Don Henley will be appearing at the Santa Barbara Bowl on July 31st. If you will be going to the show or have questions about the show, hit the comments button below and add a message.
Henley show a nostalgic affair as old songs take on new meanings
By JOSEF WOODARD
NEWS-PRESS STAFF CORRESPONDENT
There’s no question that Don Henley’s songbook is a historical vehicle, resonating with a strong sense of time, place and state of mind. The very sound of his voice takes listeners magically back to the 1980s and, via his group The Eagles, their mid-’70s prime.
But, as a songwriter with something on his mind and a bold and identifiable voice to deliver it, Henley also has a gift that keeps on giving in the present tense, as he proved again Saturday with one of his periodic visits to the Santa Barbara Bowl.
A measure of the worth and prescience of his songwriting comes through the fact that many of his songs, from his heyday of the ’80s, have seemingly gained in meaning over the years.
In the ripest example, the band opened up the show with the bumptious groove of "Dirty Laundry," and Henley dedicated it to "one of the most dangerous men in the world .Ê.Ê. Rupert Murdoch," before launching into the famed anti-media anthem. It has a whole new relevance now in the age of corporate-ruled mass media than it did when it first hit the radio 15 years ago, or even when Henley last played here two years ago.
At the Bowl, Henley showed up in regular guy attire, flying flannel over a T-shirt and jeans, playing a blonde Telecaster — or at least leaning on it like a prop. The former drummer is still not the most comfortable of frontmen, using tambourine and maracas as security blankets to avoid the empty-handed singer syndrome.
But the proof is in the pudding. He still has a great rock voice and actually earned his best rock vocal Grammy Awards with his smoky, high voice. Plus, he enjoys the confidence of working with an impeccable band.
Most importantly, there’s an active brain attached to the voice and a rich song catalog from which to draw. This night, Henley ventured all the way back to the seminal Eagles hit "Witchy Woman," one of his sillier ditties, but also a good career spark.
He can have fun in greatest hits mode, cheekily announcing "let’s go to the beach" before kicking off "Boys of Summer," the ’80s hit given new radio life recently through the "mall punk" cover version by Santa Barbara’s The Ataris.
You get the sense that Henley has trouble giving into unqualified fun, "going to the beach" and leaving his mental churnings at home. That’s why we love him.
As enduringly powerful and literate as his old songs are, from predictable concert favorites "Life in the Fast Lane," "Hotel California" and "All She Wants to Do Is Dance," Henley’s shows these days are inherently nostalgic affairs. That’s partly because of the crowd’s obvious hunger for familiar old songs, and also partly because of his own diminished creative output, having released only one album of new songs in the last 15 years, 2000’s "Inside Job."
And he barely dipped into that album, but for the effectively moody "Everything Is Different Now," with Henley working up in range from a growl to a soar. We naturally crave new material from a songwriter as gifted as Henley, especially in an age of limited intelligence in pop.
In performance, Henley’s persona is that of one both grateful for the support of fans over three-plus decades, but also a grumbling annoyance at the tendency of his audiences to bask in hit-lust and not pay attention to the art of the matter. He scolded the crowd for not showing audible love to cultural figures he deems important, including Sam Moore (of Sam and Dave, who appeared on his song "You’re Not Drinking Enough," the most countrified song at the Bowl). When few in the crowd appeared to acknowledge the name F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henley played the miffed schoolmaster, irritated by the illiteracy of his charges: "See, that’s why we’re in the state we’re in."
Henley chooses his cover songs carefully, with an ear for quality and content control. Two years ago here, he did a luminous version of Paul Simon’s "An American Tune."
On Saturday, he gave a fresh reading of the brooding doomsday-evoking tune "Everybody Knows," an octave or more higher that Leonard Cohen’s original, and cleverly couched in a party-like backbeat-driven version.
The loaded moment of the evening came when he sang Randy Newman’s classic "Political Science," (key lyric: "Let’s drop the big one and see what happens"), a brilliant satirical song about American arrogance whose renewed significance — 35 years after it was written — is spooky. Henley came at the song in fighting mode, mentioning the recent plight of his friend Linda Ronstadt, who was booed and booted from Las Vegas’ Aladdin after she dedicated a song to Michael Moore.
With Henley’s mention of that incident, there were some token boorish responses from the Bowl crowd, and Henley noted the "polarized response" and muttered, "Just throw your drinks in the air and have me escorted from the premises."
He inserted an ironic image in our minds by adding, "I imagine this song as a duet between Bush and Cheney "doing it in a soft shoe."
As if to soften the blow or fleeting wind of controversy, Henley then immediately played his bittersweet hit "Heart of the Matter."
The song’s quest for understanding and renewal after a failed romance, with the gospel-like refrain of "forgiveness, forgiveness," suddenly resonated on a larger scale. Henley is an activist and a provocateur, but he also is an optimist, seeking to build bridges rather than to blow them up.
During his generous encore section, Henley called up "The End of Innocence" and "I Will Not Go Quietly."
Fittingly, he dedicated the rowdy number to fellow Texan Lance Armstrong, but the song could also be a tidy, personal statement of purpose for Henley. Now, if only he’d get busy writing more songs
04:24 PM in 7/31/04 Santa Barbara, CA
Pop Music Review
SANTA BARBARA — Don Henley went more than halfway through his two-hour concert Thursday at the Santa Barbara Bowl before playing any Eagles songs.
The challenge facing Henley as he undertakes his first solo tour in seven years, following a long run back in the reunited Eagles’ nest, was to remind us that he is just as compelling on his own. And it’s a challenge that, for the most part, he met in superb fashion.
Just one important thing: In selecting material from his solo albums, Henley, who plays tonight and Sunday at the Universal Amphitheatre, was unexpectedly timid.
You’d think someone who has just released his first solo collection in 11 years would be eager to share a lot of that music with his fans, especially because it contains some of the most personal and revealing music he has ever written.
But Henley played just five of the 13 songs from "Inside Job," and only two of them really spoke to the emotional heart of the album. It was too much emphasis on energy and performance rather than on insight and discovery.
But Henley has always been a difficult artist to figure out. His decision six years ago to go back to his day job–as co-leader of the Eagles–was one of the biggest pop music surprises of the ’90s.
Not only had Henley seemed unhappy during his tense, final years with the group in the late ’70s, he was also doing well commercially and creatively on his own.
"The End of the Innocence," "Sunset Grill" and other highlights from Henley’s first three solo albums were meditations on relationships and social ethics as illuminating and well-crafted as such Eagles classics as "Hotel California" and "The Best of My Love."
Even if it was puzzling, however, the Eagles’ 1994 reunion went well for a while. The old songs–the best of which chronicled the tensions of a generation struggling to maintain its fading idealism–held up, and the band played with conviction.
But the absence of strong new material eventually caused things to go stale. By the time the band played the Rose Bowl in 1995, you could already feel that the expiration date on the product was fast approaching.
So it was encouraging Thursday to see Henley and hear the music so fresh. From the opening notes of "Dirty Laundry," he looked liberated and renewed. The song, a snarling attack on the innuendo and sleaze of tabloid journalism, felt as relevant as when he wrote it almost 20 years ago.
July 15, 2000|ROBERT HILBURN, TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC
He was backed by a seven-piece band whose arrangements tended to be more aggressive and, at times, more complex than those generally associated with the Eagles. For extra seasoning on music that combines country, rock and R&B influences, he also selectively employed a seven-piece horn section and a 12-member choir.
After "Dirty Laundry," Henley moved quickly into two other early, memorable solo tunes–the pointed social observation of "Sunset Grill" and the more introspective and melancholy "The Last Worthless Evening."
After this quick refresher course, Henley turned to the new album, and he chose wisely.
For anyone familiar with Henley’s reputation for excessive brooding and sometimes taking himself too seriously, "Everything Is Different Now" is an especially winning number.
"I hate to tell you this, but I’m very, very happy," Henley sang, exaggerating the words in the playful, burlesque manner of Randy Newman at his most theatrical. "And I know that’s not what you’d expect from me at all."
The beauty of the song (which Henley wrote with Scott F. Crago and Timothy Drury) is that it’s not meant as satire. It’s confessional, one of many songs on the album inspired by his 1995 marriage and the subsequent birth of his three children.
Henley later unveiled the new album’s "Taking You Home," a warm, open-hearted expression of comfort and faith co-written by Henley, Stan Lynch and Stuart Brawley.
The uplifting message of the two songs was all the more evocative because they were surrounded in the set by so many of Henley’s vintage tales of struggle and doubt, songs in which he speaks achingly of broken promises and vanishing optimism.
Henley’s transformation by marriage and family is the theme explored in the core of the new album. He approaches the subject in different ways–from the sweetness of Larry John McNally’s "For My Wedding" to the personal testimony of "My Thanksgiving" (which he wrote with Lynch and Jai Winding).
After closing the formal set with explosive, high-energy versions of "Life in the Fast Lane"–the first of the night’s five Eagles songs–and his own "All She Wants to Do Is Dance," he set the stage perfectly for a return, during the encore, to the love songs from the new album.
The opening lines of "My Thanksgiving," in fact, would have served as the perfect vehicle to begin sharing the changes in his life with his fans: "A lot of things have happened since the last time we spoke. . . ."
But we didn’t hear that song or any of the other tender ones from "Inside Job" during the two encores.
The old Eagles songs–especially a ska-accented treatment of "Hotel California"–were sonic knockouts, but his old chest-thumping "I Will Not Go Quietly" seemed like hollow bluster when he had so much more to give.
The audience, which was on its feet throughout the encore, welcomed the Eagles numbers, including "Desperado," but the closing seemed like a lost opportunity.
Henley displayed in the formal part of the show where he’s been and why he is one of the premier pop-rock artists of his generation, but he didn’t share enough of his new life. Instead of soaring at the end, this left the solo Eagle–when measured by his own high standards–flying too close to the ground.