Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Don Henley concert review: Greek Theatre

Photo by Kelly Swift
A version of my review originally appeared at 

It was a real treat to see Don Henley playing solo again in Los Angeles last Saturday.

While the Eagles have performed multiple times in Southern California since their highly successful 2007 comeback album “Long Road Out of Eden” was released, the band’s de facto leader (alongside Glenn Frey) hadn’t done his own full concert in the vicinity for seven years.

The Greek Theatre was filled - except the upper terrace sections, which were draped with camouflage netting. Henley was in a humorous mood and fine vocal form throughout this kick off for a short string of gigs around California , Las Vegas and Oklahoma. 

Early in the evening, Henley informed the crowd, “We’re going to go way off the map.” Indeed, several surprising covers peppered the two-hour set. More than half the songs were hit singles. There weren’t any country-leaning tunes from a project Henley has reportedly been working on for awhile though (I wouldn’t liked to have heard some deep album cuts).

Backed by a tight eight member group that included two female backing vocalists and a seven-piece horn section that appeared on selected songs, the sound was full, but not overbearing. Henley stuck to playing guitar and didn’t get behind the drums, even for occasional Eagles rock classic. 

Opening with an intriguingly dramatic take on Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You,” he sung to simple organ accompaniment with eyes closed until the horns added a punchy kick. The front man dedicated the icy social commentary of “Dirty Laundry” to Rupert Murdoch, the head of scandal-plagued media conglomerate News Corp. Guitarists Steuart Smith – a frequent Henley/Eagles collaborator – and Peter Thorn traded searing solos. 

As an introduction to the chiming, elegant “Everybody’s Famous” by Wisconsin folk artist Jeffrey Foucault, Henley sounded off on a variety of topics, as only he can: reality TV (the song’s focus), Rick Perry and living in Texas (“Governor ‘Good Hair’ may become president; I’ll move to Canada”), finding Foucault on satellite radio because terrestrial stations are in such a sad state. 

Photo by Kelly Swift
The stellar “Everything is Different Now,” from Henley ’s 2000 solo effort “Inside Job,” veered from haunting to ebullient and had a gospel-type group vocal finish. Before a stirring “The Last Worthless Evening,” Henley recounted a funny story about how he attended a Hollywood party in the ‘80s and got the cold shoulder from an actress chatting with Jack Nicholson. 

Plaintive ballad “It Don’t Matter to the Sun” (recorded by Garth Brooks under his alter ego, Chris Gaines) featured just piano and standup bass and recalled “Desperado.” A warm, inviting “The End of the Innocence” was revamped with musical director Will Hollis providing the only accompaniment on lush and airy keyboards. It showcased Henley ’s still-rich vocal timbre. Halfway in, the rest of the band entered and the crowd started clapping along and gave the clarinet solo a rousing response.

Most of the audience remained seated and applauded politely until a sunny, faithful  cover of Tears for Fears’ got them up and dancing (coincidentally, the British synth pop duo was playing across town at the Wiltern; I thought, ‘what if they were playing this tune right now?’). 

“This is the story of my life,” the singer quipped, leading into the subtle version of Randy Newman’s Guilty (from the 1974 album “Good Old Boys,” which Henley and fellow Eagle Glenn Frey actually contributed vocals to). 

Other deft covers included the punchy pop/soul on newcomer Eric Hutchinson’s fun, finger-snapping “You Don’t Have to Believe Me” and the Otis Redding/Jerry Butler soul classic “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” a real surprise. Henley pulled out all the vocal stops and swelling horns really elevated the intensity level on both. 

Between the two tunes was an extended funky instrumental. If someone walked in at that point, they could’ve easily mistaken the band for Earth, Wind & Fire. Henley said “sometimes you get tired of doing country rock.” A solid stretch of fan favorites followed. 

The encores commenced with the original - albeit a seemingly slower - arrangement of “Hotel California” (the image of Henley playing drums and singing the song as well as “Life in the Fast Lane” is so ingrained in our minds, it was hard getting used to him not keeping the beat). 

Toward the end, the band rocked out on “I Will Not Go Quietly” (dedicated to Henley ’s pal Sting, who turns 60 soon) and concluded with a party hearty “The Long Run.” 

Lucinda Williams' enthralling 45-minute warm up set was probably puzzling to the uninitiated in attendance. Performing with her trio, the unassuming alt-country singer/guitarist began with a batch of sparse numbers, often colored by Blake Mills’ tasteful slide guitar and reverb effects (the title track from winsome latest effort “Blessed,” “World Without Tears,” “Copenhagen” “Born to Be Loved”). 

Once they picked up steam, the crowd really got into the material, especially a raucous “Buttercup” from the new album (Elvis Costello and Matthew Sweet guest on the studio version), “Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings,” the jagged, Neil Young-esque “Essence,”  a sinewy “Change the Locks,” where Williams’ quavering Southern drawl vocals stood out and the sexually-charged stomper “Honeybee,” with a smoking Mills solo.

Henley returns Sept. 25 for a San Diego area concert at the Open Sky Theater, Harrahs Rincon Hotel & Casino, Valley Center. Tickets are $64-$86 (including fees) and available through Ticketmaster.

Setlist: Don Henley, Greek Theatre, Los Angeles , Sept. 17, 2011
Main set: I Put a Spell on You/Dirty Laundry/Everybody’s Famous/Sunset Grill/Everything is Different Now/New York Minute/The Last Worthless Evening/One of These Nights/It Don’t Matter to the Sun/The End of the Innocence/Everybody Wants to Rule the World/The Heart of the Matter/Guilty/You Don’t Have to Believe Me/Funky Stuff/I’ve Been Loving You Too Long/The Boys of Summer/All She Wants to Do is Dance/Life in the Fast Lane
First encore: Hotel California/Desperado
Second encore: I Will Not Go Quietly/The Long Run

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