It was the biggest night in Allentown in a long, long time. The bars, specifically The Brew Works, The Hamilton, and the brand new Roar Social House were all jammed as concertgoers milled about the downtown Allentown area. There was an air of excitement that reverberated around the PPL Arena, as police smiled and answered questions, patrons drank at the outdoor bar at The Hamilton, and streams of people walked through the doors of Allentown’s new centerpiece for the first time.
There have been many naysayers, critics, and cautious optimists who have voiced their opinions about the arena in the months leading up to the opening, ourselves included. Last night allayed all concerns that have been ruminated about in the press, comment sections, and endless Facebook threads. The evening was by far a huge success and marked the beginning of a significant new chapter in Allentown history.
One of the biggest concerns about the arena has been traffic and parking. By all accounts traffic was not a big issue last night unless you were on 7th Street, which was backed up for around a mile. The area immediately surrounding the arena was not an issue. Neither was parking. Although the arena’s parking garage filled up quickly, there were many other city garages available as well as other lots that the owners were charging to park in (anywhere from $3 to $10). The Allentown Event Parking website, which gives live counts of how many spaces are left in the city’s parking decks and lots seemed to work flawlessly.
The first hiccup of the night came when a few people were trying to pick up their tickets at the box office. Many seemed to be having troubles with printed out confirmations and the like, leaving some with a bad taste in their mouths before they even got in the doors. The few that we did see having troubles though were taken care of relatively quickly and the staff inside the box office handled everything fairly well considering the steady slam of people coming in the doors.
I headed straight for the photographer area, in this case the soundboard. Once on the ground floor, it was great to take in the crowd coming in. The arena feels like a miniature version of the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, with a large floor size but everything else downscaled to fit the plot of land. It’s an intimate feel for an arena, if that makes any sense. The worst seats in the house still aren’t that bad. The floor seating is neat and not overly packed, and the concourse seats are in rows of 20 so either way you enter and exit you won’t be disturbing a huge amount of people.
So, about that show. The Eagles took the stage with just Glenn Frey and Don Henley. As they settled into their seats, Henley quipped, “The show will start when those lights up there go off. I know the place is new, they can’t find the switch.” They then started off with “Saturday Night,” a deeper cut from Desperado. It wasn’t very high energy, although most of the first half of the show wasn’t. After the song, Henley said, “Welcome to your new arena!” Given that this was the ‘History of The Eagles’ tour, the band spoke between songs about their beginnings and how songs were written. Henley went into a bit about how the band was started in 1971, after playing backup for Linda Ronstadt, and used to rehearse in a space behind a liquor store for $6 a day. After bringing out Joe Walsh and Timothy Schmit, the band played a few more songs, including “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and “Witchy Woman” while together in the center of the stage, with Frey playing drums on the latter at the front of the stage. They then broke for a set change, where outtakes from their History of the Eagles documentary played overhead on the screens.
From then on, the show was much better, and the crowd seemed all the happier for it. With a full band, the band rolled through “Doolin-Dalton” and “Already Gone”. “The Best of My Love”, which Henley noted wasn’t even meant to be a single, but started receiving unexpected radio play, was one of the more solid songs from the first half. The first set crescendoed with “Take It to the Limit,” with much of the crowd on their feet, singing and dancing.
It was at that point I took a while to walk around the arena and see the concourse stands and eats. There were the typical stands like most arenas have, with hot dogs, nachos, burgers and the like. The beer selection was pretty much what you’d expect, with lots of shitty beer, Shock Top, and Yards Pale Ale at most stations. There were also several bars around the arena that had liquor and one that had cider. Above the burger place just a short distance from the main concourse there’s steps that allow you to go above the stand and look out over the crowd. Bonus? Some of the best beer is there. There was a stand selling Victory, Troegs, and Susquehanna beer, and there wasn’t anyone else up there. Definitely a hidden gem. On the left side of the stadium on the first floor concourse there’s a large bar which has a lot of different drafts, including Brew Works beer and a lot of liquor. This is definitely the best spot to grab a drink. In addition to that, they have a variety of stands selling gourmet dishes, including prime rib sandwiches, shrimp scampi over psta with vodka sauce, and pulled pork sanwiches for a respectabe $10 a plate. Beer was a bit worse, with the craft stuff topping out at $7-$8 per 12oz beer.
The concessions and the bathrooms did present probably the biggest downfall of the arena, although if you avoid intermissions (like The Eagles had) you shouldn’t have a problem. After the first set nearly the entire arena emptied onto the concourse and created insane lines for beer, food, and bathrooms. Due to the smaller nature of the concourse hallways and the bathrooms created by the smaller arena, things got very tight during the initial intermission rush. That was pretty much the only complaint of the night, and one that didn’t take too long to take care of itself.
Then it was on to the second half of the show. We missed a few of the first songs of the second set while checking out the stands and the like, but by the time we got back, about three songs deep in the second half, it was clear the intermission served as a turning point for the show, both for the band and the crowd. The band was playing “Love Will Keep Us Alive” and everyone on the floor was on their feet. The next song, “Heartache Tonight,” had nearly the entire arena on their feet. The band even backed Joe Walsh for some of his hits, which oddly enough, were some of the best songs of the night. Fact: Joe Walsh can still fucking shred a guitar. He killed it on “Life’s Been Good,” wailing away on an absurd brown-sparkled Axis Sillhouette. A few songs later him and Glenn Frey had a bit of a guitar “play off,” trading licks before breaking into a stellar version of Funk #49.
The last song of the second set, “Life In The Fast Lane” predictably had everyone on their feet singing along, as they had been throughout much of the second half of the show. After a brief moment of uproarious applause the band returned to the stage to play, of course, “Hotel California.” Amusingly, this was one of the worst sounding songs of the night, which isn’t to say it sounded bad.
In fact, the band sounded fantastic all night long. There has been, and will be, endless debates and thinkpieces on whether or not The Eagles are the greatest rock band of all time or the most overated rock band of all time. Personally I’m not the biggest fan of the band, even having grown up listening to them. Despite that, you couldn’t deny just how great the band sounded last night. Their harmonies, guitar playing, drumming, and humor were still on point so many years after their last hit song. Unless you were a serious hater of the band, there wasn’t any way you could complain about the way they sounded last night.
Which brings up another point: the sound in the arena. It was stellar. All throughout the place the audio was exceptional, with perhaps the only outlier being the large bar area on the left side of the stage. The concourse seats in front, close to the stage, where we were situated for most of the show, were perfect in view and sound.
For a second encore the band came out and ran through “Take It Easy” and “Rocky Mountain Way,” then finished out with the classic “Desperado,” leaving the crowd with the lyrics, “you better let somebody love you, before it’s too late.” Lyrics, that when you think about it, seem appropriate for Allentown. For years Allentown was a center of activity, and then suddenly no one wanted to go there anymore. For years the center of town was deserted, but before it was too far gone, the people of the area finally showed it some love. And boy, what a beautiful thing it was.
Correction: Quotes from the beginning of the show were originally attributed to Glenn Frey. They were actually spoken by Don Henley.