Don Henley is not only one of the most gifted songwriters and singers of the rock era, but he is also one of the most underrated members of that same era. He is a lyrical poet who writes about life, as it is. His current album, Cass County is packed with one magnificent song after another, which is a rare feat for any artist, but certainly an oddity for a 68 year old.
Cass County is the first album in Henley’s career recorded under the Capitol Records label. It is a success story for an industry that has a difficult time launching anything outside of certain contemporary artists. Henley paid tribute to Capitol Records by acknowledging that this was the label that gave us Frank Sinatra (a third of his career), the Beatles, Nat King Cole and the Beach Boys.
The tour opened a couple of weeks ago and it is a short one, so unlike the iconic band he is a founding member of he will not be on the road for years or even months in support of Cass County. The show last night opened with Seven Bridges Road, the only piece of music ever performed by the Eagles that Henley brings forth during this show. The tremendous vocal group assembled of his current touring band were outstanding as they brought forth delicious harmonies at the Chicago Theater.
Henley has enough material to do a full-course show without reverting to the giant hits of the band. Henley supplied nearly the entire Cass County album and each song worked. It was like listening to songs you already knew, but that is in large part due to Henley’s still vibrant and silky voice; and his innate talent for bringing to life images and moments from life. Clearly, the aged Henley doesn’t match his once perfect vocal style and skill, but there is still a mighty giant lying in those vocal chords. He waxed poetically in a raspy voice a couple of times, but the raspy worked. That raspy voice sounded lived in and it was at times heartbreaking and haunting.
He pulled a variety of songs from his illustrious solo career, including one of the finest songs ever recorded by anyone, Dirty Laundry. As Henley put it “it is still relevant” and “now it’s even worse.” Yep, the bubble-headed bleach blond comes on at five. The opening strands of Boys of Summer still excites to the core and there couldn’t be a more beautifully written ode to love and lost love than The Heart of the Matter. This stunner appears on his album, The End of the Innocence and from my perspective it is the best song of his lengthy songwriting career and yes, that is saying something.
The show was a shocking two hours and forty minutes, which was an unbelievable tribute to fans, particularly since he didn’t have to do it. Fans would have been thrilled with two hours, but Don gave us what we wanted and we didn’t even know we wanted all of it. He pulled out a cover of Everybody Wants to Rule the World from I don’t know where, but wow, it was a highlight of the show. All She Wants To Do Is Dance literally had everyone on their feet.
The musicians assembled are some of the nation’s finest and it was a tight fit all night long. Unlike some other artists, Don Henley played it straight and delivered the tracks as we know and love them. The three female backing singers (at times, they sang duets with Don) were all terrific and easily could have been headlining their own shows in another era where talent once won out.
Henley did more speaking on stage than he has done in his entire career. He spins and weaves stories for almost every song. Some are longer than others, but you didn’t want him to stop. The story he delivers regarding Train in the Distance was touching, heartfelt and sentimental.
He may be the most down-to-earth and steeped in reality famous person in the world. You literally want to have lunch with the guy. He’s smart, well-read, insightful, a gifted storyteller and downright funny. I laughed out loud several times as he managed to be funnier than most comics on late-night programs.
He delivered stories about rain in the southwest, making plenty of mistakes and he delved into a revealing situation when an old flame wants to reconnect. Not for the romance, but just to stay in touch.
The show opens with a lovely montage of audio bites filled with famous speeches (think Franklin Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor and John F. Kennedy asking what can we do for our country). The audio clearly showcases some of Henley’s favorite music and we hear everything from the Glenn Miller Orchestra to Elvis Presley to Patsy Cline to the Beatles. Above the stage are a collection of vintage radios that embody Henley’s life in music. It's a simple tool, but a creative one.
I will look forward to his next go-round. One of my deep emotional attachments from a musical perspective is the music of the Eagles; and Henley was clearly one of the main reasons why their music and his music still resonate so powerfully in my own personal life.
Thank you Mr. Henley.
Copyright Chicago and Then Some 2015