Concert Review

Don Henley Puts on a Good Concert Despite Technical Difficulties

The stage at Comerica Theatre went from pitch darkness to sudden illumination, revealing the presence of Don Henley and the members of his touring band singing “Seven Bridges Road” a cappella. Despite the many calls from the audience throughout the evening for Henley, who’s also the drummer and a vocalist for a little band known as the Eagles, to belt out another tune from his band, the Steve Young-penned tune would be only one on the setlist that appeared on one of their albums.

Before Henley took the stage, the audience was treated to a medley of great music from different eras, including Buddy Holly, Elvis, Al Green, and the Bee Gees. Old radios hung above the musicians, who were clad in attire fit for a Mumford and Sons-themed Halloween party. The outspoken singer stated the reason for the stage decorations was because he missed the variety of the FM dial and wanted to recreate that eclecticism for the first show of his new tour.

He carried on about how radio today tries to put things in a lot of boxes. Henley, who patted himself on the back throughout his more than two-hour set for being old-fashioned, quoted Duke Ellington by saying there were only two kinds of music: good and bad. After reading his interview in The Guardian this week, one could easily infer in what box he would put Frank Ocean, who he referred to as a “talentless little prick,” and Kanye West, who he sees as “arrogant.”

He promised the audience he would play his hits from the ’80s and ’90s, covers, and new songs from the country-themed record Cass County, which he found out is going to debut on top of the album chart this week. As he launched into a track from the disc, his first in 15 years, the sound went out and cut off what was arguably Henley’s greatest musical asset: his raspy voice. As the crowd began to turn on the sound crew, Henley and his team remained professional and kept playing as the boos drowned out what little music the audience could hear.
The sound problems and Henley’s rants remained constant throughout the evening. The performer would shift between storyteller, comedian, and curmudgeon as he attempted to give the audience context for his latest work, make jokes about AARP and the Eagles, and being the grandfather talking about his five-mile walks to school in the snow uphill both ways.

Henley was appreciative of the patience and goodwill that the audience gave him and his band, but making quips about the sound crew, using the "first show of the tour" excuse, and Comerica Theatre being built on an Indian burial ground wasn’t going to make the problem go away. The tide turned in Henley’s favor as he covered “Everybody Wants To Rule The World.” Then it was back into a capella to sing a cover of the Tift Merritt track “Bramble Rose” and “It Doesn’t Matter To The Sun,” a bonus track on the Target deluxe edition of Cass County, which was preceded with another monologue about Target, the music industry, and our loud and chaotic world.

The tracks Henley played off Cass County are solid country music, but he wisely didn’t take this opportunity to put a western spin on his popular rock songs. The set ended with the song “Where I Am Now,” which Henley describes as a summation of his life. The stagehand ran onstage to bring him his guitar, but Henley brushed him off. “I don't need it,” he stated, “Gotta concentrate in case the sound goes out.” The song is in the vein of the lousy Eagles’ ’90’s comeback single “Get Over It,” which meant it fell into that “bad” box Henley spoke about in the beginning of the show. Henley, displaying some of the arrogance he finds to be an issue with Kanye West, didn’t care.

His encore consisted of his two most popular tracks: “The Boys Of Summer” and “All She Wants to Do Is Dance,” which was a strong end to a mixed bag of an evening.

Critic’s Notebook

Last Night: Don Henley and Shawn Colvin at Comerica Theatre

The Crowd: Couples who drive Cadillacs with Deadhead stickers

Random Notebook Dump: “Between Henley and Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks really had a thing for drummers.”

Overheard in the Crowd: “Who’s that again? Shawn who?” - an older woman who forgot opening artist Shawn Colvin was very popular in the ’90s. Nothing went wrong during Colvin’s set.

Personal Bias: Don Henley is a talented and prolific musician who also happens to be very opinionated. I occasionally agree with him, especially his stance on taking pictures with cell phones during a show. I just don't appreciate security guards walking up and down the aisles to police the crowd. None of this will prevent me from turning up “The Boys of Summer” when it plays on the radio, as it’s one of the few perfect songs to come out of the ’80s.
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Jason Keil was the Phoenix New Times culture editor from August 2019 to May 2020.
Contact: Jason Keil