Eagles: Hell Freezes Over

Eagles: Hell Freezes Over (1994)
Image Entertainment
Extras: One DTS Bonus track

When the Eagles reformed in 1994 for a semi-plugged concert for MTV on Warner’s Burbank Studios it seemed as if in fact, Hell had frozen over. When the Eagles disbanded in 1982 the band’s most distinctive voice, Don Henley said that Hell would have to freeze over for the popular band to get back together. Well it could be that the rather unsuccessful courses of the members’ solo careers helped a little, but when Don Henley, Glen Frey, Timothy B. Schmit, Don Felder and Joe Walsh entered the stage for this historic show the past 12 years seemed to be a long forgotten relic. This concert marks one of the most anticipated reunions in rock history and was certainly one of the more successful ones as the Eagles toured around the world after the release of the "Hell Freezes Over" album, playing before sold out houses literally every single night.

Recognized with three American Music Awards and millions in sales, "Hell Freezes Over" has immediately become one of the Eagles most successful albums. But although bassist Timothy B. Schmit had originally suggested the possibility of yet another Eagles album after picking up the American Music Awards, we have yet to see a follow up album to this charged live recording. Image Entertainment have now released "Hell Freezes Over" on DVD with a <$DTS,DTS> soundtrack as well as an alternative <$PCM,PCM> Stereo track and the result is impressive to say the least.

The Eagles were originally a California based country band who successfully released their first album, appropriately called "Eagles", in 1972. For a while the band would stick true to its country and folk roots until with the addition of Joe Walsh, their sound and music took on a much harder and mature note. Walsh inflected a large number of rock and blues elements on the band’s sound and music, giving the overall repertoire of the Eagles a much broader diversity. To this date, Joe Walsh is probably the most instrumental musician in the band shaping the Eagles as much as Don Henley’s highly distinctive voice. This disc from Image opens with 11 minutes of footage I had not seen before. It is home video footage taken behind the scenes during the band’s extensive preparation and rehearsals for the concert. The image quality of this segment is of very poor quality mostly because of the inadequate lighting, but it should not distract you from what you are about to experience. The actual concert opens with a nice and moody shot of the dimly lit stage when the band’s members take the stage and intonate a new and fresh version of their 1977 mega-selling ballad "Hotel California". This opening song is a perfect example for the band’s newfound admiration of their own material. Not only does the song sound fresher and clearer than ever, Glen Frey’s opening solo lines are also loaded with such passion that it is hard to believe he must have played the song well over a thousand times.

Unlike in their previous incarnation the band now presents itself as a well-balanced crew and the playlist of their concert indicates the influence each member had on it. Although Don Henley was the driving songwriter behind the Eagles during this show all the other members get their share of spotlight with renditions of their own songs, partly from their solo careers following the Eagles’ split in 1982. The playlist contains obvious Eagles classics and fan favorites such as the before mentioned "Hotel California", "Life In The Fast Lane" and "Take It Easy", but also contains a number of new tracks, such as the upbeat, quite modern "Get Over It". On the technical side, the "Hell Freezes Over" DVD makes a pretty good impression. Apart from the low quality opening segment, the image and sound quality of the disc is quite good. The image is sharp and boasts with color. Although originally recorded on video there is no noticeable <$chroma,chroma noise> or color bleeding evident in any of the concert’s 90 minutes. Although there are some problems evident from the source material, resulting in a few negligible artifacts, the overall image is well defined with very good contrast, sharp edges and lots of detail. Since I do not expect people to buy a concert video mostly to analyze it for video artifacts however, let’s move on to the disc’s spectacular audio section.

Upon insertion of the disc you will be asked to select whether you want to view the concert using the disc’s DTS soundtrack or the stereo PCM soundtrack. To make one thing clear right off the bat, no matter which one you chose, the quality is amazing either way. The DTS soundtrack is a very good mix that places you in the first row of the concert, right in the center of the stage. All the instruments are nicely panned from left to right with nice ambient reflections coming from the rear speakers. Together with the mix of the audience’s recording, this creates a very lively soundfield that captures the live feel of the concert as good as I would think possible. Some purposely placed surround effects are evident in the mix but for the most part the soundtrack simply tries to re-establish the original listening experience found during the show. "Hell Freezes Over" has become a good DTS show off disc ever since it has been released on Laserdisc earlier last year, to display the richness the six channels can create for traditional musical recordings.

Although not quite as engrossing, the PCM mix is almost more impressive due to the intrinsic limitations of the stereo field and the way this production breaks those limitations. The engineers who crafted this mix have paid very much attention to the overall balance of the mix and the transparency. To create a mix like the one found on "Hell Freezes Over" you need some of the most experienced people around to actually mix the show, as well as some of the highest end gear to record and finally mix the project down. At any given time of the concert, every single note can be individually spotted and placed on every one of the artists. When Joe Walsh is playing a note you can clearly hear and locate him in the soundfield, easily identifying the note as one of his doing. The same is true with everyone else. Considering that "Hell Freezes Over" is recorded from a live concert where you are constantly fighting a lot of talkover, this is a truly remarkable achievement. The clarity of the recording is so good that you can actually hear inconsistencies in people’s playing during the show as well as the extremely well balanced interaction of the instruments through their individual placements in the sound spectrum. This is clearly one of the best stereo mixes I have heard and serves perfectly as an educational study for up-and-coming engineers about the complexity and intricacies of highly detailed mixes.

Both mixes are very rich and feature a good bass extension, although we clearly do not reach into the sub-bass area, due to the instruments’ obvious sonic limitations. After all, this is not a movie soundtrack with explosive special sound effects. While the DTS soundtrack is clearly the better and more engrossing one of the mixes, no one should feel cheated if he has access to the PCM soundtrack only – although much to PCM users’ dismay, the disc features one title, "Seven Bridges Road" as a DTS track only. As a bonus track, so to say…

For fans of the Eagles, this concert and the album marked a milestone and is certainly a part of their collection already. Now you can own it in unprecedented quality on DVD and I can only advise everyone to give this disc a shot. It is a well produced disc with some great performances and great music, although in retrospect it is clear that this event was more a reunion to wash up and cash in on well-known material than to truly re-establish the Eagles as a force in the music industry.