With Shawn Colvin
Thursday, October 15, 2015
Early on in Don Henley's two-hour, 24-song set at the Verizon Theatre, he said it was good to be home. As easy as that was to say to the crowd, it meant a lot. Henley and his 10-piece backing band (which included Dallas natives Chris Holt and Milo Deering) were genuinely happy to play a lot of songs from Henley's latest, Cass County, as well as the familiar big singles and a diverse mix of covers. This was a special show, not just the same act played in every town on the tour.
Frustratingly, decent, tangible documentation of this night will be scant. The venue's security and ushers, under strict orders that any smartphone usage would be a distraction from the show, became a constant distraction and nuisance before and during the show. Even people wanting to peruse social media privately before the show were swiftly asked to turn off their phones.
Looking beyond that distraction, the show was quite entertaining. Opener Shawn Colvin played a gentle, cover-heavy set, including her versions of Crowded House's "Private Universe," Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" and Tom Waits' "Hold On," as well as her best-known original, "Sunny Came Home." Henley came on not too long after Colvin left the stage, flanked by his backing band, and jumped right in with "Seven Bridges Road," a Steve Young song often performed by the Eagles in their concerts.
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Under a couple dozen radios hanging from the ceiling, the well-rehearsed "musical companions" mixed new material with familiar material, and as expected, no Eagles originals were played. (If they were played, they wouldn't really be the same without other key Eagles members.) A set filled with a lot of material that was still new to the audience was certainly a bold move. This was a sit-down-and-listen sort of show, for the most part.
Henley sang great and he spoke softly between songs. He wasn't shy about sharing stories behind the construction of his new album and its many famous guest vocalists, like Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton and Mick Jagger. He gave certain members of his backing band plenty of time to shine and they didn't act timid. Deering spread audio gold over his lap steel, Holt ripped through solos, each of the female backing vocals got to share lead vocals with Henley, and Steuart Smith proved to be a highly reliable lead and rhythm guitarist. They all brought the magic of the Cass County material to life, a record best played on the road late at night, under a pale moon.
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There were some enjoyable, spontaneous moments, too. After "That Old Flame," Henley pointed out Holt to the crowd, and many near the front yelled out his name. Henley joked that Holt brought all of his friends out to the show. In another instance, when a roadie brought out the wrong guitar, Henley didn't throw a hissy fit. He laughed it off and said he was glad this wasn't the Nashville show.
Where things got really interesting was the choice of cover songs. "I Put a Spell On You," a tune by wild man Screamin' Jay Hawkins, got a unique arrangement with Henley and a seven-piece horn section from UNT. Sounding more like John Barry's early James Bond scores, it was a twisty shift in tone that actually went over well. Later, after "Too Much Pride," Henley introduced what he called "the sequel:" a straight-forward rendition of Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World." Not really something you'd expect to hear at a Don Henley show, but a great tune, nonetheless.
The night may have belonged to aggressively promoting a new album, but the material seemed like the kind Henley has wanted to do his whole life. Drawing back to his life growing up in Linden, Texas, and reflecting on the years since then, the full circle oozed out of him, from the new originals to the covers he did. This wasn't hokey country, or a last-chance grab for relevance in a genre marginalized between new country (which sounds more like '80s hair metal) and traditional country. Henley made the material his own with stacked melodies and touching melancholy.
"Seven Bridges Road"
"No, Thank You"
"The Heart of the Matter"
"Praying for Rain"
"That Old Flame"
"The End of the Innocence"
"She Sang Hymns Out of Tune"
"I Put a Spell on You"
"Talking to the Moon"
"New York Minute"
"Take A Picture of This"
"Words Can Break Your Heart"
"The Last Worthless Evening"
"When I Stop Dreaming"
"The Cost of Living"
"It Don't Matter to the Sun"
"Too Much Pride"
"Everybody Wants to Rule the World"
"Where Am I Now"
"The Boys of Summer"
"Train in the Distance"
"All She Wants to Do Is Dance"