Don Henley + Jewel + Melody Pool @ Kings Park, Perth 5/03/17 (Live Review)
Roaring out of a Californian sunset in 1971, the Eagles carved themselves a large slice of Americana off the back of a series of highly successful albums and singles. Fusing four and five part harmonies with country, bluegrass, folk and modern rock influences, the band redefined music in the early part of the decade and pioneered the press-coined ‘California Sound’, providing the blueprint for a whole new generation of bands hungry for something new in post-sixties American culture.
At the centre of the band was the songwriting duo of guitarist/vocalist Glenn Frey and drummer vocalist Don Henley. Over the course of the next eight or nine years the partnership would produce some of the most iconic songs of a generation and see the Eagles become one of the biggest selling bands of all time.
Over the course of the last few decades, Henley has weathered the highs and lows of success. After the Eagles initially disbanded in 1980, he went on to release a series of solos albums and collaborate with other artists before the rebirth of the band in 1994, culminating in several successful tours and a final Eagles album Long Road Out Of Eden in 2007.
With the untimely passing of Frey in January 2016, and with the Eagles seemingly permanently disbanded, Don Henley has returned to Australia to remind audiences (as if they needed it!) of why he is still regarded as one of the most respected songwriters of our time.
As the early afternoon sun beat down on Kings Park, Melody Pool opened the evening with a set of subdued melancholia, drawing from her two albums with songs like Deep Dark Savage Heart, Black Dog and Love, She Loves Me. Armed with only her acoustic and accompanied by cello and violin, it was certainly a quieter than expected start as people were pouring in to find seats or hit the bar. Still, Pool remained unaffected and continued to regale the incoming crowd.
As the ‘Godfather Of Australian Rock ‘n’ Roll’ Michael Gudinski stepped up to the mic to introduce Jewel the pint sized American songstress – decked out in weather appropriate blue sundress – serenaded the crowd with an a cappella version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow before picking up her guitar. Her storytelling is as much a part of her set as her songs, as she prefaced Hands with the tale of her early days living on the streets and shoplifting. Standing Still, Foolish Games and You Were Meant For Me were all well received, and she showed off her more humorous side with Intuition (“who knew Charlie Sheen would be the gift that kept on giving?”) before leaving the crowd with a frenetic demonstration of her yodelling skills. It was perhaps an odd choice to have a solo acoustic performer as the main support coming straight after Pool’s similar stylings, but Jewel nevertheless showed the Perth crowd that she can still hold a large crowd captive with just the bare necessities.
As the PA system pumped out a series of soundbites from rock ‘n’ roll down the decades, the band assembled in silence on the darkened stage and the packed crowd let out an enormous roar as the lights went up to reveal Don Henley, flanked on either side by his band, as they opened with a stunning version of Steve Young’s Seven Bridges Road – the traditional set opener for the Eagles in their heyday. Sung mostly a cappella, it’s huge wall of harmonies washed out over the crowd, a stirring and perfect mood setter. This lead straight into Dirty Laundry, the first of a succession of hits from Henley’s solo career and the he appeared comfortable, if a little warm, in front of the mic with a guitar. “Thanks, I think I’ve lost about five pounds already” he informed everyone as he wiped his brow against the warm night’s air. He certainly seemed glad to be here in Australia, far away from the “bat shit crazy” situation in the US.
After a brief foray into new material with That Old Flame about “the perils of the internet” Henley and his crack band slipped back into familiar territory with Sunset Grill from Building The Perfect Beast and early Eagles hit Witchy Woman. It was possibly due to severe jet lag and being unaccustomed to the warm evening that Henley’s voice struggled in some of the higher parts, but with the solidity of the band behind him perfectly recreating the track most people hardly seemed to notice, or indeed care. And it was the Eagles’ hits that most had come to hear, and Henley and Co certainly didn’t disappoint. 1975’s One Of These Nights was delivered in solid fashion and featured some blistering guitar work from long-time Eagles guitarist Stuart Smith. Solo hit New York Minute initially suffered from some inaudible vocals before the matter was rectified and the song was finished in all its majestic glory.
With his philosophy of “four for you, one for me” when it comes to set lists there were a few personal choices in the set that came left of field. The slick, funky 80’s rock of Shangri-La and It Don’t Matter To The Sun – a song made famous by Garth Brooks – gave some an opportunity to head to the bar before The End Of The Innocence drew everyone back in. A sublime The Last Resort was glorious in every way, as stirring and as momentous as the original, and The Heart Of The Matter was a tender reprieve before Henley and his band delivered an unexpected highlight of the evening (and dig at the current US President?), a note perfect cover of Tears For Fears Everybody Wants To Rule The World. The song saw Henley abandon his serious storyteller/world weary traveller mantle for a few moments and had him moving around the stage, evidently relishing singing a song that wasn’t written or recorded by him, before his biggest solo hit Boys Of Summer drove the main set home.
From there it was hit city for the encores: Life In The Fast Lane was tight and punchy but seemed to lack the certain something that makes it such an incredible rock song when played by Joe Walsh (no disrespect to either guitarist on the night, they’re just….not Joe Walsh) but Hotel California was faithful and perfect, complete with Smith’s double neck magic. The intro, the chorus and that layered, built up outro are some of the most iconic pieces of 20th Century music ever composed, and the whole crowd sang along.
Wasted Time was the standout song of the night, with Henley’s measured words paying tribute to Frey making his delivery all that more emotional, as if a song that he’d originally written about a relationship gone wrong could be a vessel for the same feelings he experienced about his fallen comrade, before a restrained run through Desperado – the first song he and Frey wrote together – capped off a night of classic songs.
Henley’s stage show is tight, slick and on the whole a well oiled machine. Does it delievr the same impact as when he’s on stage with the Eagles? Maybe not, but with the band – in light of Frey’s absence – seemingly laid to rest for the final time, this is as good as it’s going to get from here on out for lovers of those sun-drenched classic rock songs.
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