At first I was cursing Roy Hodgson (manager of the England football team until this night) for his team’s failure to top their group in the ongoing Euro 2016 tournament, thus ensuring that their next game against Iceland would take place on the same night as this show. By the end of the night I’d changed my mind, as I saw a great show and missed the abject performance of his team as they crashed out to unfancied Iceland.
That’s about the only reference to the Euro 2016 tournament I’ll make in this piece, although the game did mean that I had a relatively untroubled run along the M62 for this gig, even in rush hour. I got to the arena and station concourse to find it surprisingly quiet, given that it was Eagles legend Don Henley performing what was billed as ‘his only show in England’ (not strictly true, as he is scheduled to play at Hyde Park in London as guest to Carole King.)
After a quick cuppa and a snack myself and a friend took to the arena concourse, again finding it not all that busy. There was a queue, caused by the arena staff searching for cameras. The stipulation by the artist specifically asked that there would be no photography or cellphone use during the show, as had happened two years previously when the Eagles came to town. For obvious reasons there won’t be any more Eagles shows but still, the difference in the size of this audience compared to when Henley last came around with the Eagles only served to illustrate how much cachet a band name holds, even when one of that band’s leading lights performs a rare solo show in this country. By my estimation there were about 6000 present at the most, the floor was seated and only the first couple of blocks were anything like full on either side of this huge arena. (The upper tier was completely sectioned off.)
At around 7:45 support act JD and the Straight Shot appeared on stage. A rootsy ensemble headed by vocalist James Dolan, they featured a fiddle player, a double bass player and both male and female vocal. Their set was well-delivered, with some fine playing but not really to my taste, although the longer their set went on the more the audience warmed to them, a sign of a good opening act.
Henley and his troupe came on at 9pm sharp, with his whole band grouped in a semi-circle for their opening number (‘Seven Bridges Road’) sang acapella with the whole ensemble harmonising. Following this, the band (ten of them backing Henley by my estimation) took up their positions to begin the main set with ‘Dirty Laundry’. That got the audience going immediately, before the singer addressed the audience to plug current album ‘Cass County’ with his trademark dry sense of humour. He has great comic timing; on mentioning the album title he got a cheer to which he responded ‘I see some of you have the record’, (long pause) ‘And for those of you who haven’t got it’ (even longer pause) ‘I heartily recommend it!’ He isn’t a Springsteen between songs, but when he does speak it’s with the audience hanging on every word.
The set alternated between songs we know and ‘Cass County’ numbers for the first half of the show; classics from his solo career such as ‘New York Minute’ were immaculately performed and when doing the more country-orientated material from ‘Cass County’ he’d duet with one of his three female backing singers. He threw in one or two surprises; it wasn’t that much of a surprise that some Eagles material appeared in the set but one which hadn’t been performed live in decades was ‘The Last Resort’, again delivered with stunning precision. ‘I Don’t Want To Hear Anymore’, a song which appeared on final Eagles album ‘Long Road Out Of Eden’ was also played, but after announcing it (and pointing out it was written ‘by one of your own’ – Paul Carrack). Henley opted to vacate the stage for this number, giving over the spot to the three female singers (Lily Elise, Lara Johnston and Erica Swindell). Another surprise was a cover of Tears For Fears ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’, which Henley said was ‘appropriate for these crazy times’.
About halfway through Henley made reference to his stipulation on no cellphones or cameras; on thanking the audience for complying he then threw out a bone revealing that they’d close with ‘Hotel California’ and that he knew he couldn’t stop them at that point (!) Other Eagles material performed such as ‘One Of These Nights’ gave the guitarists a chance to shine, one of whom was Steuart Smith who was here with the Eagles two years ago. The main set ended with ‘The Boys Of Summer’ and ‘Life In The Fast Lane’, then after the mellower ‘Train In The Distance’ performed in the encore, Steuart Smith produced the twin-necked guitar. Henley then said ‘OK, get ’em out!’ (meaning cellphones!) as they launched into ‘Hotel California’ to a sea of LED lights. We thought that was it, but of course he couldn’t end the evening without making reference to his old Eagles partner Glenn Frey, dedicating final number ‘Desperado’ to his memory. That was once again performed immaculately and was a fitting way to end a splendid show.
It was probably the most chilled-out concert I’ll go to this year and a complete change to what I’m normally accustomed to, but this was definitely a top-drawer performance from Henley and his excellent band. A shame then, that his own name doesn’t carry quite the same weight as his old band’s name does but for those that came along, it was a privilege to spend the evening with one of the great songwriters of the rock era.