“I never planned on living this long, but here I am,” said Joe Walsh on the stage of the auditorium of Montclair High School, Saturday night.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer — who graduated with the class of 1965, and is now 67 — came back, in his 50th graduation anniversary year, for a sold-out concert that celebrated the school’s 100th anniversary and raised money for library renovation at the school and the creation of a media center. (He also talked to students at the school on Friday.) His father and brother were in attendance, as well as his best high school friend.
If he has any angst connected to his MHS years, he didn’t mention it. His wife Marjorie, speaking to the crowd before he took the stage, said that he had had a “transformative experience” at the school. And while Walsh himself joked that “I’m lucky I’m not still in high school,” he had only good things to say about that time in his life.
It wasn’t a one-off show, but the ninth concert in a tour that also brought him to the Beacon Theatre in New York on Thursday, and will include a performance today at the Unite to Face Addiction Rally in Washington, D.C. (Walsh has had his own struggles with alcohol and cocaine, but has been sober for more than 20 years.) He was backed by a nine-piece band (anchored by drummer Joe Vitale, a collaborator since the ’70s), and videos were projected on a large screen behind the stage. There was even a bit of a laser show at one point.
I’ve seen Walsh many times with The Eagles (where he has been, by far, the most dependably dynamic band member in recent years), but never in a solo show, so I was glad to have an opportunity to hear him stretch out a bit. In addition to the expected hits, he was able to include stuff like “Mother Says” and the protest song “Turn to Stone,” both from his 1972 debut album Barnstorm. He also performed the title track of his 2012 album Analog Man, though it was a bit odd to hear this statement of consternation at new technology in a benefit for a school’s new media center.
He opened with the burly James Gang hit “Walk Away”; another James Gang song, “Funk #49,” was a late highlight. He touched on his work with The Eagles with “Life in the Fast Lane,” “In the City” and “Pretty Maids All in a Row.” He introduced his biggest solo hit, “Life’s Been Good,” by joking that if he knew he would have had to perform it at every show for the rest of his life, he would have written something else.
For “Rocky Mountain Way,” he added Montclair High School student Matt Arons to his band, on guitar — a generous thing to do, and a moment that must have brought back memories, for Walsh, of his own days as a musically inclined MHS student.
Between songs, Walsh talked in that loopy, somewhat befuddled way that has been his shtick since the ’70s. “I was gonna say, ‘See if you remember this one,’ but let’s see if I remember it first,” he said while introducing “Life of Illusion.” But throughout the evening, his guitar playing was flawless, and his physical vitality was well above the norm for a classic-rocker approaching his 70s. No question, life’s been good to him so far.