As Joe Walsh hit the homestretch with his signature “Life’s Been Good,” the giant rear screen showed us snapshots of the singer-guitarist with rock’s upper tier of royalty: Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, Keith Richards and Ron Wood, Pete Townshend, Bruce Springsteen … the list goes on.
And there are photos of him with Kenny Chesney and Dave Grohl, who grew up with the 69-year-old Walsh as a rock hero.
But none of those guys, young or old, ever starts a show by sauntering out alone, hands in jacket pockets, to chat up a crowd and crack a few jokes.
“Ordinary Average Guy”? Maybe. (And yes, it was the second song.) It was at least the ultimate in classic-rock relatability.
Walsh made a “Taxi Driver” shtick of repeating his trademark “Howya doin’?” Then he talked about everything from these six House of Blues shows through Jan. 21 (“A residency? I don’t know what that is”) to the year just ended (“I didn’t like that so much”) to the one just starting (“The first 100 days are gonna be a hoot”).
It made the next two hours seem like hanging out with an old friend. Or two, given the other blond on stage: Waddy Wachtel, the California guitar legend who is Walsh’s age and played for everyone from Linda Ronstadt to Stevie Nicks.
Walsh also had two keyboard players, two drummers and four backup singers. With that kind of firepower, we probably should have anticipated a couple of rock-odyssey excursions. The stretched-out, multipart blowouts “The Confessor” and “The Bomber” followed the lead of Carlos Santana: The House of Blues may be a casino gig, but it’s not a “casino gig” pared down to the most accessible hits.
But there were plenty of those too, from the opening James Gang number “Walk Away” from 1971 to “A Life of Illusion” from 10 years later. “I don’t know what year this would be. We were gonna do a timeline, but I couldn’t remember so it didn’t work,” Walsh explained. Longtime fans got the nod with “Help Me Through the Night,” the 1974 ballad that had Walsh on acoustic guitar, giving Wachtel the electric solo.
Solo albums and the James Gang mean Walsh relies less on his work with the Eagles than Don Felder, whose Venetian run overlapped Walsh’s House of Blues series for a weekend. Walsh dedicated “Take It to the Limit” to the late Glenn Frey and later served up “Life in the Fast Lane” — which he co-wrote with Frey and Don Henley — after mock protest that it’s “a real pain in the ass to play.”
The title track to his 2012 album “Analog Man” offered Walsh a chance to play the grumpy old man: “You can have your iPhone pointed at me, and put it on the internet. Or, you can just look up.” But it doesn’t really fit someone who asks so many times, “Are you good?”
We were. Walsh’s voice isn’t as strong as his guitar these days. And for an “Analog Man,” big-screen video on every single song can be distracting. Race cars on “Fast Lane”? Pretty doggone literal, Joe. But no arguments when, near the end, he assessed, “I think it’s a damn good first night.”
When we agreed, he advised us, “Keep your chin up and your head down.” And then he played “Fast Lane” and “Rocky Mountain Way” to send us home. A longtime friend indeed.