Takin’ It Easy

Bringing to life the best selling album in music history, the Eagles – Their Greatest Hits Vol. 1 as a tribute, a group either has to go big or go home, get it right or don’t do it at all. The Eagles’ music is timeless, diverse, part of the landscape and part of the air many Americans breathe. It’s been that way for a couple of generations now. Their music has earned respect and nothing less than an honest recreation of the songs will do.
That’s what John Menniti’s show, “American Eagle USA, a tribute to the Eagles” is all about. The band breathes new life into this classic masterpiece, yet they have to include songs that came after that because the fans would be disappointed if they didn’t, and they never would let that happen.
The show comes to Avi Resort & Casino for the first time Saturday, Aug. 10, but Menniti, who serves as the show’s producer and guitarist, recently brought his unconventional “The Fab Ultimate Beatles Tribute” show to the Grand Ballroom a few weeks ago. The performance was a success and Menniti is hoping lightning will strike twice.
The Eagles’ music is both simple and complex, with its sound that reflects drives along the California coast and signature harmonies that demand perfection.
Classics from that landmark album, like “Lyin’ Eyes,” “Desperado,” “Best of My Love,” and “Take it Easy” are the foundation from which the American Eagle USA show is built. We talked with Menniti about the band, the music and the show they bring to town. Here’s his take…

Talk a little about how this tribute came to be.
Well, the Eagles – Their Greatest Hits was one of the first albums we did in the Albumpalooza when I came up with Albumpalooza.com idea. It was one of the first albums that I had to do because it was so popular. I mean, it was neck and neck with Thriller, as the best-selling album of all time. That’s incredible when you think about it because it’s a compilation, it’s a greatest hits album. And it’s gone back and forth with Thriller and I believe right now it’s actually the No. 1 of all time. It’s the granddaddy of them all as far as albums go in the United States. So it was a no-brainer, we had to cover them, plus I love the Eagles, I grew up listening to them and it’s great music.

Explain this Albumpalooza thing.
Albumpalooza is a concept I actually came up with myself, and I was already a member of The Fab when I created it, so it was a natural merger. Albumpalooza is a concept that is dedicated toward full-concert productions, recreating live albums that people know and love, the classic albums that we love. So albums like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, the Beatles’ Abbey Road, the Eagles Greatest Hits — all these great-selling albums people remember. People get to hear them performed live just the way they sounded when the needle hit the vinyl ’cause nobody listens to albums any more. So we like to think of it as trying to salvage the lost art form of listening to an album, the way it was meant to be listened to.

Who’s in the group and how long has this group been together?
This group has probably been together about four years. The main person we can mention is the lead vocalist, John Lombardo, who’s phenomenal. He’s the lead vocalist on many of my shows, he’s a remarkable vocalist who has the versatility to sing lead vocals on everything from the Eagles to my Pink Floyd show, and he sings vocals on my U2 tribute, which is really challenging. He’s got the ability to transform his voice and emulate virtually any singer, any style.

Talk about your particular approach to the Eagles music and what you think it is that sets this group apart from the ones that are out there?
We’re not a look alike show, for one thing. We’re not trying to emulate the look, it’s all about the music. The Eagles were not flashy, they just came out in jeans and T-shirts, and just played the music. So there’s not too much to worry about there. They just let the music speak for itself.
I think the Eagles’ music is deceivingly simple because in actuality they labored over every part — every guitar part, every bass part, every drum part, they were all very carefully construed. In the studio, they really took arranging their music very seriously. As a result, you have some really intelligent and very clever arrangements pertaining to harmonies and songwriting. Songwriting was tantamount to them — everybody wrote and they had a lot of material to choose from. They absolutely did a great job with picking the best material to perform and also assigning the right lead vocalist to sing those songs. If you watch their documentary, the epic “History of the Eagles,” you’ll see that wasn’t always an easy task to figure out as to who was going to sing what song. You’ve got guys who wrote songs and then you had the rest of the band say, “We love your song, but we don’t love you singing it. We want to have Don Henley sing it.” It caused a lot of friction, and ultimately one of the guys left the band because of that. The point is, they were very painstaking about the way they did their music. It wasn’t predictable, and had a lot of great hooks. Those songs are etched in our culture.

What was your biggest challenge in putting this show together?
Whenever I put a show together, I always like to use people who really love the music that we’re doing. It’s not really difficult to find really good musicians, but it is a little more challenging to find good musicians, who genuinely love playing every song you’re asking them to play. And with the Eagles show, everybody on stage loves the music and it shows.
It’s a joyous event when we get together and play this show. It’s a lot of smiles on stage, a lot of joking around with the audience. We really try to share the experience that we’re feeling playing the music with the audience. We kind of feed each other. Our joy, and energy feed the audience and then they feed us back with their applause — it’s really an amazing experience.

Eagles music also requires some really high falsetto vocals, so how do you tackle that?
That’s another thing the gentlemen do well, too. We don’t shrink from that challenge. We hit it head on. We go over and above. We try to be as authentic as possible. But where we have the ability to be creative, is with things like transitions, endings of songs. On the record, songs just fade out, so we have the joy to create an interesting ending. Sometimes we use high vocals to take us to those endings. It’s interesting, but it’s a lot of fun.

Talk about the show this time.
We definitely have show-stoppers that will get the audience out of their seats and applauding and we’re counting on that. We look forward to playing for the great Avi audiences. Our last show there was a virtual sell-out with the Beatles show we did. It was just a great audience, they were very receptive, and very into what we were doing and we’re counting on the same when we come back and do the Eagles show.
I just want people to know if you’ve never seen our show, please come out and see it. It’s unique in the sense that not being impersonators we don’t have to rely on staying in character. And as such, we can give a real historical perspective. We set up the songs before we play them, introductions that touch on the history of the song, how it was inspired, who wrote it and maybe we include some story about how it was recorded, and the recording techniques used. We’re able to give the songs we perform a real narrative that you don’t necessarily get if you’re watching a group that’s trying to pretend they’re the actual players in the Eagles and I think that kind of sets our show apart a little bit. Plus the shear joy of a night listening to Eagles music — it’s all great.

Is there one show highlight you’d like to mention?
One of my favorite parts of the show is what we call the “unplugged acoustic campfire” segment of our show. We basically set it up for reminiscing about the days — when anybody who’s ever played guitar out there — if you’re out camping or if you’re out at the beach, you pull out your guitar and everybody comes around, people you don’t even know join in and you start playing and having a sing-along. Invariably the songs people always request are Eagles songs. So we strip down our show, we bring out the stools — very much like the Eagles themselves do. We play some beautiful ballads, some beautiful harmonies very low key, and it really connects with the audience.


AMERICAN EAGLE USA

Grand Ballroom at the Avi

Saturday, Aug. 10 (8 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for ticket info