Alter Eagles Norden Farm Centre for the Arts 27/11/21
Let’s get the confession out of the way quickly. I’ve always resisted tribute bands. Deep down I’ve found it hard to separate them from the cover bands playing in your local. When bands like Bjorn Again, The Strolling Bones or the Australian Pink Floyd start to headline festivals, a piece of me thinks the world has gone just a little mad. And if I really want to hear a recreation of songs that are as close to the original as it’s possible to get, why not go the whole hog and just listen to the original songs at home?
The Norden Farm Centre of the Arts musician's eye view before the audience arrives
Alter Eagles made Norden Farm Centre for the Arts the country rock capital of Berkshire for one night on 27/11/21. It’s an excellent community arts centre with a capacity of just over 200 in the main theatre. Being a proper theatre, the stage is a good size - that’s important if you have six band members and want to see some movement from them during the evening. Being a proper theatre too means there’s lots of car parking, a good bar, a chance to eat before the show, ice creams for the interval and, best of all, a raffle. As with many such organisations, Norden Farm relies on the generosity of patrons to make a significant contribution to its funding, so any evening out there is accompanied by the warm feeling of doing a good deed.
Recently I signed up as a volunteer steward and it was in that role that I found myself scheduled to help at a performance of the Alter Eagles. It’s a great name and, as I also confess to a guilty liking for The Eagles if the circumstances are right, a good place to start my tribute band experience. The only drawback was an inability to take photos while on duty, and the fact that, anyway, photos and videos were not allowed.
The Original Eagles
The Alter Eagles understand the tribute band game. We’ve come to hear the hits, all the hits and nothing but the hits. That’s what we get, with a few Joe Walsh and Don Henley solo songs thrown in for good measure. That’s a set list that is better than any set list the Eagles would have used. They’d have plugged the new album, played the serious album tracks and slotted a few of their personal favourites into the set. This isn’t a set up where you want or need surprises.
The band are engagingly deprecating. They talk down the one song from outside the Eagles glory years but play it with genuine flair anyway. It’s a running joke that their attention from fans falls short of the attention given to the original band. They teased and promised ‘Hotel California’ throughout. And as early as the second song they’re working the crowd, encouraging hand claps and handing vocal duties for some choruses to the audience. (And we were good, we were very good!)
Not the greatest Altered Eagles tribute band ever.
The joking stops when the music starts.
It took a little getting used to the fact that Alter Eagles may sound like their heroes, but they don’t all look like them. That said, their ability to replicate the sound is impressive. The Eagles had several vocalists. Altered Eagles nail them all. Their harmonies, to these ears, are spot on. ‘Desperado’ stands out, but the harmonies throughout are perfect.
And the power chords! It's been a long, long time since I’ve heard power chords of the kind they hammered out in ‘Life In The Fast Lane’ and the thrill raised the hairs on the back of my neck. The guitar work is excellent, and the interplay between the two main guitarists is an ongoing highlight.
Personal highlights were ‘Take It To The Limit’, ‘Rocky Mountain Way’, Heartache Tonight’ and, yes, ‘Hotel California.’ They played for nearly two hours and left us wanting more. In my case, I’d have loved to have heard ‘The Sad Cafe’ - maybe next time.
In the end though, none of this matters. The only consideration is : Did the audience enjoy themselves? Well, there was enthusiastic singing along, dancing in the aisles and balconies, rapturous applause and smiles at the end that may need cosmetic surgery to remove. I think that’s a yes.
And have I changed my mind about tribute bands? If they’re this good, capturing the essence of the band and the joy of the era they’re covering, I think I have.