Walsh was just as happy to be there, telling the Friday night crowd late in the set that the shows that he plays with the Eagles are on a “grand scale” compared to the size of the theaters that he’s playing on this current run. “It’s good to play a place this size,” he told them. “I miss it.” Anytime the one-time Kent resident plays the Cleveland area, it’s an experience that’s not to be missed, and that’s something that was immediately clear entering the parking lot for the venue, where fans were tailgating and picnicking. One group of fans had a selection of framed classic rock albums proudly on display, tiled across the outside of their truck’s back window like awards — including Walsh’s But Seriously, Folks
album. Inside the venue, there were more James Gang shirts per square foot than you’re likely to see at any gig on the rest of the tour.
Opening with a strong version of the James Gang classic “Walk Away,” Walsh quickly got down to business, digging into an extended guitar solo that showed off his slide guitar skills early as he put his pedal board through a workout, using a variety of effects throughout the solo. He was quick to address the crowd at the conclusion, “It’s good to be home,” he said, strapping on an acoustic. “There’s a lot of friends here tonight and I made a lot of new friends earlier today at the record store.”
Walsh had made an appearance at the area’s Record Connection that afternoon, spending 90 minutes signing autographs, taking pictures and meeting fans. It was an event that came about partially as a result of a conversation that Walsh had with Dave Grohl when the request came in. Grohl, a Warren native, played a special Record Store Day show with the Foo Fighters at the store back in April, and gave Walsh the thumbs up, telling him it was something he should do. “That went down pretty good,” he told the audience. “But too many people showed up! I thought I was going to sign two autographs — instead, I said, ‘Shit, I’m going to be here all afternoon!’”
An exciting element of the current tour is the fact that Walsh and his band spent time rehearsing an extensive number of songs for the setlist, including a number of rarities that hadn’t been played in many years and in some cases, played at all. The Barnstorm-era “Mother Says,” absent from the setlist for more than 30 years, made a welcome appearance, complete with visuals that included the angry mom from the ‘80s “Parents Just Don’t Understand” music video by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Random, but typically random Joe Walsh humor, right? “Shadows,” from 1983’s You Bought It,You Name It
, unleashed a brilliantly psychedelic haze of murky guitar and synths, with a slide-heavy solo from Walsh.
The eight-piece band (including three background vocalists) that surrounded Walsh proved to be a well-chosen grouping of players, with Canton native and longtime Walsh associate Joe Vitale (who also played keyboards throughout the night) sharing drumming duties with Drew Hester (“He plays with the Foo Fighters — but I’ve never seen him there,” Walsh joked with the crowd during band introductions, when talking about Hester). Vitale and Hester were a solid combo, locking in with precision at key moments throughout the night, particularly during a spirited run through the James Gang favorite, “The Bomber,” which features a number of stops and starts that the pair and band hit with ease, earning a standing ovation at the end of the track. The expanded band would help to flesh out some of the songs, such as the Eagles-era “In The City” that feature larger production.
Outside of the music, some of the best moments came simply from the Ohio memories and stories that Walsh shared throughout the night. He recalled that the first time the James Gang had played Packard, they had been on a bill with Glass Harp. “I heard Phil [Keaggy] play and said, ‘I’m not as good as I thought.’” Another memorable night found Walsh in the James Gang’s equipment van which ran into some issues and with only reverse as the only available gear as a traveling option, he found himself driving backwards for 17 miles to get to a gas station.
He sent out kudos from the stage to James Gang drummer Jimmy Fox and bassist Dale Peters, who were both in attendance, For those who might have been hoping for a James Gang moment, they got at least a partial fulfillment of that wish, as Walsh invited Fox onstage to share drumming duties with Vitale on the James Gang’s “Funk #49.” It was quite a moment, with the men sharing an embrace as Fox took his place behind the kit before the start of the song, and then a high five at the conclusion.
In between, there would be plenty of jamming, including an EDM breakdown in the middle of the song that featured an appearance from a member of the road crew with a T-shirt cannon. Fox, who was grinning constantly throughout the performance, never missed a beat. You wouldn't have known it was reportedly the first time that the two Ohio-area drummers had ever shared the stage together — they were seamlessly connected.
Naturally, with so many politicians out on the campaign trail, it was time once again for Walsh to address his possible candidacy (we saw at least one campaign sign mentioning Walsh in the audience) and while he wouldn’t commit to a national run, he did joke that perhaps he’d be willing to run for President of Ohio. “My campaign slogan: ‘Free Money,’” he told fans. “How much do you need? I don’t know, how much have you got?”
Walsh is working on his memoir (which has to be called Life’s Been Good
or something similar, right?) and one thing that was pretty clear during his 100 minute performance on Friday night was that with all of the stories that were told, he might do well to publish a separate Ohio edition of those tales. We could have listened to Walsh tell those stories all night and thankfully, he told plenty of them. During a conversation with us prior to the show, Vitale told us that he hoped the current tour dates will lead to more shows next year — and we echo those thoughts — the Packard show left many in the room satisfied and hoping for an encore appearance.
Joe Walsh couldn’t have asked for a better homecoming reception than the one he got in Warren, where he opened his tour at the Packard Music Hall with a two-night stand that concluded last night. Both shows were packed to the gills with fans who were happy for the chance to see the Eagles guitarist in a more intimate space. Check out a slideshow of pictures from Wednesday night’s show