BETHLEHEM, Pa. — If you closed your eyes to ignore the gray in Eagles co-founder Don Henley’s combed-back hair and thin goatee, you’d have a difficult time wrapping your head around the reality he’ll celebrate his 70th birthday next month.
While they’ve clearly aged, Henley’s vocals retain a familiar sullen silkiness three decades after his 1980s post-Eagles solo career churned out hit after FM radio hit.
After opening with an acoustic, harmonizing “Seven Bridges Road” and a loudly electric “Dirty Laundry” Saturday night at the sold-out, 2,650-seat Sands Bethlehem Event Center, Henley invited a similarly graying crowd to join him on a two-hour voyage.
He would be taking them aboard a musical “time machine,” he said, to traverse a career spanning five decades that has earned him two Grammy Awards as a solo artist and a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside his Eagles bandmates.
“This song’s about a little hamburger joint in L.A.,” Henley said, standing center stage with a guitar before launching into “Sunset Grill” from his 1984 solo album “Building the Perfect Beast.”
As the song wound down, a 5-man horn section emerged on a riser to the rear of a crowded stage set classily accented by three dozen antique radios hanging from the rafters.
“As you can see, I brought a few people with me,” Henley deadpanned.
He was joined on stage by an ensemble of 14 that included a trio of backing vocalists — Erica Swindell, Lara Johnston and Lily Elise — pedal steel guitarist Milo Deering, a pair of keyboardists and a drummer who wasn’t Henley.
Henley, who manned the drums for the Eagles, never once took a seat behind the drum kit Saturday night, leaving that job to Scott Crago. Crago joined the Eagles for their post-1994 reunion tours and figures to be in the lineup when the Eagles reunite next month for a pair of East Coast and West Coast weekend festivals. Founding members of the band will be joined by Deacon Frey, the 24-year-old son of late Eagle Glenn Frey, and country star Vince Gill.
Henley split his 19-song Sands set between Eagles and solo classics, including a pair of poignant tributes to “my good friend Glenn Frey,” and an obscure afterthought track from 1976’s “Hotel California” album — “The Last Resort.”
“We never did this song much back in the day,” Henley said of “Last Resort.” “It’s just a song about manifest destiny.”
Never bashful about sharing cynical political views, Henley performed a rant-free show and let his music do most of the talking, although he twice briefly hinted at an apparent disillusionment with a Trump-led America.
“The world has gone batshit crazy,” the Texas-born Henley said leading into “That Old Flame,” from 2015’s “Cass County,” his fifth and most recent solo studio album.
Perhaps he had Trump in mind when he added Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” to his repertoire.
“This is a hit from the ’80s. It’s not my song,” Henley announced while introducing the song from the New Wave Brits. “We’ve been doing it lately for therapy.”
Henley chose the middle of his set to pay his first tribute to Frey, who died in January 2016 at the age of 67.
“We’re gonna go back to 1974 with my old friend Glenn Frey,” Henley said preceding “Best of My Love.”
As the Sands crowd rose to its feet to share in the salute to Frey with a nearly one-minute ovation, Henley reverently bowed his head in silence.
The band concluded its set with perhaps Henley’s most heralded song, “Boys of Summer,” which he co-wrote with Mike Campbell, guitarist of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers.
After briefly clearing the stage, the band returned for a four-song encore of Eagles megahits — “Life in the Fast Lane” with horns, “Hotel California,” “Desperado” and, finally, “Peaceful, Easy Feeling.”
“This one’s for Glenn,” Henley noted before the evening’s closing number.
Americana sextet JD & the Straight Shot, which has been touring as Henley’s opening act, warmed up the Sands crowd with a 45-minute performance, including covers of Spirit (“Nature’s Way”) and Little Feat (“Let it Roll”).
The band is fronted vocally by billionaire New York Knicks owner, Madison Square Garden Chairman and Cablevision chief Jim Dolan and includes Dolan’s son Aiden on acoustic guitar.
JD’s nine-song set included a pair of the band’s movie soundtrack originals — “Violet’s Song,” from the film “August: Osage County,” starring Meryl Streep, and “Perdition,” from “Jane Got a Gun,” starring Natalie Portman.
While encoring with “Let it Roll,” the band erupted into a spirited instrumental medley of guitar riff-heavy classics — “Wipeout,” “Tequila,” “Roundabout,” “Paint it Black,” “Whole Lotta Love” and “Purple Haze.”
File photo by Jim Gavenus
Great article. Thanks.