3rd July 2016, Hyde Park, London
Don Henley- vocals, guitar, congas
Lily Elise – vocals
Laura Johnston – vocals
? bass guitar
“ Horn section
– Tom Evans saxophones / ? / ?
(Please send in information!)
Seven Bridges Road
New York Minute
One of These Nights
It Don’t Matter To The Sun
The End Of The Innocence
The Last Resort
The Heart of The Matter
Everybody Wants To Rule The World
The Boys of Summer
Life In The Fast Lane
AN EAGLE OVER HYDE PARK
The Oak Stage, Hyde Park. About one third back in the audience.
The hardest thing about writing on Don Henley is remembering it’s Eagles without a definite article. No other article-less band name has such article creep. Maybe it’s the initial “e” that makes me want to type The Eagles. But “The Eagles” refers to a Bristol instrumental group from 1962, whose film soundtrack EP Some People was a number 2 UK EP.
Don, and his original band, suffer in the rock press from the sort of rock snobbery turned against anyone perceived as “too successful” and Eagles Greatest Hits for many years was the best-selling album ever. While I wouldn’t say I’ve never suffered from rock snobbery, my personal version has never been turned against either Eagles or Don. Over the last few months Cass County has been one of my two or three most played albums.
I looked at setlists on this tour and earlier in this year. In California in February, he was playing virtually all of Cass County (13 of the 16 De Luxe edition) with no Eagles stuff. Earlier on the UK tour, while he missed Take A Picture of This and Cost of Living, he was playing That Old Flame (my favourite track), Train in The Distance, Words Can Break Your Heart and Bramble Rose, and he has the two excellent female vocalists in Lily Elise and Laura Johnson to replace Martina McBride and Dolly Parton. It was labeled “The Cass County Tour.” The concession stand had Cass County T-shirts (£25) but to my amazement, he played nothing from Cass County at Hyde Park. I find this weird. Maybe it was partly because he was support to Carole King, but the audience was more than half female, and I think Carole King’s crowd might have enjoyed That Old Flame rather more than Life In The Fast Lane. What’s the audience size? I saw Simon & Garfunkel there with 50,000 and this seemed bigger. A Google check suggests a sold-out 65,000. The posh press say 50,000. Also, Don Henley had a truncated set time, an hour and ten minutes, I think, so far shorter than his recent solo concerts, though he managed to squeeze in Desperado after the time was officially up.
Don Henley obviously decided for this huge audience it was a crowd-pleasing hits plus Eagles, though he still managed to fit in a Garth Brooks song It Don’t Matter To The Sun and a Tears For Fears cover in Everybody Wants To Rule The World. Cass County is such a strong album, and several songs have such instant earworm appeal that his setlist choice amazed me.
Be grateful for what you get. Don Henley has one of those signature voices and the recognition is instant. The late afternoon / early evening sun was shining. There was a great atmosphere. The outdoor sound was impeccable.
The start was particularly impressive with the band singing Steve Young’s Seven Bridges Road with just a single guitar accompaniment. It is best known in the version by Eagles. I thought that the Appalachian mountain edge would roll on into Cass County songs, but I was wrong. It was into a rocking Dirty Laundry, followed by Sunset Grill from Building The Perfect Beast … written with Benmont Tench, and with Danny Kortchmar who would be on stage with Carole King in the next set. Another Kortchmar co-write followed with Shangri-La which hadn’t appeared on earlier setlists in the tour. We hadn’t realized until that point that there was a terrific horn section. From our position, 25 to 33% of the way back you tend to watch the screens, and the tiny figures on the actual stage that stood out next to Don Henley were the female singers, doing their backing singer sway and groove in perfect synchronicity.
And another Kootch co-write, New York Minute came next. Like Shangri-La that was also done solo for The End Of The Innocence but then it was redone by Eagles for Hell Freezes Over and that was the version followed here with the beautiful muted trumpet solo.
The muted trumpeter … Don Henley bottom left + female vocalists
The roar of applause for One Of These Nights next confirmed his view that this was more of an Eagles crowd. Female vocalists is a very good way of replacing Eagles harmony vocals in fact. It removes the interpretation from mere imitation, adds a dimension, and still pushes the solo voice in the middle.
Don Henley announced they were going to do some more ensemble material, which meant the non-singing people leaving the stage. It also meant Don donning a red plaid shirt. Ah, get ready for the country, I hoped. He chose It Don’t Matter To The Sun, the Garth Brooks song. I checked it out, and he duetted it with Stevie Nicks and they toured together earlier in the year. It’s beautiful, transcendent and he had the female singers to take Stevie’s part. It seems I tell a lie about Cass County because the Don Henley version with Stevie Nicks is on YouTube, and it appears on the “Expanded Version” of the album. OK, I have the 15 track DeLuxe version (rather than the 12 track version) but It Don’t Matter To The Sun was on the pressing of the CD exclusively available from Target in the USA. Still, you can hear it on YouTube.
The End Of The Innocence was up next, with notable pedal steel work and a sublime solo from Tom Evans, on (I assume) soprano sax. He credited his co-writer Bruce Hornsby. It does have a Hornsby melodic feel I hadn’t noticed before.
My favourite song of the set was The Last Resort, an Eagles song he said he had not performed in 30 or 35 years until this tour. In 1978, Henley described it as one of his favourite songs. I can see that, though I haven’t thought about it in years either. It was on Hotel California. One of the female vocalists stepped up to play violin, and the combination of voice, lyrics and violin was superb.
The Heart of The Matter was followed by a surprise cover … like Carole King later, he announced it was by “one of your own” and he launched into the catchy Everybody Wants To Rule The World, which got a fair singalong effect … it was a UK #2 hit for Tears For Tears in 1985.
Don Henley on the big screen
Before the concert I was reading Don Henley on The Boys of Summer. He said it was inspired by seeing a car. It was a Cadillac Seville, a car I know well, because in the early 90s any British visitor to Florida was invited to upgrade their rental car to a Cadillac for $10 a day. I fell for it, imagining something pink or turquoise with huge tailfins and bumpers the size of a British car. What you got was a brown or gunmetal grey Seville, an overgrown horribly-ornamented car designed for Republican retirees, which had everything in it except the ability to turn any corner whatsoever. Henley saw one, and had the same sort of thoughts about the potential passengers when he saw it had a Deadhead bumper sticker. It started him thinking.
A full-pelt Life In The Fast Lane was the standard show closer with a great long guitar solo. As he said, the circumstances dictated abandoning “the crap” about walking on and walking off, so we went into Hotel California causing a collective 65,000 person sigh of intense pleasure. On the Live Inside Job DVD he played with the song, adding a four piece trombone section … it worked too. Here, appropriately for the situation, we got a straight faithful pitch-perfect interpretation. You know you hear so many artists doing their greatest hit, and there’s usually a slight wobble or jarring bit, but not here. This was the Hotel California of a thousand listens. He played congas during the long solos. Beautifully done.
Officially he was already out of time, but there was no way anyone was letting him go without Desperado. “This one’s for Glenn,” he announced. Perfection.
He didn’t announce the band. I looked at his Facebook page, and apparently in Glasgow he carefully announced the band, and as he finished some wag shouted out “But who are you?” reducing him to tears of laughter. I would say he was running so tight against the clock here, that he had to skip the band role call.