The Best of the Eagles: Hotel California

Orchestra London:

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Sunday February 19, 2012

The Best of the Eagles; Hotel California: Orchestra London with Jeans 'n Classics
Red Hot Weekends Series February 2012

by Brian Hay

The first half had some astonishing highlights. Things weren't perfect. At times people seemed a little off and it turned out there'd been an issue with the tuning. The performers mostly transcended the problems though. The early moments featured some heavy work from the rhythm section of drummer Jeff Christmas and bassist Steve Hogg. On 'Witchy Woman' and 'The Long Run' they established a rumbling platform for the two ensembles build on. Under Conductor Mitch Tyler the musicians of Orchestra London were right at home weaving string parts around the thunder while their percussionists added some of their own. Their brass players painted the canvas with nice swatches of colour.

Things changed gears quickly with the introduction of a pair of songs from Don Henley's solo catalogue. The performance of 'The Boys of Summer' featured an arrangement by Jeff Christmas that was breathtakingly beautiful. Don Paulton delivered some great backing vocals behind lead singer Mike Shotton. That piece, and 'The End of the Innocence', drew the first of some deeply emotional performances from him. It was hard to imagine how he was going to follow it. It turned out to be the question that didn't need to be asked.

The first half cruised to its conclusion with inspired performances of monster hits like 'Tequila Sunrise', 'Take It Easy' and 'Get Over It'. A point that really came to the fore was how easily the "California Rock" of the Eagles (which seems to have a flavour largely exclusive to them, Linda Rondstat and Warren Zevon) lends itself to tasteful string arrangements. They were very prominent throughout the show and were often used to replace or augment segments normally reserved for the guitar. Peter Brennan's arrangements had the two instrumental groupings, literally, singing together.

The second half was where the ensemble really found their flow. 'Hotel California' opened with a tasty string arrangement that paved the way for a performance of the song that has to be called, sexy. The rhythm section shifted to a more restrained (but no less aggressive) mode and the performers wove a silken carpet over top of it. Keyboardist Don Paulton kept his parts prominent but tasty. Concertmaster Joe Lanza stepped forward and kept a ravishing melodic line prominent with his violin. When he and guitarist Dave Dunlop exchanged solos they made it seem as if that was the way it should always have been done. Peter Brennan supplied exemplary rhythm work. Mike Shotton found a "next level" somewhere and his voice began to really soar. Backing vocalists Katalin Kiss and Rique Franks created a shimmering presence behind him.

After delicious renditions by Mike Shotton of 'New Kid In Town' and 'Wasted Time', Rique Franks and Katalin Kiss work seemed to create an essence around his lead that rose and formed a spiritual cloak around what he sang. Their delivery was a model of taste and restraint all night. Mike's singing developed an ever deepening yearning that made the performance increasingly emotional as the show moved ahead. By the time they reached 'The Last Resort' there was a feeling on the stage and in the audience that made this a very moving experience. They closed with encores of 'Heartache Tonight' and a performance of 'Desperado' that was the sort dreams are made from.

The shows with Jeans 'n Classics are at their best when albums are performed in their entirety. Good performers make the transitions between diverse material pretty easily (or at least make it look that way) but when the two models are seen side by side the difference is as plain as day. With material where continuity is already established transitions seem almost ethereal. Conductor Mitch Tyler and the musicians of Orchestra London achieved integration with the rock band that was seamless. The Jeans 'n Classics group played so comfortably breaks between songs became virtually invisible. The whole thing came forward like a single wave rolling toward a shore.

At the end of it all the centre of this show was Mike Shotton. He has the range, lots of charisma and a healthy amount of rock and roll swagger that he uses tirelessly to engage the audience. He's also a deeply thoughtful individual who puts his heart out there for the audience to to share. The intensity of of his performance was, in part, because its what he does, but it was a bittersweet moment with him opening that bit of himself to the people he sang to.

That type of humanity is what always makes live shows stand above anything else.

This performance took place at Centennial Hall in London Ontario on Saturday February 18, 2012. This review was written to convey impressions of what it was like to be there.

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Singer and Composer Michael Shotton
Photo Courtesy of Jeans 'n Classics

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