17 January 2017, Majestic Theatre, San Antonio, TX
At the final of three shows on my Texas mini tour (four if you count New Years Eve across the state line in Oklahoma), and maybe the last time I will see him with this particular 15-piece band behind him, in the gorgeous theatre that Don Henley performed in on Tuesday night in San Antonio the sound was excellent, the crowd was rowdy, the security was very slack, but as always the experience was mesmerising. For all you Australians who will see the show in March with these fine players and singers, Don will tell you that touring with such a large entourage is not very profitable but it sure is fun.
He seemed to be having fun at all three shows, as he was on New Years Eve, but on this night the air conditioning in the theatre had him reaching for the flannel lumberjack shirt he likes to wear over his attire for warmth; as he explained, he needs to sweat to sing well, and when he is cold his voice falters. And then if his voice falters he cuts a couple of songs from the set list, so it was great that we saw the Austin show first, when his voice was in perfect condition in the intimate and warm ACL Live Moody Theatre, and where he performed Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” and that sweet old chestnut “Best Of My Love”, both then omitted from the Houston and San Antonio shows.
Don likes to talk, to tell stories before some of the songs. So when you see him, be quiet and listen when he tells the long and wonderful story of writing “The Last Resort”. If you’re lucky he will go off on a tangent about the summer of ’69, and then mention hanging out with Bryan Adams in the eighties and getting up to mischief and how their payback all these years later is that they both have beautiful daughters. He’ll tell you how the world has gone “bat shit crazy” and sing a song by a “British duo” that for some reason he never names. (It’s Tears For Fears, and I do wonder how Don would feel if a famous artist sang one of his biggest hits, like “Boys of Summer”, night after night and referred to it as having been “recorded by an American musician”… but, oh well.)
Possibly his most beautiful song from the solo repertoire is “Talking To The Moon” from his I Can’t Stand Still album, which he wrote with JD Souther and which he says these days he will only perform in Texas, because it’s his home state and he wrote it about home. Good thing when I spoke to him after the Linda Ronstadt Tribute concert last month I reminded him of that and told him I was coming to Texas and hoped to hear him sing it. He obliged me very kindly by singing it gorgeously on all three nights. Sorry, he won’t sing it for you in Australia, and that’s a real shame as it was the centrepiece of the Texas shows.
He’d mixed the song list around a bit since last year’s summer tour; we got a hint of the changes on New Years Eve but the set has been honed a little more since then and it’s almost perfect. (If he added “Waiting In The Weeds” and “Center Of The Universe” it would be beyond perfect.) I wish he would sing “Wasted Time” on his own rather than making it a duet, but when he dedicates it and “Desperado” to Glenn at the end of each show, I defy you not to be profoundly, tenderly moved. I wondered if he would extend his usual dedication in San Antonio to make mention of it being the eve of the anniversary of Glenn’s passing, but no, he kept it to the usual script. Still it was heartfelt. Don seems more comfortable joking around, or being Wikipedia-like informative, than putting his heart too openly on his sleeve in public, but we knew that he knew what date it was.
Don closes his eyes a lot when he sings. Sometimes when I take my eyes off him I close them to listen to him sing and there he is – wild afro, somewhere in the seventies, the skinny and sexy singing drummer who, with his friend and musical brother Glenn, created music that made history, that gave pleasure to millions of people around the world, that for many of us made the world what it is to us, made our lives be something they otherwise might not have been. And then I open my eyes and look at him again, this older, sometimes sweet, sometimes amusing, sometimes grumpy man who feels things so deeply and just wants the world to be a better place, and I am yet again so grateful that he is. Just is.
So even if you have to sit way up the back and get the last nosebleed ticket, if you are in Australia and near somewhere he is playing in March, go and see Don do his first ever – and possibly only – solo tour down there. It’s the closest you will ever get to the Eagles again, and it’s much more than that as well. It’s Don Henley and he will always take you, with his heart, to what matters.