Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Don Henley concert review: Los Angeles

The Eagles helped popularize the country rock sound with their successful 1972 self-titled debut LP.

So Don Henley’s return to his roots for new solo release “Cass County,” which just debuted atop the Billboard Country chart, was a perfect fit.

Named after the rural Northeastern Texas region where Henley grew up, the compelling album was co-produced by Henley’s longtime music partner Stan Lynch (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers) and used ample pedal steel, mandolin, fiddle, acoustic guitars and harmonies to fine effect. Mick Jagger, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, Miranda Lambert, Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, Martina McBride, Lucinda Williams and Trisha Yearwood are among the stellar crop of guest vocal contributors.

In recent interviews, Henley has said the latest songs are about interior landscapes and the circular nature of life. Many rank with his career best.

On Friday night at The Forum, a quick montage of music and speech clips dating from the 1940s-’70s played as a spotlight roamed over various old transistor radio models suspended above the stage.

Then the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and his large backing band started the engaging 2-hour, 10-minute concert by gathering at the front of the stage. They harmonized on “Seven Bridges Road” – just like The Eagles have done on past tours. The audience hollered in appreciation.

Yet fans expecting to hear other Eagles-related tunes were in the wrong place. After one guy yelled for “Take it Easy,” Henley replied, “No, I've done those songs for 21 years.” Good move: it’s distracting when solo artists do too many selections from their primary group live. In Inglewood, the 24-song set comprised a bulk of "Cass County" (the deluxe version is highly recommend), some of Henley’s hit singles and his favorite covers.

The mild rocker “No, Thank You,” with memorable lyrics like “though nostalgia is fine / I respectively decline to spend my future living in the past,” was an early highlight. A revamped “The End of the Innocence” saw Henley do the first half with minimal synth accompaniment and stretch out syllables to moderate success. The affecting ballad “Praying for Rain,” inspired by the Texas drought earlier this decade and sung from the perspective of a farmer, really benefited from soaring group backing vocals.

Before the driving rock of surefire hit “That Old Flame,” Henley recalled how an email he received from a past girlfriend led to the lyric. Keeping in similar territory, “The Heart of the Matter” was riveting with the singer’s vulnerable delivery.

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You,” punctuated by a horn section, was plenty soulful.

A strong midpoint in the set included the dramatic “New York Minute” (with an amazing trumpet solo), the still-vibrant “Dirty Laundry” (on which Steuart Smith and Chris Holt took turns at searing guitar solos) and the rustic “Take a Picture of This.” Henley explained that the last song, featuring three acoustic guitars and Milo Deering’s sweet pedal steel work, pertained to “the changing dynamic of marriage.”

“The Last Worthless Evening" was another high point. Displaying his usual sardonic sense of humor, Henley prefaced the aging gracefully tune “The Cost of Living” by noting he “loved Texas, except for but the politics.” A subtle take on Tift Merritt's “Bramble Rose” saw all the musicians huddle together again in front of the stage, accompanied by simple acoustic guitar and mandolin.

Henley’s ebullient cover of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” went over well as did bluesy main set closer “Where I Am Now.” Come encore time, many concertgoers stood and sang along loudly to “The Boys of Summer,” with Smith providing another scorching solo.

Shawn Colvin did a quiet 45-minute opening set revolving around “Uncovered,” her impressive new collection of interpretations. The Grammy-winning folk singer/songwriter began with a stark solo take on Crowded House’s “Private Universe.”

She was joined by three musicians (including Smith, who co-produced and played on the latest album) for the remainder.

They excelled during a relaxed “I Used to Be a King” by Graham Nash, the alluring revamp of Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street,” a terrific violin-accented version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Tougher Than the Rest” (where Smith added Mark Knopfler-esque guitar) and luxurious Tammy Wynette hit “’Til I Get it Right.”

Colvin’s haunting Adult Contemporary chart topper from 1997, “Sunny Came Home” also fared strongly with early arrivals.

Don Henley
Main set: Seven Bridges Road (Steve Young song) / No, Thank You / The End of the Innocence / Praying for Rain / That Old Flame / The Heart of the Matter / She Sang Hymns Out of Tune (Jesse Lee Kincaid song) / I Put a Spell on You (Screamin' Jay Hawkins song) / Let's Burn Down the Cornfield (Randy Newman song) / New York Minute / Dirty Laundry / Take a Picture of This / Words Can Break Your Heart / The Last Worthless Evening / When I Stop Dreaming (Louvin Brothers song) / The Cost of Living / Bramble Rose (Tift Merritt song) / It Don't Matter to the Sun (Garth Brooks as Chris Gaines song) / Too Much Pride / Everybody Wants to Rule the World (Tears for Fears song) / Where I Am Now
Encore: The Boys of Summer / Train in the Distance / All She Wants to Do is Dance

My review originally appeared at
Photos by Armando Brown

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