Much like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Neil Young, the alleged grudge between the Eagles and Steely Dan in the 1970s was substantially overblown, with their half-digs at one another in “Hotel California” and “Everything You Did” more good-natured winking than genuine beef. From the vantage point of 2023, it’s easier to see some parallels between the two bands. Both spent the 1970s being miserable in one way or another, though Steely Dan leaned into it with cracked glee while the Eagles simply took it out on each other. And the current incarnations of both bands feature only one remaining original member, the others having left, been fired, or died over the course of half a century.
So when Don Henley saluted tourmates Steely Dan as “our fellow survivors from the ‘70s” Monday at the TD Garden (the first of two shows; both bands return Wednesday), he may have been overstating things a touch. But even if Donald Fagen’s co-conspirator Walter Becker is no more, the fact that Steely Dan is any kind of touring concern these days — let alone the enthusiastic one that opened the show with an hourlong set list seemingly designed to appease Eagles fans who might be less patient with the esoterica that a dedicated Steely Dan audience would eat up — was itself a wonder.
Clad in shades and hunched behind his electric piano, Fagen cut a figure like Ray Charles, and he seemed about as frisky as was possible for him to get. Sung by backing vocalists Catherine Russell, Carolyn Leonhart, and La Tanya Hall while Fagen stuck to his instrument, “Dirty Work” captured a more acute hurt than on record, while the distance of time morphed the subject matter of “Hey Nineteen” from frustration into nostalgia for the days when the narrator dated women too young for him. (Sobering thought: 19 would be 62 now.) And what “Aja” lacked in rigid perfectionism, it made up for in immediacy, thanks in no small part to Keith Carlock’s drums driving the song from the back.
As for the Eagles, the explicit billing of their current tour as their final one might stretch credulity from a band that’s sworn “never again” countless times, but the recent loss of founding bassist Randy Meisner, following co-frontman Glenn Frey’s 2016 death, adds weight to the vow. Despite Timothy B. Schmit long having taken Meisner’s place and Deacon Frey’s voice filling in for his father’s comfortably (albeit without the same presence) on “Take It Easy,” “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” and “Already Gone,” it was country star Vince Gill who served as an effective stand-in for both, mastering both the lush and lifting “Take It to the Limit” and “New Kid in Town,” where his vocal cadences leaned into the latter song’s Nashville side.
But while Joe Walsh was in his own classic form, spewing out gibberish nonsense by way of introduction to “Life’s Been Good” and playing guitar with elegant, forceful purpose, it was Henley who seemed the least diminished by the passage of time. Whether behind the drum kit or center stage, he was in strong voice throughout, nailing the falsetto ooh-hoos of the disco-adjacent “One of These Nights,” riding the shimmering melancholy of “The Boys of Summer,” and chewing on the fleet, electric “Life in the Fast Lane” with gusto. And the pitying cautionary tale/warning of “Desperado” came across all the more sharply with the wisdom accrued through five additional decades of life experience.
More importantly, when all voices onstage came together — as on the bluegrass opener “Seven Bridges Road,” the harder-hitting rock of “In the City” and the rollicking, bluesy “Heartache Tonight” — the Eagles harmonies were unmistakably in place. In those moments, they made it seem like they could go on forever.
THE EAGLES: THE LONG GOODBYE TOUR
With Steely Dan. At TD Garden, Monday (repeats Wednesday)
Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @spacecitymarc.