriters in that group, Felder, like Harrison, was the architect of its guitar magic, the band’s most creative soloist. Odds are that if you hear a memorable guitar solo on an Eagles record, it’s Don “Fingers” Felder who laid it down.

Felder, who ceased to be an Eagle in the year 2000, tours under his own name these days, but judging by the performance he and his band turned in on Sept. 17, 2013, the man still has plenty of Eagles magic under his wing.

Don Felder Band at Havana, 9/17/13

Don Felder Band at Havana, 9/17/13

The 9/17 show as held at Havana, a nightclub/restaurant based in scenic New Hope, Pa. While Havana is typically a standing-room situation, the club had reserved seating for this show.

While Felder has a fine new CD, Road to Forever, to promote, his show very heavily emphasized Eagles material; he only did two tracks from Road to Forever, as well as one popular solo song from years past, and one heartfelt cover of another artist.

To me, that’s smart business. Felder is best known as an Eagle, and the band’s songs are the ones that will put butts in the seats. Plus, if you were on some of the greatest records ever, wouldn’t you want to play them live?

Don Felder and Frank Simes at Havana, 9/17/13

Don Felder and Frank Simes at Havana, 9/17/13

I figured Felder would save what’s probably the band’s most iconic song, “Hotel California” (for which he wrote the music) as an encore, but, nope, he played it right out of the gate, delivering a solid recreation in which he played not only his lines from the guitar duel at the end with Joe Walsh, but also Walsh’s parts.

Doing “Hotel California” first also allayed any fears that Felder and his unbelievable band would be able to recreate the Eagles sound with authenticity. The harmonies, delivered by Felder’s band members (guitarist Frank Simes, keyboardist Timothy Drury, bassist Shem von Schroeck and drummer Scott Devours) were impeccable recreations of the unforgettable Eagles wall of vocals.

So, yes, this was, for all intents and purposes, an Eagles show. And how cool was it to see a member of the band in such an intimate setting, so close? From “Hotel California”, Felder and band moved on to fine renditions of “Already Gone” and “One Of These Nights.” The thing with a repertoire like the Eagles’ is that there’s so much to dip into that one could easily fill two nights with familiar hits.

Don Felder Band at Havana, 9/17/13

Don Felder Band at Havana, 9/17/13

Felder chose well, and following those two classics, the guitarist (who switched guitars constantly) strapped on a gold Stratocaster and asked the question “Does anyone here like Stevie Ray Vaughan?” Felder certainly does, as he ripped into a spot-on rendition of SRV’s “Pride And Joy.”

Next up, he did one of two songs from Road to Forever that he performed during the show. “Wash Away,” which is based around the phrase “wash away the pain”, could certainly be interpreted as Felder’s reflections on his painful split from The Eagles—or perhaps it’s about a love affair. Interpret is as you will, but it was one of the most moving moments of the night, and probably Felder’s best vocal performance in the show.

A few words about Felder as a lead singer: Yes, Felder sang all of the leads, and no, he did not sing them on the original Eagles records, and yes, he did a fine job. Hearing a different voice interpreting these classics originally sung by Don Henley and Glenn Frey freshened them up for me. Felder may not have the most polished lead voice of The Eagles past and present, but he sang with a great deal of heart and feeling, and hit all the notes—even the high ones.

Scott Devours and Shem von Schroeck of Don Felder Band, 9/17/13

Scott Devours and Shem von Schroeck of Don Felder Band, 9/17/13

It did sound like the keys were lowered on a few songs—“Heartache Tonight” was one notable case of that. But I really enjoyed hearing Felder’s take on this material. As a live band, The Eagles are known for recreating the performances on their records with great precision and authenticity. That’s nice, and admirable, but doesn’t make for the most vivid live performances. Hearing a new voice take on these tracks gave them a welcome new spin. And hell, he was there when they were recorded (mostly). Why shouldn’t he sing ’em?

Although I was fine with Felder as lead vocalist, I did take umbrage with the way his vocals were mixed. Put simply, he was often buried in the mix. I was on the top floor at Havana, so I was getting a lot of sound from the bass and guitar amps and drums. The band’s backing vocals were coming through loud and clear, but Felder was hard to hear at times. That’s a shame, because he was doing a good job and those are great melodies and lyrics he’s singing. Perhaps that’s how he wants it? Perhaps it sounded different to those below? I can’t be sure, but I would’ve liked it if he’d have gotten a boost in the sound picture.

Frank Simes and Timothy Drury of Don Felder Band, 9/17/13

Frank Simes and Timothy Drury of Don Felder Band, 9/17/13

Beyond that, the mix was perfect—not too loud, but everything was audible and had a nice presence. The keyboards were a bit buried at times, but as Drury was playing more of a supportive role behind the guitars and the vocals, that wasn’t too detrimental.

In addition to “Wash Away,” Felder also did another track from Road to Eternity, the more whimsical and upbeat “Girls in Black,” later in the set. His only other non-Eagles song performed was the one that’s most likely his best-known solo track, “Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride).” As Felder related when I interviewed him in 2012, this song, which was featured in the 1981 animated sci-fi classic film Heavy Metal, has become a stoner anthem over the years, and gained new popularity when it was used in an episode of South Park that paid homage to the film. (Incidentally, the song started out as a demo for The Eagles with the rough title “You’re Really High, Aren’t You?”)

Don Felder at Havana, 9/17/13

Don Felder at Havana, 9/17/13

The rest of the show was devoted to Eagles songs, and Felder chose well, hitting “Victim Of Love” (which he originally was going to sing on Hotel California), “PPeaceful Easy Feeling,” “Tequila Sunrise,” “The Long Run,” “Witchy Woman” and “Life In The Fast Lane,” among others. Standout tracks included a dark song from The Long Run, “Those Shoes,” which featured Simes and Felder on dueling voice-box guitar hookups (along the lines of what Peter Frampton immortalized on “Do You Feel Like We Do?”); and a lovely rendition of the mostly-accapella “Seven Bridges Road” that showed off the band’s five-way harmony singing to great effect.

After a brief encore round of applause, Felder came out and said “OK, we’re going to do one more.” The band launched into “Take It Easy,” an undeniable favorite from The Eagles‘ 1972 debut album. Felder hadn’t joined the band by that time, so he’s not on the original record, but he certainly played it countless times over the years as a member of the group, and it’s one of The Eagles’ iconic, good-timey, remember-that-on-the-radio songs that Felder wisely knows his audience wants to hear. It was met with a rapturous standing ovation, most deservedly.

A few words about the band: what a bunch of players! These are top-notch guys, top to bottom, with impressive credentials. Simes and Devours were both in the touring band for the recent U.S. tour by The Who. Devours plays with power and precision that one would expect from that band, and Simes was outstanding in his supportive guitarist role, giving Felder the power chords and dual lead lines that enabled him to recreate The Eagles’ guitar sound so effectively this night. Bassist von Schroeck has played and sung with Kenny Loggins, Ambrosia and many more—the guy’s even an opera singer on the side. His bass playing was spot-on and his high harmonies ably filled the roles of Randy Meisner and Timothy B. Schmidt in The Eagles. Drury, who played with The Eagles during Felder’s last years with the band, ably contributed the keyboard fills and foundations that filled out the music—nothing flashy, but exactly what was called for, and like his bandmates, a vital part of the show’s astounding harmony singing.

Despite some sound tweaks I wish were made, this was a stellar performance by Felder and band. No one walked away disappointed.

Lisa Bouchelle at Havana, 9/17/13

Lisa Bouchelle at Havana, 9/17/13

The show was opened by Lisa Bouchelle, a New Jersey-based singer-songwriter. Armed only with an acoustic guitar, along with a second acoustic guitarist, she did a nice job in an undesirable spot (I always feel bad for opening acts, because crowds usually don’t want to see ‘em), playing her bouncy, tuneful original songs with spirit and soul. Bouchelle has an excellent voice and is a likeable onstage personality; she’s definitely someone I’d like to hear more from. I think she impressed many of the Felder fans in the audience that night, and for an opening act, I’d say: mission accomplished.

So, to wrap up, this was a terrific show, one I’d rather see at this point than a full Eagles concert (a ticket is much cheaper, too). It was amazing music performed in a fresh way, with lots of spirit and love, for all the right reasons, by a band of stellar musicians. I’d wholeheartedly recommend that you check out Felder when his tour comes to your area. You won’t regret it—especially if they mix his voice better in your town.

Go to www.donfelder.com for further information and upcoming tour dates.

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