American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX, 22 July 2017
Don Henley decided to invite us all to his birthday bash and so off to Texas in the midsummer sweltering humidity of Dallas I went. My name is Debbie, after all, so any excuse to do Dallas…
He’s a serious guy, our Don. He doesn’t wear those work boots on stage just for effect. He could have spent his 70th birthday at home quietly with his family. He could have gone off to a luxury holiday spot, or fishing on his beloved Caddo Lake. But no, he decided he wanted to be working.
“Happy Birthday!!” one female fan screamed out early on. “It’s a work day, honey,” Don replied. “I’m doin’ a job here.”
And making money, of course. And this show must have raked it in. His solo shows over the past couple of years on the back of his Cass County album have often been in venues with smaller capacities, maybe 5,000 seats or thereabouts, lending some legitimacy to his oft-repeated claim that having a 15-piece band means touring is “not very profitable, but it sure is fun”, and I wondered how quickly he would fill a major sports arena at the tail end of so much touring, even with the allure of special guests like Stevie Nicks, Patty Smyth and his fellow Eagles, Joe Walsh and Timothy B Schmit. The Dallas factor was part of it, I guess, as he is a Dallas resident and his city is fond of him. The 70th birthday concept was also fun, billed as a “once-in-a-lifetime event” (well, yes, you only get to play a big concert on your 70th birthday once, right?). All those things and more made for tickets being snapped up pretty quickly and on the night I couldn’t see a single empty seat anywhere.
I got my ticket as part of a package for the Runaway Tours weekend that also included an up close Q&A event the following day, which I will write about separately. Sandwiched in between the two Eagles-starring Classic Fests, in LA the weekend before and in New York the weekend to follow, Don was ensuring he would keep busy, and that his adrenalin would be pumping, because there was nothing laid back about any of these appearances, and Don seems to thrive on the pressure he puts on himself. He should be looking back on July 2017 and feeling pretty pleased with his efforts. Given that what Don Henley does professionally revolves around making good money out of it, he certainly does believe in giving value for the big money that his fans put down; his strong work ethic and pride in his work are paramount.
Having said all that, and noting that Don’s voice sounded absolutely perfect throughout the show (he told us the next day that that his voice “showed up”, which it hadn’t been doing so much lately) and that it was delightful to see him smile so much and be relaxed and have fun on stage with himself, his special guests and his fans, and see him play drums on several songs, which he almost never does in a solo concert, I will say that it didn’t quite live up to the hype we’d been fed for months. There were supposed to be some “surprise” guests that Don himself didn’t know about (although we felt Don would of course know about them) and so after the success of the Classic West show the weekend before, I had really hoped one surprise guest would be Deacon Frey. After all, Glenn would have appeared had he been alive, surely, to give Don a thorough ribbing for being the old man that he is. Glenn’s nickname for Don in later years was “Gramps”. Don’s grandpa-ish grey beard was absent on this weekend, but there was no Deacon in his late father’s place at the Birthday Bash.
I also had thought his fellow desperados JD Souther and Jackson Browne would make appearances, especially after they’d all been together at the Tribute to Linda Ronstadt concert last December. But no, they weren’t there. There were, as advertised, Patty Smyth, who wore a sparkly silver jacket to join Don in a lovely rendition of their hit duet “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough”; Timothy B Schmit and Joe Walsh bringing Eagles songs closer to their authentic sound (and giving Don the opportunity to rest his voice during the 24-song concert with the inclusion of “I Can’t Tell You Why” and “Rocky Mountain Way”); and the much idolised Stevie Nicks, all in black, wielding ribbons and playing temptress and goddess and all the roles that Stevie is wont to play. They sang “Leather and Lace” of course, and Stevie stuck around to play tambourine on “Boys Of Summer” and “All She Wants To Do Is Dance” and twirl and spin and do her Stevie thing. I’d never seen Stevie on stage with Don before so it was a novelty for me, even if some of their interplay was so obviously down pat.
Also there were really high hopes among those that have seen several Don solo shows for a more diverse set list. Opening the concert were his three backing singers – Erica Swindell, Lara Johnston and Lily Elise – belting out an Andrews Sisters-style rendition of Jo Stafford’s “Big D”, a playful ode to the city of Dallas, making us squirm with excitement in anticipation of more off-the-list numbers. I wanted some soul covers, which he is known for doing in years gone by when he has mixed up a set list to please himself (oh if only to witness him sing Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”… be still my beating heart…). I wanted some of the more deep cut Eagles numbers (“Waiting In the Weeds”, for heaven’s sake, please!) But after that opening number it was a set list mostly by rote, and the patter was Don’s predictable script, albeit with some lengthier versions of the same stories (the Velveeta tangent in the “Sunset Grill” preamble was a lot of fun), and the inclusion of his Texas ballad that I so adore, “Talking To The Moon”. I enjoyed watching the delight of Don’s band members, especially guitarist Chris Holt, and the three backing singers, relishing in being on stage with the Eagles, and being next to Stevie Nicks. There was a lot to watch, and I had a great seat to watch from and capture on my camera, and I wasn’t bored for a moment, even when he hauled out yet again that Tears For Fears song I could happily never hear again.
I really hoped Don would get personal, acknowledge and thank his family, and say something about the fans that brought him to this momentous life moment. I know Don is deep and emotional, but he doesn’t bring it on stage for us to see, even on an occasion like this was. He did talk the following day about how moved and grateful he felt the night before, and also about how being able to feel emotional when he sings is tempered by so many technical considerations, and yet… I longed for him to break out of his script and really say something that would bring tears to our eyes (which seeing him on stage next to Joe and Timothy but without Glenn did for some).
Maybe it’s just me being too melodramatic. It was just great to see Don stand happy and healthy in front of a loving audience as hundreds of balloons were hurled from above the stage into the arena and watch him jump around with his band and friends singing the Beatles’ “Birthday”. It was joyous indeed.
As a hugely hyped special event show, it was exciting and special to be there, especially in the front row, to know that I was just feet away from Don on his big birthday, and to hear him sing so beautifully for more than two and a half hours. But given that my expectations – and those of some friends that had similarly high hopes for the set list and surprise guests – were somewhat dashed, I have to say my favourite takeaways were the many photos I was able to snap due to Don’s “what the hell, it’s a special occasion, let them take pictures” attitude, and my balloon. I love my Don Henley Birthday Balloon. And even though I had to deflate it to bring it back to Los Angeles, nothing can deflate my joy at having been present that night when Don Turned 70 And Did Dallas.
Enjoy the photo gallery and please don’t share these images without permission.