Don Henley at Budweiser Stage28 June 2017 / by David Matta (author), Christina Gousopoulos (editor)
Since the release of the two-part documentary, The History of the Eagles in 2013, American rock legends the Eagles have enjoyed some late-career success. The doc is highly regarded in musical circles as one of the best music documentaries in recent years and the tour that followed its release saw the group playing sold-out shows around the world. More was to come, but frontman Glenn Frey’s health problems caused the band to postpone. Frey tragically passed in early 2016 but drummer/singer/songwriter Don Henley didn’t let the death of his partner condemn the rest of his days to be wasted time.
While not billed as an anniversary tour (despite almost every surviving 70’s rock group/star seems to be doing an anniversary tour), it has been 45 years since the release of the Eagles’ self-titled debut and Henley seems intent on celebrating and sharing the music he’s made over the course of his career.
The show began with Henley and 8 out of his 15-piece band crowded at the front of the stage singing ‘Seven Bridges Road’, a cover that the Eagles sang regularly. The mostly a cappella tune was a strong way to start off the night but Henley seemed weak and disinterested as they carried on into ‘Dirty Laundry’ and ‘Sunset Grill’, hits from Henley’s solo career. It might have been the chill lake air that kept Henley back initially, but after running through a song from Cass County, Henley’s 2015 solo album, he seemed fully up to speed and was delivering lead vocals with incredible strength and accuracy.
Henley is one of the few classic rockers to have been gifted with a voice that has stood the test of time; as the band played through ‘Witchy Woman’, Henley’s voice sounded as crisp and clear as it does on the original record. ‘New York Minute’ brought the show to a more dramatic point, as the last rays of sun disappeared behind the hills, letting the lights from the stage flood the amphitheatre.
The set began to embrace Henley’s Eagles past as he dedicated ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’ to his “lost brother”, his first acknowledgement of Glenn Frey, who sang lead on the original recording. ‘The End of the Innocence’ – another dramatic solo track and the result of Henley’s 1989 collaboration with Bruce Hornsby – was punctuated by a soprano sax solo at the end.
Despite all the timeless classics Henley managed to stock up his set list with, the real gem of the night was hearing the fan favourite, ‘The Last Resort’. The track closes Hotel California and both explores and reflects on the birth of America through violence and greed. Henley shared with the crowd that he was inspired after meeting a Czechoslovakian refugee in a bar in Aspen, Colorado in 1973, who had moved to Providence, Rhode Island only years before. He also remarked how ‘they’ (The Eagles) didn’t play the song much ‘back in the day, because it requires a lot of personnel’, as he gestured to the 15-piece band behind him.
As Henley crooned the lines, “they called it Paradise, the place to be. They watched the hazy sun sinking in the sea” an airplane from the nearby Billy Bishop Airport flew across the fading golden sky at the back of the amphitheatre, as if in response to grand longing to find Paradise suggested by the song’s climax.
Over the course of the night, Henley played a few covers, many were to be expected as they appear on Cass County. So, it was to the surprise of many when Henley and co. busted out a cover of ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ by Tears for Fears. Before the iconic drum machine kicked in, Henley told the audience that playing the song was like “therapy” for the band, and he encouraged everyone to sing along, hoping we’d find it therapeutic too. The rendition was surprisingly spot on – ironic, considering the revised versions of ‘Witchy Woman’ and ‘One of These Nights’ he had played earlier.
But it was easy to see the ‘therapy’ in action; everyone took to their feet, dancing and singing along. The band was clearly having a blast on stage and Henley’s voice fit perfectly in the setting of the song. As soon as it was over, the band went straight into ‘Boys of Summer’, Henley’s biggest hit of his solo career. The song meshed perfectly with the end of ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’; two iconic anthems of the mid-80’s shining in the capable hands of a rock and roll legend that ended the show with a bang.
But of course, the show was far from over; everyone knew it wouldn’t be over without the biggest Eagles hits. Henley and co. brought all their energy forward on ‘Life in the Fast Lane’ and Henley was especially energetic in his telling of the songs tragic but tale.
The next song was undoubtedly the most anticipated; watching Don Henley himself sing the immortal ‘Hotel California’ was a moment beyond iconic, and the song’s classic guitar solo sounded oh-so much sweeter after hearing Henley in the flesh deliver the song’s final lyrics, “you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave!”.
Afterward, the band left the stage, but came back, this time bringing a more serious pair of songs, ‘Wasted Time’ and ‘Desperado’. Henley’s earnest delivery of both made for a climactic and emotional way to top off a timeless show. As everyone was leaving and the isles were filling, the band came out for a third time, going straight into Henley’s 1985 energetic ‘All She Wants to do is Dance’. It was a pleasant surprise that finally ended the night off with a warm, electric good bye.
While he never settled in behind the drums (though he might for upcoming Eagle’s shows), watching Henley sing all those hit songs from a catalogue of countless classics was a reminder that Don Henley is a one of a kind singer and performer, and it was one of a kind experience.